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Rodgers to benefit from Monday grudge match

Michael Silver
Yahoo Sports

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When Aaron Rodgers(notes) takes the field at the Metrodome on Monday night, 63,000 fired-up fans will boo him ruthlessly, yelling for his downfall at the hands of the hometown Minnesota Vikings and the transplanted legend he displaced.

Years from now, were Rodgers able, he'd personally thank every last one of them.

Rodgers, in his second season as the Green Bay Packers' starting quarterback, doesn't yet understand why he should be excited about being reviled. After all, on Monday in Minneapolis, he'll feel like a suspect being interrogated while having a flashlight as bright and hot as the sun shining in his eyes.

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Rodgers and Favre during the Packers' playoff run following the '07 season.
(Morry Gash./AP Photo)

He'll have to contend with a charged defense in a rivalry game between a pair of teams gunning for first place in the NFC North division. Even more daunting, he'll be engaged in a mano-a-mano clash with Brett Favre(notes) – the most beloved player in Packers history, an almost-40-year-old future Hall of Famer who last Sunday won over any remaining skeptics in the Twin Cities with an incomprehensible game-winning touchdown pass in the final seconds.

For Rodgers, it has all the potential for playing out as a personal nightmare of colossal proportions.

Now here's the cool part: Whether Rodgers succeeds, whether he wins, this will be the greatest thing that could happen to him short of winning a Super Bowl.

How do I know this? Because I saw it play out 15 years ago, when the guy who followed the greatest and most beloved player in the history of another franchise went into a cacophonous stadium and took on the departed legend. This quarterback literally played his guts out – got hit so hard and so frequently that he was reduced to vomiting on the sidelines in the final minutes – and sustained what seemed like a devastating defeat.

A decade and a half later, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young looks back on that epic showdown with Joe Montana and the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium with appreciation and gratitude.

"It kind of galvanized everybody – on both sides," Young recalled Thursday. "There was just so much emotion tied to all elements of it, and it just generated a lot of stuff that was emblematic of the situation. Everyone had to defend their guy, and it made the game a little bit more personal in that way."

I covered the game as a columnist for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and I remember everything about the Chiefs' 24-17 victory on Sept. 11, 1994 – from the way Young hung in while being repeatedly pummeled by K.C. pass rushers Derrick Thomas (three sacks, one safety) and Neil Smith (two late-hit personal fouls) to Montana's classically cool, mistake-free performance in a game he desperately wanted to win.

But my most vivid and poignant recollection is of a scene at the conclusion of the 49ers' walk-through at Arrowhead the previous afternoon, when the player I trusted most on the team – Tim McDonald, the Niners' wise All-Pro safety and defensive leader – pulled me aside and told me the facts of life.

"Just between you and me,'' McDonald said, "we've got to do this for Steve. And there's not a player on this team who doesn't feel that way." [And yes, T-Mac, I realize I'm outing you after all this time – and I know you don't care because what you said still gets my heart racing, and you deserve credit for being the one dude who had the guts to speak the truth.]

That the 49ers didn't rise up and win the game for Young turned out to be incidental, which brings us back to Rodgers and the game he's about to play against Favre.

As kickoff approaches, a protective cocoon is forming. Since Favre's messy departure in the summer of '08, Rodgers has received ample support from his coach, front office and teammates, and most Packers fans have started to come around as well. But when D-Day arrives and it's Rodgers carrying the hopes of Cheesehead Nation against a primed and detested enemy, you're going to see a visiting team that stands by its man like never before.

"We want to fight for him," Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk(notes) said in a phone interview on Wednesday. "Who knows what Aaron's mindset is behind closed doors, but we understand how much hype there is for this game, and we've known for a long time that Aaron's our guy.

"Any type of adversity builds your team up and brings you together. I don't know if you call this adversity – it's Week 4 for us, and there's a long season ahead – but it's the Vikings, it's Monday Night Football, and it's all kind of set up for us. We're going to fight for four quarters because Aaron's everything that our quarterback should be."

If Young has any advice for Rodgers, it's not to underestimate the equal and opposite reaction that's taking place inside the Vikings' universe. Any skepticism about Favre's constant waffling over whether to come out of retirement to join the team, his supplanting of holdover Tarvaris Jackson(notes) and his convenient decision to show up after training camp was over has been erased by the team's 3-0 start and, most important, the magical finish he produced last Sunday.

The Vikes are now all-in with Favre, and Young can definitely see someone such as Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen(notes) reprising the Thomas/Smith role from the '94 game.

"I would caution Aaron to keep an extra eye out for the crazed Viking defender who feels like he needs to declare his allegiance to Brett," Young said. "In my case, I felt like the Chiefs were out to prove something. I got hit a lot, and that was bad."

In the end, for future Hall of Famers Young and Montana, it was all good.

Montana, who had a frosty relationship with his successor and was still chafed at his former bosses (primarily team president Carmen Policy and head coach George Seifert) for having gotten rid of him the previous year, attained the satisfaction of showing the Niners, in an up-close-and-personal way, that he still had it. The unconditional love he felt from his Chiefs teammates didn't hurt, either.

Though Young didn't win, he so visibly hung tough under adverse conditions – three of his starting linemen sidelined, insanely loud crowd noise, constant shots to the body, four turnovers (three of which were on him) – that he won over a lot of skeptics. Internally, the 49ers turned even more shielding of their new leader in defeat, as emblemized by the sight of tackle Steve Wallace putting his hand on Young's shoulder as the quarterback threw up behind the Niners' bench.

I remember talking afterward to Policy, who'd watched the game with owner Eddie DeBartolo, who was and is exceptionally close to Montana.

"I was surprised at how much Eddie and I cared about the outcome, that we wanted this game so badly," Policy said. "It was something I couldn't have predicted, but it was real."

I guarantee a whole lot of Niners fans – and players – experienced feelings that were very similar that day.

Four-and-a-half months later, in Miami, Young threw six touchdown passes in a blowout Super Bowl XXIX victory over the San Diego Chargers – the Niners' fifth championship in 14 seasons. He had followed an icon by carving out his own place in history, and no one would ever question his big-game credentials again.

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Young was harassed by Thomas and Chiefs defenders all day.
(Mike Powell/Getty)

Had Young and his teammates not gone through that emotional day at Arrowhead, it's quite possible they still would have enjoyed such a glorious finish. We'll never know, but my belief is that Young was less encumbered, and his teammates' devotion to the cause less ambiguous, as a result of the Montana matchup and its aftermath.

When I talked to Hawk and gave him a quick recap of my conversation with McDonald 15 years earlier, I didn't expect him to understand the context, but I think he could at least somewhat relate. Hawk and Rodgers are good friends, and the linebacker talked about the quarterback's credibility in the locker room based on his handling of a delicate situation and his proficient play during a disappointing '08 season.

"I was answering these kind of questions about Aaron's leadership a lot last year," Hawk said. "But the bottom line is, Aaron never needed to earn our respect. I think he had it from how he handled himself when Brett was in Green Bay and when Brett tried to come back. And then after the trade, he was playing so good – people talked about our losing record, but he was the reason we stayed in every single one of those [close] games we didn't win.

"We've been behind Aaron the whole time, and I think the front office showed him they were behind him, too, when the stuff was going on with Brett. So I think he knows we've got his back."

Hawk is right; it isn't just Rodgers who's vulnerable. This is the scenario general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy wanted so desperately to avoid when they first tried to talk Favre into staying retired, then made sure he was traded to an AFC team (the New York Jets) with conditions making a later trade to the Vikings or another NFC North foe highly implausible.

And yet here is Favre a year later, with a stadium and a rejuvenated fan base behind him, itching to do the Montana thing and show the world why his former team made a mistake by letting him go.

The scorned veteran may well do it, too. And Rodgers may feel utterly rotten about it. In the end, however, he'll leave the Metrodome as the unquestioned leader of a team fully committed to following him, and one with a fan base more supportive of its new quarterback than it was before.

If you still don't believe me, I suggest we meet up at Lambeau Field for the Nov. 1 rematch and assess the situation. The protective cocoon will be rocking to its foundation, and nearly 73,000 devoted fans will be screaming unambiguously for Rodgers to bust out and soar.

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

The California Golden Bears will play with focus, fire and ferocity against USC on Saturday, and in the end a certain tailback will prove he is The Best. … The New England Patriots will find a way to outscore the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday – and move into a tie for the AFC East lead after the New Orleans Saints defeat the Jets. … Favre and Rodgers will both be terrific on Monday night, and the Pack will prevail in a tight, back-and-forth game.

PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …

Denver, where I can see the surprising Broncos (yeah, I may be the guy who's the most surprised) put their undefeated record on the line against the Cowboys. Yes, I know, I was the guy hyping the Jets-Saints showdown, and I'm not normally one to shy away from a trip to the Crescent City. But Denver is closer to Berkeley than New Orleans is, and I have some business to attend to at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night – along with about 70,000 of my closest friends. Have I happened to mention that I have a very cool boss?

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. Now that coach Jack Del Rio has canceled his quarterback's radio show, nothing can stop David Garrard(notes) from leading the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Super Bowl.

2. My crew in Berkeley won't be anything like this bunch after we honor our great university by bringing the noise at California Memorial Stadium.

3. Jealous that the Jets have already started calling their rookie quarterback "Sanchize", the Raiders' young signal-caller demanded a nickname from teammates, who quickly came up with "OffDaMarcus."

WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL

After two dicey weeks of near-elimination, I got the laugher I needed last Sunday, as the Ravens bludgeoned the Browns closer to the inevitable self-immolation. With the Patriots and Redskins also off-limits, I'm going with an unlikely choice this weekend: the Houston Texans, a.k.a. the Most Unpredictable Team On Earth. Why would I do something this foolish? Because they're hosting the Raiders, and I think DeMeco Ryans(notes) and company will effectively stop the run, leaving JaMarcus Russell(notes) and his killer 41.3 completion percentage to make the big plays. And even if Russell somehow makes them, the Texans ought to be able to outscore Oakland. This is the beauty of the World's Simplest Pool: Though it prevents you from picking the same winner more than once, it doesn't keep you from picking on the awful teams. And yes, Browns and Bucs, I'm talking to you.

MY BUDDIES' ANNOYING FANTASY ADVENTURE

Coming off his second defeat in three weeks, my buddy Malibu – conveniently attending to business in London – gave me power of attorney before Sabbath Bloody Sabbath's matchup against Slobber Knockers. Given that last week Malibu ignored my advice to pick up Pierre Garcon(notes), instead going with the regrettable Robert Meacham, before his 31-point defeat to Cleveland Steamers (have I mentioned that this is a classy league?), this seemed like a wise move on his part. Alas, none of the three waiver claims I made (Glen Coffee(notes), Garcon, Vernon Davis(notes)) went through, and I had to settle for picking up Earl Bennett(notes) and jettisoning Meacham. To add to the insult, Coffee will start this week for Slobber Knockers, joining Aaron Rodgers, Brandon Marshall(notes), Darren McFadden(notes), Devin Hester(notes) and Kenny Britt(notes). Come to think of it, even with Kurt Warner(notes) on a bye week, Donovan McNabb(notes) hurt, LT still banged up and Marion Barber(notes) iffy, I think Sabbath has an excellent chance of winning, with Joe Flacco(notes), Darren Sproles(notes), Reggie Bush(notes), Bernard Berrian(notes), Hines Ward(notes) and Johnny Knox(notes) playing key roles. If Barber can't go, I might turn to the newly acquired Bennett and hope he and Knox go off against the Lions. And I'm playing Todd Heap(notes) over Zach Miller at tight end, for whatever that's worth (I'm guessing not a whole lot.)

Things are more promising for UCSB coach Lindsay Gottlieb, whose team, Harsh Reality, improved to 2-1 with a 19-point victory over The Boss. It was a comprehensive effort for which Coach G deserves the bulk of the credit. On Sunday morning, she overruled my advice to play the Saints' Lynell Hamilton(notes) and instead went with Julius Jones(notes), reasoning that with Matt Hasselbeck(notes) hurt the Seahawks were likely to run more. Jones was our high scorer with 18 points, helping us survive Chris Johnson's return from the previous week's visit to outer space. Now Harsh Reality faces Dear Meat (Peyton Manning(notes), Maurice Jones-Drew(notes), Correll Buckhalter(notes), Cedric Benson(notes), Vincent Jackson(notes), Donald Driver(notes), Jeremy Shockey(notes)), and Gottlieb and I are wrestling with some decisions that will likely go down to the wire: Should we start the newly acquired Redskins' defense (at home vs. Tampa Bay) over the Packers' (at Vikings)? Greg Olsen(notes) or Vernon Davis at tight end? The banged-up Barber or our new hero Jones at running back? Newly acquired Bernard Berrian or Braylon Edwards(notes) as the third wideout? (Or sit both and start Jones and Barber.) I told Gottlieb I thought that, with Derek Anderson(notes) starting in Cleveland, Edwards might start catching the kind of deep balls the two were connecting on frequently in '07. "Braylon Edwards is the classic coach-killer," Gottlieb said. "It's easier to deal with players who lack talent. Guys like Braylon are worse – he has all this potential and you keep thinking, ‘This week he's gonna do it.' And then he kills you. But I'll probably end up playing him again, and getting burned."

We'll see what Y! Sports fantasy guru Brad Evans has to say about that:

Mike Silver, who openly admits he's a mental midget when it comes to fantasy, is one of virtual pigskin's hottest prognosticators. His outstanding calls on Lynell Hamilton and Fred Taylor(notes) were nothing short of brilliant. But in this deceptive little game, one week you're the belle of the ball, the next you're Courtney Love. Thankfully the Silver Surfer understands the benefits of showering …

With a host of favorable matchups (Coffee/Davis vs. StL, McFaddden at Hou, Hester vs. Det, Marshall vs. Dal), the Slobber Knockers are destined to shatter an empty Jack Daniels bottle over the head of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Sproles (at Pit), Bush (vs. NYJ) and Barber (at Den) face daunting rush defenses. Unless Johnny Knox morphs into Willie Gault circa '85, Malibu's chances of emerging victorious are slim-to-none (Sidebar: Because JaMarcus Russell would overthrow Jupiter on a fly route, Heap is the brainier choice over Miller).

Da Coach's prospects of continued fantasy success are more encouraging, albeit still unfavorable. Peyton, MJD, V-Jax and especially Benson against the Cleveland Chihuahuas, are intimidating opponents on paper. But since fantasy is all about maximizing potential through matchups, if Gottlieb inserts Green Bay (You know Favre will try to unsuccessfully revert back to his boyish gunslinger ways against his old club), Davis (He will be beastly against a Rams defense that has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to tight ends), Julius Jones (Ground Control to Major Mora: run on Indianapolis) and Braylon Edwards (Agree with Silver's logic, though Braylon better dip his hands in honey pre-game), she has a fighting chance. However, to echo the disdain Coach Gottlieb has for Banana Hands, he is indeed a classic coach-killer – serial even.

OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE

Yo, Zygi Wilf – do you know where you are and what day it is? The reason I ask is because I could've sworn that, as owner of the Vikings, you just had one of your lieutenants publicly demand $700 million from the good people of Minnesota, with an implied threat to move if you don't get your way – in 2009. Really? In this economy, you're pulling out the old shake-down-the-people-or-threaten-to-move thing? Good luck with that. I don't know if you've noticed, but even before the economy tanked owners like Robert Kraft, Jerry Richardson, Woody Johnson and the Mara/Tisch families figured out a way to get stadiums built with zero-to-minimal direct public funding. You're asking for $700 million – or else? "If the answer is no," Lester Bagley, your vice president for public affairs and stadium development told the St. Paul Pioneer Press, "then why would you own a team in this market?" Um, I don't know, Lester – maybe you and the Wilfs should've asked yourselves that when you bought the team in 2005. In the meantime, you might want to come up with a less idiotic name than "Metrodome Next" – and figure out a way to solicit a less-taxing measure of the public's cooperation by dropping the threats and coming up with a proposal that citizens will find reasonable under the current climate. If not? Well, in Ancient Viking Language, how does one say "Vaya con Dios"?

LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

My daughter's soccer team, the Legends, who didn't allow a goal in winning the Santa Cruz Classic last weekend. More appropriately, I'll be lining up hard-earned grenadine shots for Asia, Cailin, Ceci, Claire, Eva, Grace, Jade, Kayla, Kelsey, Lydia, Lyndsay, Meghan, Natalie, Patty, Sarah and Tara. And I'm doing a fat Don Julio shot for coach Carlos Morales, who has something in common with the pants-dropping coach of his beloved 49ers: Between games, he likes to get Naked (Juice). Yes, that's what passes for dorky-soccer-dad humor. Finally, my thoughts are with USC tailback Stafon Johnson in the wake of his horrible weightlifting accident. I wish him a full and speedy recovery (though I hope he's somewhat agitated between the hours of 5 and 9 p.m. Pacific Time on Saturday).

DISPATCHES FROM THE LAIR OF THE BEAR

As you may have noticed earlier in this column, it's pretty clear how I feel about last Saturday's debacle in Oregon – and the prospect of taking it out on 'SC. Alas, I'm not on the practice field or in the locker room with the now-24th-ranked Golden Bears, so I can't tell you how they'll handle the worst loss of the Jeff Tedford era. That's why sophomore kicker David Seawright makes the big bucks. (Memo to NCAA investigators: Don't worry, that was only a joke. He's not getting paid a dime. Who do you think we are – USC?)

Rankings are meaningless.

Well, they really aren't. Under the current construction of college football, rankings – along with the style points and politicking that follow – play a crucial role in the supposed success of a team. Remember 2004, Cal fans?

However, teams have to play as if the polls are meaningless. Coming off our first defeat of the year (and the subsequent stomach-lurching 18-slot freefall in the AP Poll), this mindset is of vital importance in our efforts to get back on track.

At the risk of adopting a new take on the adage of age being just a number, I offer a similar analysis with respect to the ranking of college football teams.

Each week, the sporting world witnesses a collection of teams set out to upend the arbitrary nature of rankings. Last Saturday, Oregon showed that they considered the voters to be wrong and, on that day, proved it.

But to get caught up in the ranking system places an unnecessary risk on the potential success of your football team. To allow the opinions of others to define a team's value impedes the crucial levels of focus and drive necessary for success.

We are no worse today than we were last Friday, despite the larger number that now precedes our name. If anything, we've improved from our experiences.

Although the opinions of others have been altered, we cannot (and will not) change the opinions of ourselves. The beauty of college football is that we have another opportunity to prove ourselves against a worthy opponent this Saturday, and we're more energetic, focused, and hungry than ever.

The best news, however, remains that no matter what the sports media or computer systems say about how good our team is, we still find ourselves on top where it really matters.

After all, at least some rankings are meaningful.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

dumb USC

ROLLIN' WITH THE ROYALS

In its 10th game of the Football League Championship season, Reading finally showed flashes of its immense potential under new manager Brendan Rodgers, storming to a 2-1 road victory over third-place Preston. That followed a 1-1 draw last Saturday at Madejski Stadium against Rodgers' former club, Watford, with a second-half Danny Graham strike equalizing after Grzegorz Rasiak's first goal in a Reading uniform had given the Royals a lead in the seventh minute. On Tuesday at Deepdale, first-half goals from Simon Church and Jimmy Kebe put Reading in a commanding position. Preston made it scary in the second half, scoring in the 85th minute after Royals sub Matt Mills took down Jon Parkin at the back post, and Parkin converted the penalty kick. However, keeper Adam Federici made some tremendous saves to secure the result, including a point-blank stop of a Parkin blast from close range. Now 19th in the league's 24-team table, Reading returns to Madejski on Saturday for a clash with fourth-place Middlesbrough.

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

One of the most amusing questions I get asked during radio and TV appearances is whether, after a couple of defeats, fans of a certain team "should start to panic." Trust me, I've been a fan of many losing teams over the years (I think you can probably guess at least one of them), and panic is not usually what comes to mind. Bitterness, ranting, vowing never to root for said team again, moping, cursing, consuming, wearing bags on head while attending games … all viable reactions. Panic? Not so much, unless the stadium catches on fire while your team is getting whistled for its eighth false start. However, for the people whose jobs actually depend on a team's success, I suppose panic is always a possibility. I wonder if that's the case for Eric Mangini as his 0-3 Cleveland Browns plummet further and further down the drain, washed down by a $1,701 bottle of water. Here's the erstwhile Mangenius' hypothetical tale of woe, to the tune of "Panic Switch" by Silversun Pickups.

I'm
A legend in my mind
Big fines
When you're out of line

If I
Don't play the right guy
As my QB
Will I make it past the bye?

Could I be unemployed before Halloween?
Is the product that obscene?

As my owner sits in a London pub
Does he give a flip, with his fish and chips?
Will he watch the game from the soccer pitch?
Is he feelin' me with my panic switch?

And when I ask myself what it takes to win
Is it Brady Quinn(notes)? Derek Anderson?
If I juggle them is it such a sin?
Got some Ritalin? Cause I'm panicked …

Mm, I'll try
To hold on tight tonight
Pink slip
Transcontinental flight?
Wanna throw deep
An ex-All-Pro's out wide
But he sucks like
A 10-hour bus ride

If I treat everyone like a worthless schmoe
How will I know they'll still follow?

As my owner sits in a London pub
Does he give a flip, with his fish and chips?
Will he watch the game from the soccer pitch?
Is he feelin' me with my panic switch?

And when I ask myself what it takes to win
Is it Brady Quinn? Derek Anderson?
If I juggle them is it such a sin?
Got some Ritalin? Cause I'm panicked …

I'm fining and dining and floating away
I'm fining and dining and floating away
I'm fining and dining and floating away
Fining and dining and floating

I'm fining and dining and floating away
I'm fining and dining and floating away
I'm fining and dining and floating away
Fining and dining and floating …

As my owner sits in a London pub
Does he give a flip, with his fish and chips?
Will he watch the game from the soccer pitch?
Is he feelin' me with my panic switch?

And when I ask myself what it takes to win
Is it Brady Quinn? Derek Anderson?
If I juggle them is it such a sin?
Got some Ritalin? Cause I'm panicked …

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