Rodgers overcame Favre fiasco by winning

Michael Silver

DALLAS – For the past several days – and really, for the past several years – Aaron Rodgers(notes) has done his best to avoid the F-word.

Though his story is inevitably framed in reference to his legendary predecessor, and reporters naturally try to get him to expound on the topic, Rodgers treats Favre as a dirty word, part of a prolonged and concerted effort to take the high road on a very sensitive subject in Titletown.

In truth, however, any mention of Brett Favre(notes) should bring a smile to Rodgers' face as the Green Bay Packers' emerging star of a quarterback prepares to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV on Sunday at Cowboys Stadium. That's because, while Favre didn't offer Rodgers a whole lot of support during their three years as teammates, he ended up helping to smooth the road for his successor's ascent.

In leaving the Packers under obviously acrimonious terms and making a desperate push to play for the rival Minnesota Vikings, Favre not only helped Rodgers overcome the skepticism of a dubious fan base but also galvanized the locker room.

"I think you hit the story dead on," Nick Barnett(notes), the Packers' injured veteran middle linebacker, told me last week. "If Brett had just gone to the Jets [in '08] and kept that going, it'd be a whole different thing. But once he came to Minnesota, and you knew a lot of [bad feelings about the Packers] were still with him, some people felt, 'Oh no, that's b.s.' So a lot of fans embraced Aaron even faster than they otherwise would have.

"As for the locker room, there were guys who supported Brett, and some guys who supported Aaron, but when it came down to it guys were going to rally behind our quarterback. When Brett got to the Vikings, it made us want to beat him more. At the same time, we knew [playing for a rival] could happen to any of us because it is a business. But yeah, emotionally, it made an impact."

Not everyone I've talked to is as convinced that Favre's post-Green Bay behavior gave Rodgers a boost. Everyone, however, seems to agree that Rodgers' poise, restraint and steady play in his first season as a starter showed his teammates he was up to the task of replacing an icon.

By showing that he wouldn't be overwhelmed by a daunting situation, Rodgers instilled a faith that carries over to this day. No one in the organization worries that the first-time Super Bowl quarterback will buckle under the weight of America's most hyped sporting event because they saw how cool he was amid a charged post-Favre atmosphere.

"The thing most people were trying to see was how [Rodgers] would respond in the media," veteran cornerback Charles Woodson(notes) said Tuesday during media-day interviews. "What would he say? What would he do? He's always taken the high road and never got caught up in what was said, and stayed steady. And then he played well, so we knew we had a guy who, no matter what happened, was going to be OK."

A few days earlier, I had run my theory by Woodson – that Favre's zest to join the Vikings following his single season with the Jets and his unconcealed vindictiveness toward Packers general manager Ted Thompson, head coach Mike McCarthy and the organization in general had boosted support for Rodgers internally.

"I don't buy that," Woodson said. "What I do buy is that Aaron helped himself by not letting all of that drama surrounding Brett affect him as a person or as our quarterback. And then we rallied around him even more, no doubt."

For those whose memories fail them, Favre came out of retirement in the summer of '08, claiming that he wanted to get his job back from anointed successor Rodgers. Favre tried to force a trade to the Vikings before succumbing to the realization that the Packers wouldn't comply. Instead, Thompson sent the future Hall of Famer – one of the most beloved players in franchise history – to the Jets in a trade that included a provision making it virtually impossible that the Jets would in turn ship him to the Vikings (or another NFC North rival).

During that '08 season with the Jets, a report surfaced that then-Lions president Matt Millen had called Favre for inside information before Detroit's game with the Packers. Though Favre did his best to downplay that conversation, the fact that at the time Woodson described his former teammate as having "sabotaged" the Packers tells you all you needed to know about how it played in the Green Bay locker room.

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Rodgers and Favre following their first head-to-head meeting.
(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

After retiring again following the '08 campaign, Favre acknowledged to SI.com's Peter King that part of the motivation behind his return was "sticking it to Ted". Then the quarterback came out of retirement once more and signed with the Vikings shortly before the '09 campaign – and produced a stellar season that included two victories over his former team and a near-miss title drive that ended with an overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship game.

By that point, Green Bay's longtime love affair with Favre was pretty much at the lose my number stage. As I'd predicted before the quarterback's first game in purple against the Packers in October of '09, the Pack pretty much had Rodgers' back.

At the time, I'd compared Rodgers' situation to that of Steve Young when he quarterbacked the San Francisco 49ers against the Kansas City Chiefs in a 1994 game at Arrowhead Stadium. Though Young lost that game to Joe Montana, the legend he'd displaced in San Francisco, it proved to be a watershed event in terms of locker-room support. At season's end, Young threw six touchdown passes in the Niners' Super Bowl XXIX blowout of the Chargers and was on his way to joining Montana in the Hall of Fame – until now the only time in modern NFL history that someone had followed an all-time-great passer so adeptly.

Young, who'd won a league MVP award while the injured Montana was still on the roster two years earlier, understood that it would require leading his team to a championship to alter the relationship between himself and his fan base on an irrevocable basis.

"I said, even at the time, when you win Super Bowls it changes cities," Young said last week. "There's an emotional attachment, like the [San Francisco] Giants winning the World Series this year. I've been here in the Bay Area for 25 years, and watched 'em every year, and guys come and go and there are highs and lows and Barry Bonds homers and big games.

"Now all of a sudden, this year, there is a searing memory that will never go away. Once you have that searing memory together, you're bonded forever. I had people say to me before I won that Super Bowl, 'Steve, I can't transition. My heart is with Joe.' It's the deep water of fan-player-coach relationships."

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Young waited a while before finally taking over for good.
(George Rose/Getty Images)

Young has done his best to help Rodgers navigate those sometimes-choppy waters – the two have spoken frequently, including during the lead-up to this game – and I asked him if he felt Favre's behavior had made an impact. After all, had Montana gone to the rival Los Angeles Rams and given information to the Cowboys before a Dallas-San Francisco clash, it might have helped Young feel the love a little sooner.

"Sure," Young said. "All those things are mitigating factors. There are a lot of things on the margin that helped make the transition a little easier. But the overriding reality is that Aaron had to play great – pure and simple. If they rallied around him and he hadn't been one of the great quarterbacks in the league, it wouldn't have mattered.

"I told Aaron, 'The big picture's what matters. Don't get lost in anything. Don't lose sight of the biggest thing of all.' I don't care whether you play for the Ravens, Packers, Rams or Steelers, you'd better play well – and now you'd better play really well – if you want to win them over. You can say it's unfair, and you can get bogged down by the pressure, but go play great football and everything will be all right. That's it."

And if Rodgers does that on Super Sunday and hoists a Lombardi Trophy to the heavens?

"It's a new reality," Young said. "Trust me: It becomes a new reality. You remember. It's not like you forget all the tough things, but it changes you forever."

Put it this way: One more victory, and Rodgers won't need any help from anyone anymore.

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

NFL owners will lock out the players on March 4, and a new collective bargaining agreement won't be reached until September, at the earliest. … Christina Aguilera will absolutely eviscerate any memory of Whitney Houston's Super Bowl XXV national anthem – and everyone else's, for that matter – before Sunday's kickoff. … The Packers and Steelers will battle to the first overtime in Super Bowl history, and Green Bay will prevail on a Mason Crosby(notes) field goal (though not on the first possession).

PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …

The biggest, baddest, buffest football stadium in North America (though Lambeau Field is the bestest).

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. Enraged over a critical article, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder bought the Washington City Paper, fired writer Dave McKenna and replaced him with Donovan McNabb(notes).

2. After his groundbreaking report that several Steelers players visited a local strip club Monday night, Dallas Morning News reporter Gromer Jeffers Jr. received a congratulatory note from Washington Post legend Bob Woodward, a notification from the Pulitzer Prize committee that he was under consideration for the award and a Ph.D from rapper Mase.

3. There is someone more uniquely talented on the Yahoo! Sports Super Bowl team than video programming manager (and former Nyack College basketball player) Krysten Peek.

LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

My late, great friend James Parrish, who helped enhance my Super Bowl XXX and XXXVIII experiencesand many others – and who I can't help but think about every time I cover the Steelers or come to Dallas.

THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

In what I hope will be a foreshadowing of next year's Big Game at Stanford Stadium, Jack Clark's rugby team traveled down to The Farm last Saturday to battle the Cardinal for the Scrum Axe and eked out a 74-0 victory, improving its record to 10-0. Meanwhile, one of the program's recent stars, Colin Hawley, has been fighting his way into the USA 7s national team mix – serving as yet another reminder that the quest to Save Cal Rugby is a noble one.

I'm also fired up about Cal football's highly acclaimed signing class, with big ups to Golden Bears coach Jeff Tedford and reigning Rivals.com national recruiter of the year and defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

newsman falls down stairs

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

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Mendenhall preps for Sunday's contest.
(Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

In what has become a Super Bowl week tradition, I sift through the library of the halftime performers and link it to a pertinent theme, for your imaginary listening enjoyment. In the case of the Black Eyed Peas, this wasn't difficult: "My Humps" is the perfect ditty to talk about Steelers halfback Rashard Mendenhall's(notes) unconventionally exuberant celebration of his team's AFC championship game victory over the Jets. Here's our send-up of Mendenhall serenading Pittsburgh's favorite Piano Man:

What you gon' do with all them rings?
Karaoke songs you sing
I'ma get, get, get, get, you drunk,
Get you love drunk off my humps,
My humps, my humps, my humps, my humps, my humps,
My humps, my humps, my humps, my ugly mannish bumps (Check it out)

You messin' with people's minds,
From Milledgeville to Stateline
You used to kind of ice us
But now you've got a nice touch
Ward and Kemoeatu
Clark and Polamalu's
hair and James Harrison(notes)
All this love is embarrasin'
Why did Goodell suspend him?
They said no one could defend him
Seven is my religion
When he throws it's kinda bitchin'
So we keep on winnin'
Don't care if he's sinnin'
Cause from the beginnin'
He had Coach Tomlin grinnin'

Big Ben (Ben), Big Ben, Big Ben, Big Ben (Ben)
We love it when we win (Ben),
My hump, my hump, my hump (Ben),
My hump's on YouTube

He's got me spending
(Oh) Spendin' all my playoff shares and spending like a champ
He's got me spendin'
(Oh) Spendin' all my Super Bowl shares, no one rides for free

What you gon' do with all them rings?
Karaoke songs you sing
I'ma get, get, get, get, you drunk,
Get you love drunk off my humps,
How you gonna like me on your back?
Havin' a panic attack
Actin' like Rex Ryan with a snack
With a snack, with a snack
'Cause of my hump (ha), my hump, my hump, my hump (what)
My hump, my hump, my hump (ha), my ugly mannish bumps (Check it out) …