GREEN BAY, Wis. – The moment didn't go exactly the way Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers dreamt it for the past four years.
But when it comes to the whole performance, Rodgers' first start couldn't have gone better if it had been constructed by the folks at DreamWorks. That included a ridiculous off-balance, on-one-foot, against-his-body, half-pass, half-hook shot, tracer-bullet touchdown throw in the first half.
A pass Rodgers admitted after the game that he'd never thrown in a real game.
"In practice a couple times," Rodgers said as he walked out of the locker room at Lambeau Field. After three years of playing the understudy to Brett Favre and the past two months of waiting to take his place amid the never-ending drama of Favre's return to football, Rodgers finally got his chance to be the Packers' next starting quarterback.
He was sensational. Rodgers led Green Bay to a 24-19 victory over Minnesota on Monday night, punctuating the moment with a Lambeau Leap into the stands after scoring the clinching touchdown with 6:03 remaining on a one-yard quarterback sneak.
"I've been dreaming about that for four years, to be honest," said Rodgers, the smile growing on his face. "I was hoping my first leap would be maybe something a little more flashy – a 10-yard, 15-yard run or something. But at that point in the game I just said, 'What the heck, I'm going to go for it.'"
As he did, Packers fans embraced him and perhaps allowed themselves to give way to a new vision. For all the bickering and arguing that went on among the faithful in recent months, including the constant shots at general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy for casting aside Favre, Rodgers didn't just quiet the dissenters, he won them over.
Rodgers was an efficient 18 of 22 for 178 yards and tossed one TD pass, a one-yarder to fullback Korey Hall. Considering the Vikings feature a rugged defense, this performance was outstanding.
Considering all the other factors, such as Hurricane Brett and the New York Jets through Miami on Sunday, this performance was stunning. The history of the NFL is loaded with stories of men facing these circumstances and folding. Richard Todd tried to follow Joe Namath with the Jets and got so angry once that he threw a reporter into a locker.
Cliff Stoudt followed Terry Bradshaw in Pittsburgh and joked about killing himself. Marty Domres became a borderline recluse after struggling to follow Johnny Unitas in Baltimore.
So how did Rodgers survive it all?
"Focus, I think, is the biggest thing," Rodgers said. "A lot of questions this week were about whether (I) was going to be nervous this week and I didn't feel like I was going to be because of my preparation and it really goes back to March 17 when I was named the starter at the beginning of the offseason program and was labeled the guy from then on.
"Then it carried over this summer when I was back in California and into training camp. I stayed focused on the things I could control, my work ethic, my preparation and those are the things that have allowed me to come out and play well tonight and hopefully have the kind of season I think I'm capable of."
What Rodgers' teammates have seen over the past two months is a resolve within Rodgers to not let the outside world influence his sense of self.
"We all care about what other people think of us," Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "Anybody who says that's not true is lying. But there's a point within yourself where you don't let the things that are outside influence what you think about yourself. You have a sense of who you are, a sense of confidence in yourself. That's why I always say that the biggest opponent that players have in the NFL is not the media or the fans or any of the outside stuff. The biggest opponent you have is yourself."
Early in the game, Rodgers showed the resolve. A flurry of early penalties in the first quarter had the Packers in situations such as third-and-13, third-and-20, third-and-28 and, most absurd of all, first-and-33.
Rodgers didn't compound the situations with a critical mistake.
"I thought he managed the game, especially starting in the number of unfavorable down and distances that we had," McCarthy said.
In the second quarter, Rodgers got to display the confidence. After he completed a 56-yard heave to wide receiver Greg Jennings (the gain was all on Rodgers' arm), a series of runs and penalties allowed the Packers to whittle their way to a third-and-goal situation from the Minnesota 1-yard line.
Rodgers dropped back and moved progressively to his left as he scrambled for time. With Vikings defenders close enough that he couldn't plant his feet, Rodgers rifled a tight spiral from an awkward position.
First, Rodgers threw the ball against his body, his left shoulder pointed toward the middle of the field as he threw into the left side of the end zone. Second, Rodgers' right foot was off the ground, falling back. In essence, Rodgers threw a pass that was a hybrid of a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hookshot and a Bill Walton high-post pass to a cutting Bob Gross.
Rodgers also did it while being chased by four slobbering, 300-something-pound men who wanted to do nothing less than pull him apart like a roasted chicken.
Oh yeah, it was also a perfect strike just beyond one defender and in front of another into the hands of the sliding Hall.
It was ridiculous. Or as linebacker Nick Barnett said with a knowing grin, "That was a little Favre-ish."
Yes, it was the essence of Favre's extreme confidence, the improvisational skill that endeared him to every guy who still throws the ball around. But Rodgers' performance didn't involve some of the goofy, lobbed passes into traffic that Favre also made his trademark.
Such as last season in overtime of the NFC Championship game against the New York Giants, when Favre's interception set up the Giants for the winning field goal.
That pass ended what could have been a dream season.
It also paved the way for Rodgers' dream.
Even if for only one night.