GREEN BAY, Wis. – If you didn't know better, you'd think every blade of synthetic grass in the Don Hutson Center would be named after some former Green Bay Packers player.
From the practice building that bears the name of the great receiver Hutson to the two fields that adjoin it that are named in honor of Ray Nitschke and Clark Hinkle, just about everything that involves the Packers has a name on it. Even the meeting rooms in the Packers' executive offices feature the names of the franchise's nine former team presidents.
In September, the Packers will add Brett Favre to the long list of greats when his number is retired during the season opener.
This is the legacy and expectations quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Favre's successor, face. But before Rodgers, who took command of the team during this week's three-day mandatory minicamp, takes the field as Green Bay's first starter since Favre took over in 1992, he has a few people he plans to talk to, including Steve Young and Jay Fiedler, each of whom succeeded legends.
"Yeah, I really want to talk to those guys and get an idea of what they went through," said Rodgers, who also plans to talk to Rich Gannon, the former NFL Most Valuable Player who bided his time for years before getting a serious chance to play.
The Packers have already beaten Rodgers to the punch on talking to Fiedler, who experienced the joy of following Dan Marino in Miami in 2000. The Packers' PR staff wanted to know what type of attention Fiedler had to endure when he tried to make it.
"You get the same questions over and over again, but you just have to understand it," Fiedler said. "Those reporters hadn't asked the questions yet, so it was new to them and you just had to deal with it."
Unfortunately, Fiedler's experience was primarily a private joy for much of the time he was there.
"I'm proud of what I was able to accomplish," said Fiedler, who helped the Dolphins reach the playoffs in 2000 and 2001. That may not sound like banner stuff, but Miami fans would gladly take it after going six seasons without making the playoffs and watching a parade of schlubs occupy the pocket since Fiedler left.
That group – Daunte Culpepper, Trent Green, Brian Griese, A.J. Feeley, Ray Lucas and Cleo Lemon – inspired one South Florida radio host to recently comment about the team's failure to replace Marino: "Replace Marino? They haven't replaced Fiedler yet."
Fiedler's advice to Rodgers is simple. If you're going to survive, you have to be one thing above all else.
"The main thing is you have to believe in yourself and what type of game you bring to the team," Fiedler said. "You can't fall prey to the fable. You have to not try to become your predecessor because that's not what you are.
"You have to play to your strengths and not get caught up in how the person who did it before did … You get the comparisons and the people saying, 'Oh, Brett Favre did it this way' and it gets hard to stay within what you do.
"But I would say to people there, understand that one of the big reasons that the Packers were so successful last season is that Brett changed a lot of things about the way he played in the previous couple of years. He took a lot less chances because that's what the coaching staff was asking him to do."
Rodgers seems to be handling the early barrage of questions and attention with relative ease. ESPN did a recent conversation with him and half the questions were about Favre. Rodgers smiled all the way through the interview.
This week, the attention reached some absurdly funny levels when Rodgers' haircut and marriage became news.
One problem: he didn't get married.
"Yeah, I cut my hair to go to a wedding and then all of sudden it comes out that I was the one who got married," Rodgers said with a sly smile. "That was a little different. It's funny because I've gone to a few weddings before this last one, but all of a sudden because I'm the starter, people are reporting about it and making assumptions."
Fortunately for the Packers, Rodgers has had three years to watch Favre, getting some gauge on the chasm between myth and reality.
On the field, Rodgers practices with a certain calm that is unlike the gunslinging Favre. When Rodgers breaks the pocket, there are no wild throws in traffic coming from all sorts of odd arm angles. While those wild plays made Favre fun to watch (and, often overlooked in the Favre legend, the leading thrower of interceptions in NFL history), they are generally the death of more mortal passers.
While working against the exceptionally quick Packers dime defense this week in practice, Rodgers never gave in to the glory and folly that was Favre. His throws toward the tightest spots had purpose and enough zing that they didn't result in terrible interceptions.
Does that mean Rodgers is going to be great?
"Who the hell knows?" said one long-time Packers employee who knows Rodgers well. "He's a smart guy and I think he's as ready as he can be to deal with the job and following Favre. But we're all just guessing about what's going to happen in September."
Except for one part, that is. There's going to be one big party for Favre that month.
As if Rodgers needed another reminder of whom he's following.
- the Packers