Two weeks ago, I wrote an article on the comparatively few sporting moments of genius that we’ve witnessed in 2011. However, the piece contained an unforgiveable error – it omitted any reference to the most incandescent sportsman of the moment, the Green Bay Packers quarterback: Aaron Rodgers. An athlete who produced an entire night of glowing, luminous sporting genius and has continued on the path trodden by immortals ever since.
Across a year of scalding brilliance, including a Super Bowl MVP performance, Rodgers most astonishing masterpiece came not in the Super Bowl – despite his 304 yards and 3 TDs – but in the Georgia Dome in January’s NFC Divisional Round. That night against the Atlanta Falcons he finally stopped being Brett Favre’s successor and began crafting a legacy that should surpass all that Number 4 ever achieved in Green Bay.
In the domed theatre, Rodgers illuminated the stage with the most perfect performance of quarterbacking you could ever wish to see. Rodgers’ final stats showed 31 of 36 for 366 and 3 TDs; plus a rushing touchdown. Even those blinding figures don’t tell a fraction of the story. That night, Rodgers transcended statistics – one of those mythical performances where you knew, just knew, that every time he dropped back to pass something electrifying would happen. Not might; would. Strike after strike arrowed into receivers’ paths, time and again tacklers were eluded as Rodgers swaggered out of Favre’s eternal shadow and into his own spotlight.
Watching Rodgers carve up the San Diego Chargers defense last night as the Packers’ moved to 8-0 one was reminded of that night against Atlanta. Whether in the pocket, flushed from the pocket, chased from the pocket at a full sprint; no matter – he just doesn’t miss. 4TDs; only 5 Incompletions and it appeared so simple. Back shoulder Touchdown throws to Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings were particular things of beauty.
It occurred that Lionel Messi of Barcelona might be the only other sportsman who makes genius look this easy. And he is surrounded by other all-time greats to assist his excellence: Xavi, Iniesta and Villa would be shoe-ins for a hypothetical soccer Hall of Fame.
Brady had Moss, Manning had Harrison and Wayne; Montana had Rice, Bradshaw had Swann. No disrespect to Nelson, Jennings, Donald Driver et al. but they are not in the same class as the afore-mentioned wideouts. Only John Elway, among the all-time greats, did as much with so comparatively little. Obviously Rodgers must continue this purple patch for an enhanced period of time to challenge the greatest signal callers ever but that possibility increases with each passing week.
Rodgers still has a penchant for hanging onto the ball a touch too long, but it is a minor failing in the grand scheme of greatness. If the MVP was decided right now, his victory would be unanimous. He is currently on pace to obliterate the single-season records for Completion Percentage: .725 (Drew Brees, 2009: .706), Passing Yardage: 5,238 (Dan Marino, 1984: 5,084) and Passer Rating: 129.1 (Peyton Manning, 2004: 121.4).
Unfortunately, it must end sometime, as all periods of sporting excellence are doomed to die. Whether by an, admittedly unlikely, loss of form or shocking injury it will cease at some point. However, for now it is better to bask in the glow of an athlete performing at the pinnacle of their game.
“I felt like I was in the zone.” said Rodgers after the game against Atlanta. The Zone is a mythical place, spoken of in hushed tones, unvisited by mere mortals and where even the greatest rarely linger. Aaron Rodgers entered The Zone that night in January and hasn’t left since.