(8-11-10 Brian B) The last time I made a trip to the training camp of the Green Bay Packers was in 2007.
That was the last season in Green Bay for Brett Favre, and the year the Pack went 13-3 and all the way to the NFC Title game before losing to the eventual champion New York Giants. Following a grueling practice session that year, I had a chance to speak with Aaron Rodgers, who at that time was Favre's back-up. I came away from that interview feeling very confident that should Favre retire at the end of the season, the Packers would still be in good hands.
We all know of the soap opera which has followed. Favre has retired at least three times, and Rodgers has been embraced by some and vilified by others who follow the green and gold. Number 4 has moved on to the Packers arch rival Minnesota Vikings, and Rodgers has become solidly entrenched as the Packers quarterback of the present and future. This was obvious to me as I returned to Packer camp this week as part of a Wisconsin Broadcaster's Association seminar in Green Bay. This is Rodgers' team. He enjoys his role as leader, and his teammates enjoy a guy who can be as funloving as anyone.
For example, here was Aaron Rodgers, pro bowl quarterback, taking snaps as a defensive back in offense-only drills. He even threw in a token blitz now and then. When he was "caught' in the right position, he jokes with Matt Flynn, his back-up, about how he could've picked that off if he wanted to. To give credit where credit is due, he most likely picked up that bit of leadership quality from Favre, who was known to have his share of fun on the field.
Rodgers is now the man in Green Bay and most Packer fans have moved on.
Most, but not all.
There were still a few fans sporting #4 Packer jerseys and even a pair wearing #4 Viking colors, which elicited jeers from Packer fans and a few players as well. In Green Bay, the past dies hard. There were a few Ray Nitschke jerseys in the crowd as well.
The point to this commentary is this: Time has marched on. It always does. Just as my hair was not always "platinum blonde," the Packers have not always been about one person. Curly Lambeau's legacy eventually gave way to Vince Lombardi. Mike Holmgren came along in 1992 and brought the team a championship in 1996. That title did nothing to tarnish the legacy of Lambeau or Lombardi. Over the years, Bart Starr gave way to Lynn Dickey, who gave way to Don Majkowski, who gave way to Brett Favre, who has now given way to Rodgers. All of these gentlemen have provided special moments in Packer history, none of which has tarnished the previous.
Many are expecting some more special moments from this 2010 Packer team. While I am not sold on the Super Bowl hype, I do believe this can be a special group. Starr, who quarterbacked and coached the team for over two decades once said of the Packer organization, "We are very proud of our past, but we don't live in the past." Hopefully, Packer fans can follow this philosophy as well.
Other reporters have echoed the praise of Rodgers off the field. Packer officials say Rodgers always makes himself available following practice and games. He will sit by his locker and field the questions, and officials will sometimes have to end the conferences for him. Favre's press conferences were always held in the media room, away from his teammates.
There is a lot to like about this team. As a member of the media, I get a little more access to the players than the average Joe. Although in Green Bay, that isn't always the case. This year, I was able to chat with a handful of players, all of whom were very respectful, even if they weren't always pleased with the imposition. As I did with Rodgers, I came away impressed with another young man who may be soon stepping into some big shoes.
Tramon Williams is a member of the Packer secondary, and is currently behind all-pros Charles Woodson and Al Harris on the depth chart. He got an opportunity to get significant playing time at the end of last season after Harris went down with a season ending injury. Williams was all smiles as he answered questions about his teammates on the defense and the receivers he faces everyday in practice. To understand why this is significant, you must understand that there are many players in professional sports who have an adversarial relationship with the media. Many would rather have a novocaine-free root canal than have to answer questions from reporters. However, Williams was pleasant and engaging in the few minutes I spent with him.. His eyes lit up when he spoke about his son, who was born this off-season. I'm not sure the smile ever left his face while he spoke. I walked away from the interview knowing that Tramon Williams would be a player I would be rooting for on and off the field.
In an era where players call out reporters, or hold hour long television specials in order to announce their intentions to betray their hometown, folks like Aaron Rodgers, Tramon Williams and others are a breath of fresh air.