Only in Green Bay


Man … it gets cold in January.

On second thought, O.K., I guess that’s kind of stating the obvious. I should probably start this article with something more provocative. But you’ll have to forgive me. I really am just now starting to notice the cold. For me, this is a big deal. Usually, around this time of year, I’m somewhere warm.

Usually, right around now, I’m on vacation.

An NFL season lasts 17 weeks. Seventeen weeks. Depending on where you’re coming from, that can either sound like a very short or very long time. I’ve heard guys talk about it like it’s “only” 17 weeks. And then I’ve heard other guys talk about it like 17 weeks is forever. Throughout my career, I’ve always envied that first group — because I know what it means.

If the season is flying by for you, that means you’re winning.

William Glasheen/The Post-Crescent/USA T

My teams haven’t done a lot of winning in previous years in the league. I’ve had those seasons of six, seven, eight wins. You’re reading this, so you probably follow football — and as an NFL fan, you know what I’m talking about. Those 6–10 seasons when you’re trying to stay optimistic … and you’re giving it your all … but by around Week 12, when you’re sitting there, 4–8, and looking up at the top of the division like it’s on the moon … you know it’s over. No division chase. No wild-card chase. No playoffs. And really, once December hits, no meaningful football. And still, you give it your all, and you’re out there competing. Because it’s what you do. But, man, it’s tough. It’s tough not putting together a winning season after fighting with your teammates in the trenches all year.

Those are some brutal winters.

I’m a family man — my family means everything to me. And the only possible silver lining of missing the playoffs all of those years was that I knew I’d get to spend more time with my wife and my kids. So, right around the end of December, once my teams were out of contention, my wife and I would go ahead and start planning our vacation. Vacation — sounds great, right? But it was always bittersweet. It not only became an annual tradition, but also a kind of admission of failure. Making our vacation plans meant another season of not making the playoffs.

So when I became a free agent this past off-season, I was determined to find a team with a winning culture. And when it comes to a winning culture, well … for me, Green Bay has always been the pinnacle. You walk into the building and it’s championship banners. It’s Super Bowl banners. It’s trophies on trophies. The retired greats who line the walls — we’re talking, the guys who basically started the National Football League. Lambeau. Lombardi. Starr. All the way up to Favre. That level of tradition. You walk in, and you feel it right away: In Green Bay, it’s about Packers football — past and present.

It’s about upholding history.

And it’s about winning rings.

L.G. Patterson/AP Images

When I was in St. Louis last year, playing in the NFC West, a lot of our flights would end up being to and from the West Coast. And with our schedule, plus the fact that Green Bay played a lot in prime time — it meant that anytime I would sit down to watch football, the Packers would be on TV. One of my teammates on the Rams was from Milwaukee and had a lot of love for the Packers. So he would always be there watching with me. And I just remember: the looks that we would give each other, every time that Aaron Rodgers made one of his patented plays.

You know the looks I’m talking about, because you’ve probably exchanged them with your own friends while watching the Packers. That look you give after Aaron uses his legs to avoid what seems like a sure-thing sack, makes two tacklers miss, and then hits his man — where only he can catch it — 30 yards downfield, in wide open space. That look you give after Aaron flicks his wrist and connects with his receiver for an easy touchdown, back shoulder, impossible timing, right on a dime.

And then there is that last look that we would give each other, which you probably have to be in the NFL to recognize. In the league, you always want to be professional, and you never want to seem too hyped about another team’s player. But every now and then, Aaron would make a throw so perfect, and so out of this world, that we couldn’t help it. We’d watch the play unfold, then pause, then turn to each other, and then give each other what I can only describe as The Look. The look that says, Dude is a beast.

And then I signed with Green Bay in the offseason — and all of a sudden, I was right in the middle of it. It was real life.

The day I came on board, Aaron gave me a call.

“Hang in there this season,” he told me. “Because we’re about to have a lot of fun. We’re about to go on a ride. So just hang in there, and come along with us, and you’ll see.” Man — I’m telling you. After seven years in the NFL, I’ve had a lot of introductory phone calls with a lot of confident people. But Aaron’s was on another level. Dude was as cool as a fan.

But as high as my opinion was, from afar, of Green Bay’s winning culture, and of Aaron’s excellence, there was a part of me that was still prepared for anything. Especially with the way that so many of my NFL seasons have gone previously — I think I had just learned to be level-headed. In this business, when something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

But not with Aaron, and not with Green Bay.

James D. Smith/AP Images

The first thing you notice about Aaron, when you meet him in person, isn’t how smart he is. It’s how generous he is with how smart he is. He’ll give you these random quizzes — not in an adversarial way, but in a thoughtful, healthy-competitive, coaching-you-up way. Something like: O.K., on that route there, how does how you ran it differ from how we talked about it? Or: What’s the signal for killing the play? Or: On what down and distance are we expecting a certain defense to show a certain scheme? It’s always something.

And with Aaron, the thing is — he’ll make you feel like you are the most important guy in the room. Like the key to the Packers winning the Super Bowl, ultimately, will be your personal ability to keep up with him. It’s a type of leadership that is constantly asking you: I’m all in — are you all in? That is telling you: I’m keeping you on your toes, because I’m always on mine.

And just like Aaron exceeded my already high expectations in person, so did Green Bay. The fans there are … man, What can you even say? When I signed with the Packers, obviously I was looking forward to the first home game of the regular season. Lambeau Field … sold-out crowd roaring on full blast … hopefully getting to do a leap. Week 3 against Detroit — that’s when I figured I’d get the Full Lambeau Experience.

I had no idea how much sooner it would come.

The fans sold out Lambeau for a training-camp practice. A training-camp practice. It’s called Family Night, and it’s basically just a full-speed practice, right in the stadium. Sold out. Not an empty seat in the house. It was an unreal experience for me. In all of the places I’d played, I’d never seen anything like that before.

I’m sure that many people have heard about how great Lambeau is, and how great the fans are — and if they haven’t been there in person, they probably think it’s all some big old myth. But trust me: Our fans deserve every bit of their legend status. Packers fans … they’re insane. Packers culture … it’s insane. And I mean that in the best way possible.

A lot has been made out of Aaron’s comments after our Week 11 loss to the Redskins, and the winning streak that we’ve put together in the couple of months since. When it comes to Aaron’s “run the table” comment, it seems like everyone has an opinion. My opinion?

That was just Aaron being a leader.

By which I mean: That was Aaron being Aaron.

When Aaron makes those great plays — it isn’t only a matter of skill. Those plays also take an amazing level of intelligence and hard work. In practice and in drills, he perfects the little things. He never gets tired of doing the little things right. That’s what makes Aaron so great at what he does.

That is what separates him from everyone else.

You also have to be thinking deeper than everyone else to make those plays. You have to be able to see what’s on the field … but then you also have to be able to see what’s going to be on the field, a second from now. And two seconds from now. And at every second until the exact moment the ball hits your receiver in the hands. To play the quarterback position as well as Aaron has played it, you basically have to see the field, not as it is — but as it will be.

You have to see the future.

Tony Gutierrez/AP Images

We won in Week 17, on the road, against our rivals, to clinch the division.

Back shoulder, two-inch window, impossible timing, right on a dime.

Aaron Rodgers Play. And not the last.

As special as this winning streak has been, and as special as this playoff run has been, on a team level — on a personal level, it’s also been extra-special.

This weekend will mark the 20th week of the season for us — my longest season. And I’ll tell you what: It’s flown by. The last two months have felt like a blur — like a really good dream. I mean, where else but in a dream do you go on a six-game winning streak to make the playoffs? Where else but in a dream does Randall catch that Hail Mary to end the half against the Giants? Where else but in a dream does Aaron huddle us up, with 12 seconds to go in a tie game against the No. 1 seed in the conference, and say, “Get open, I’ll find you” — and it works?

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Where else but in a dream does this season even happen?

The answer, of course, is Green Bay.

For seven years, I was a guy on the margins — not feeling like I was making much of an impact, and playing for teams that weren’t experiencing a lot of success. Now, I’m playing for the best franchise in the world … for the best fans in the world. And with the greatest quarterback of all time. I know one thing for certain: It has made me cherish every moment.

And hey: Now that I know what football is like in January — I figure, why stop there?