Note: We'd like to thank everyone at the NFL Network, particularly Andrew Howard and Dennis Johnson, for their help in putting together this inside look at the making of "America's Game: The 2010 Green Bay Packers." You can see the premiere on the NFL Network Wednesday evening at 9 ET.
NFL Films senior producer Dave Douglas has previous credits in the "America's Game" series — he produced the films on the 1985 Chicago Bears and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. And with more than 30 years with the company that has chronicled the NFL since the early 1960s, he's seen just about everything. But as Dave told me in a recent interview, the 2010 Green Bay Packers provided a different challenge — and gave unique rewards — from a narrative perspective. That's why his third "America's Game" was so interesting.
The Packers had been through as much turmoil as a consistently successful team could imagine. From the recent and heartbreaking playoff losses, to the drama of the Brett Favre-to-Aaron Rodgers handover, it seemed that three people typified the story of the team that eventually overcame all the obstacles and put together the franchise's fourth Super Bowl win — quarterback Aaron Rodgers, defensive back Charles Woodson and head coach Mike McCarthy. To Dave and to NFL Films, these were the guys to talk about that season.
"The reason we chose those three people to represent this team are exactly that — it's nice to go from the back forward and ask yourself, 'Who do you want to see hoisting that trophy and talking about this championship team?' So, you see the road that Aaron had to take, and the road that Mike took — 19 years of a journey and being fired by the Packers. And then Charles not living up to his Heisman hype, and being branded as a malcontent — he didn't even want to come to Green Bay. It makes them the logical spokespeople. And they had the gravitas and the right to speak.
"They had come close in recent years, and I think that's when Mike put the idea of the blank slate in the meeting room. I think that in the end, this team said, 'You know what? Why not us?' I think that allowed them to overcome 15 guys on IR, and the concussions to Aaron, and some losses to pretty bad teams like Miami and the Redskins, and they kept marching on. Once they got in the playoffs, I think they said, 'So we're a six-seed? Big deal. So we have to play four games away from Lambeau? Big deal. We can do it.' And they did it."
For Aaron Rodgers, the NFL experience began with the draft pick that didn't happen — and then, things got much, much worse for a time.
"I dreamt about being the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. I used to draw little plays on note cards and dream I was Joe Montana throwing passes in the backyard with dad." — Rodgers on his childhood
"On the inside, there was a lot of disappointment, embarrassment, just thinking about how hard you worked. … But it was honestly the best thing that happened to me. I was 21 years old [and] I thought I was the best thing since sliced bread and I needed a little humble pie." — Rodgers on slipping in the first round of the draft to the No. 24 selection
When talking to Dave about the 2010 Packers, and the concussion that Rodgers suffered against the Detroit Lions, I couldn't help but be struck by the comparison to Steve Young, and how Young was beaten into the ground by the Detroit Lions in 1994. Of course, that was the same year that he took the 49ers to a Super Bowl win and finally got the ghost of Joe Montana off his back. Without pandering to the obvious Favre question, I wanted to know if Dave thought there was any residue of Favre in Rodgers' eyes … or is it something that one Super Bowl can really eliminate?
"That's very difficult to answer. He's candid about it, and he's forthcoming to a degree. He honestly and openly says, 'Yes, the first year was difficult.' And that's understandable. Favre was wary of Rodgers taking his job. Who wouldn't be? He sees this strong-armed kid from Cal coming in, and he wasn't happy about it. But Aaron also goes on to say that the two years after that were a lot more fun … The thing that stood out to me, and I think it's the soundbite of the show, is when he talks about the reaction he got from the staunch Favre backers. He says, 'I can't believe [what they were threatening] … break my arms, break my legs. I was kinda scared.'
"He looks at himself as a guy who had to put in his time. The 49ers didn't draft him, he had to go to Butte Community College, he had to fight his way in at Cal, he had to wait three years for Brett Favre [to leave]. But when he got his chance, he wanted to be ready, and he was."
For Charles Woodson, professional reclamation came in a place he didn't want to go.
"They thought I was done. They thought I couldn't play the game anymore. 'He's lost a step, can't coach him, sleeping in meetings, bad locker room guy.' Could I still play football? No question about it." — Woodson on leaving the Oakland Raiders and signing with the Packers in 2006
"That's the reason why you love the game. It's for that moment. It's to win the Super Bowl. It's everything." — Woodson on winning the Super Bowl
I said to Dave that after watching the screener, Woodson seems like the most complex character of the three.
"He's the Most Interesting Man in the World," Dave said. "He should be the Dos Equis guy. When in Rome, you act like Charles Woodson! Charles really is multi-multi layered. He is a cocky, self-confident guy, and rightly so — he can cover a guy in his sleep. He knows what offenses are going to run before they break the huddle. He made Tramon Williams the cornerback he is today, and he made Nick Collins the ball-hawking safety he is today.
"And because it came so easy to him, he took it for granted early on. He didn't play attention in meetings early in his career. He didn't bust his butt on the practice field, and he could be a little off-putting at times … He got knocked down a peg. He's saying, 'Here I am, I'm a free agent, and nobody wants me.' Who wants him? Green Bay. And he says, 'I'm not going there.' He's a freelancing, wild California kid with a winery in California, and life is good, and it's sunny … and Green Bay wants him? All that place is is snow and cheese, as far as he's concerned. But it was the best thing that ever happened to him, and he tells you that, too."
For Mike McCarthy, his well-deserved name as one of the NFL's best coaches came at the expense of his hometown team.
"It was really an exciting time for everybody involved in Green Bay, and even more so for my family in particular. I know everybody takes a lot of pride in the success of their son and siblings and everything, but we would have definitely preferred it had it been someone else, you know, other than Pittsburgh." — Mike McCarthy
I asked Dave about my own impressions of McCarthy, gleamed as they are from a couple of scouting combines — this is a man with absolutely no artifice about him. He is pure football, through and through. The prototypical "Pittsburgh guy" in that regard.
"When you sit down with a guy like Mike … he is not dramatic," Dave said. "He hates drama. He can't stand anything flamboyant, or any team that draws attention to itself. What you see is what you get, and Mike takes a great deal of pride in being the same guy every day. He has that no-nonsense, Pittsburgh attitude — hell, he loves the Steelers. He loved the Pirates and Steelers growing up, he coached at Pitt, and they were all successful then. So, sure enough, what does fate make you do but beat your favorite team in the Super Bowl? And that's just the way it was.
"We pull no punches with these interviews, and we tell them no questions beforehand. The McCarthy interview lasted about two hours. Aaron knows we're going to talk about Brett Favre. Mike knows we're going to talk about how he didn't draft Aaron when he was a coordinator in San Francisco. And Charles knows we're going to talk about his rough days in Oakland.
"And they're more than willing to talk about it, because they're celebrating a wonderful season."
"Being one of the few people to be able to talk about that run last year was an honor and a privilege. It's something that it'll be a part of my legacy, [Aaron Rodgers'] legacy, coach [Mike] McCarthy's legacy. It was just a great, great feeling being a part of it, talking about it, having those thoughts of what we went through as a team to get to the top of our profession. Again, honored and privileged to be one of the guys, one of the few, to be able to talk about it." — Charles Woodson