When Brett Favre came on in relief of Don Majkowski in Week 4 of the 1992 season, it marked the beginning of an incredible stretch of time – more than 20 years – in which the Green Bay Packers had one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
As we all know, Aaron Rodgers would pick up right where Favre left off after the 2007 season, and even outdo his predecessor in many ways.
As Packers fans, we became spoiled. We forgot what it was like to cover our eyes every time Randy Wright dropped back to pass. We didn’t have to go through Bears-like quarterback droughts (Rex Grossman and Mike Tomczak, anyone?) or suffer through the Christian Ponder-type experiments, hoping and waiting for a franchise quarterback to arrive.
And it lasted for more than 20 years.
So, did seven weeks of no Aaron Rodgers unspoil us?
It’s an unanswerable question, truth be told, especially now that Rodgers is back in pads and scheduled to start this weekend’s showdown for the NFC’s North Division title. But it’s worth speculating.
Personally, when I watched Rodgers go down in Week 9, and then I watched Seneca Wallace trot onto the field, it seemed positively surreal. The very next week, after just one offensive series, we then watched Scott Tolzien, a practice squad player, take snaps in a Green Bay uniform. I was sure I had sunk to the deepest depths of football fandom hell.
“Is that Randy Wright out there?” my friend texted to me. (Yes, Wright also wore No. 16.) “Might as well be,” I responded.
But as the weeks passed, it got me to thinking about just how spoiled I had become. Sure, at times pre-collarbone I realized how lucky Packers fans have been for two decades to have mostly top-notch quarterback play, but I had become numb to the possibility that Rodgers could ever be injured to the point of missing extended time. Anything to the contrary was unthinkable.
What I have learned in the last seven weeks, however, is this: We had come to a point that we simply expected the Packers to win every game. When they didn’t, the fans became negative – they blamed the defense, blamed the coaches, blamed the offensive line, blamed the officials, etc.
But watching Wallace, Tolzien and Flynn go out there each week and struggle just to keep the Packers in a football game has been, in a way, refreshing. My earliest memories as a Packers fan include John Hadl and David Whitehurst – two guys who were never in Bart Starr’s neighborhood. Heck, or on Starr’s planet, for that matter. I watched the awful coaching of the 1970s and ’80s, the terrible defensive play. A Lynn Dickey-led offense would put up 40 points in the early 1980s and still the Packers would lose.
But what I found the last seven weeks, especially during Flynn’s four games, was that I had to reach down a little deeper as a fan – and yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds, but hear me out – and gut out games, just like the team did. There was no longer expectation; there was hope, anticipation and anxiety.
Like other fans, I yelled at Flynn when he made stupid mistakes. But I rejoiced even harder when he left his guts out on that field and helped will the Packers to two wins and an improbable come-from-behind tie that may just ultimately win us the division on Sunday.
Think about it: A come-from-behind, 22-21 win over Atlanta with Rodgers under center would have been a disappointment. It would have been a sign that the Packers were no longer a top 10 team. Pundits would have wondered if the Packers were falling apart. But with Flynn at quarterback, that win and the win the following week against the Cowboys, were inspirational comebacks.
See the difference?
I see writers speculating on what would have happened if Rodgers had not gotten hurt. What would Green Bay’s record be? Would the Packers have the division wrapped up and a higher playoff seed?
That’s all well and good, and I get that speculation, but there is no “if.” Rodgers did break his collarbone and he did miss seven games. And now that he’s back, I have to say that I actually, in retrospect, rather enjoyed the ride. I enjoyed rooting for that Rodgers-less team because the wins (and the tie) meant so much more. Even the small victories such as downfield completions and third-down conversions meant more to me as a fan.
So when Rodgers takes the field again on Sunday, will the fans appreciate him more?
I, for one, will.
And I will appreciate Matt Flynn a lot more as well.