When you see Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, he looks the part of a star NFL quarterback. But his journey to this station has been anything but easy. From Tim Keown's profile of Rodgers, appearing in the July 26 issue of ESPN the Magazine:
He's the kid nobody recruited out of high school. The kid who turned down such powerhouses as Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Occidental (Occidental, which wanted him to sit out a year, for god's sake) to play in junior college. The kid who couldn't understand why nobody recruited him out of Butte College, in the bustling metropolis of Oroville, Calif., until Cal coach Jeff Tedford made a trip to see a tight end, and the quarterback caught his eye. Rodgers is the guy who wasn't chosen until the 24th pick of the first round, after some projected him to be No. 1, the guy who turned himself into Scout Team Hero while he waited three years for his turn in Green Bay behind You Know Who. And yet he seems to hold no grudges about any of it.
You know what Rodgers will tell you is an underrated virtue? The ability to tolerate disappointment. We've tried to eliminate disappointment, run it off like a deadly virus. The world's most potent economy collapsed when too many people decided they couldn't bear to be disappointed. They bought houses they couldn't afford and cars they didn't need. They believed that a parent's most appalling failure is a disappointed child. Oh, no, we can't disappoint the children. Lord forbid we allow our kids to be deprived. The dirtiest word in the English language: no.
Rodgers heard no. Several times. He heard it in its various forms: the silence of the uninterested college coaches, the politeness of those who bothered to respond, the carotid-popping vehemence of Packers fans who vented their spleen because of his arrival as the post-Brett Favre QB of choice. Rodgers is a connoisseur of disappointment. He laughs off the myth of the athlete's protective shield by saying, "We hear everything; we just pretend that we don't." Oh, he heard no. Lima Charlie, as they say -- loud and clear. He just chose to ignore its message and live in its echo.
Rodgers keeps a letter written during his senior year in high school by a member of the Purdue coaching staff. He highlighted a sentence that reads, "Good luck with your attempt at a college football career." Rodgers laughs now. This is a 26-year-old man, the face of a billion-dollar operation, who is remarkably comfortable in his own skin. He is a Pro Bowl quarterback with a TMZ presence and an offensive lineman's disposition.
"I see so many silver-spoon guys, and I don't think the mental toughness is always there," he says. "I've dealt with adversity. I've dealt with disappointment. I've dealt with not being picked and not being one of the guys. When I see adversity now, I look forward to it. When I see opportunity, I make the most of it."