Rick Reilly Go Fish: Aaron Rodgers

I wrote, you wrote

January, 17, 2012
We've had about 2,000 comments about this article already -- and over 90,000 Facebook shares -- and 98 percent of them are positive. That's preposterous. You could opine that people not stick sharp things in the eyes of children and you'd get only 95 percent positive reaction. Naturally, we start with the negative ones.

Tebow is all about grandstanding to highlight political-religious issues. He combines lucking into a few wins with this "tourist community service" -- always in plain view of photographers and video cameras -- to push his concerns. The sad part is that so many people (whose number now includes you) have been fooled. There are hundreds of thousands of people doing real service, not photo ops, around the globe, helping people with real, long-term contributions rather than seeking to promote their "brand."
--John (Columbia, Mo.)

You're not just wrong, you're loud wrong. Tebow spends an hour with these kids and their families after the game in a private room off the Broncos Family Room. No photographers or media are allowed. He does the five minutes before the game on the field just to give the kids the thrill of it, but most of the time is private. Tebow constantly makes children's hospital visits and doesn't allow media in the rooms with him. I know because people write and tell me about it. You question his "long-term contributions"? The kid is the son of missionaries! He's been giving time to perfect strangers since he was a small boy in the Philippines. He's trying to build a hospital there now. I'm not a religious person, don't want to be saved, but how can you not be impressed by somebody this bent on helping others?

Those folks Tebow spends time with; I wonder if any of them are LGBT?
--Lester Ballard (Wheeling, W.Va.)

He doesn't ask.

Were any of those sick people non-Christians?
--Rex Hannigan (New York)

He doesn't ask.

Is Tim Tebow nice to anyone who ISN'T terminally sick? How about just regular, everyday schmucks? It's easy to feel sorry for people who about to die.
--mistercrispy (Denver)

Since you asked -- with such charm, I might add -- Tebow is unfailingly polite, kind and friendly to everybody I've seen him interact with, whether it's at a party or in a hallway. I take that back, he's startlingly polite, kind and friendly. Put it this way -- the guy is respectful with sportswriters! Believe me, brother, I was as skeptical as you, but there's not a gram of fake in this kid. I've looked everywhere.

As both a lifelong (62 great years worth) Chicago Bears fan and a confirmed atheist, I should despise Mr. Tebow. As clearly shown by your article, nothing could be further from the truth.
--Dave Grossfeld (Chicago)

Some of my children are curious to know: How does Tim Tebow pick which person gets to come to a game? My (special needs) son asked me, "Mama, does Tim Tebow know us?"
--Kristi Schache (Dunlap, Ill.)

Mostly, Tebow picks from among people suggested to him by W15H, his charity that runs the game trips. W15H is run by his foundation, which is timtebowfoundation.org. But sometimes, Tebow reads about kids he wants to host, like the kid who "Tebowed" during chemotherapy, and makes sure they get invited.

I am an agnostic. I don't know whether God exists, but, if so, I think that God would really like Tim Tebow. I do too.
--Gary Owen (Calgary, Alberta)

Great article on Tebow, but why couldn't you at least give a mention to Tim's belief in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior as being the motivation behind his actions?
--Steve Edmondson (Murfreesboro, Tenn.)

I purposely didn't use the words "God," "Jesus" or "faith" in the column because I wanted people to see that this kid gives of himself tirelessly purely because he cares about others. Whenever you bring religion into it, some people immediately reject whatever comes next. Yes, most of the guests turn out to be Christian simply because a vast percentage of Tebow's most ardent fans are Christian and they write him. But from what I've seen, Tebow's generosity and selflessness to the sick and suffering have no religious borders.

You forget...Tom has 9 seconds to throw. Tim has 2.
--pipo16 (Detroit)

You forget. It just seems that way.

Tom Brady is not a sex symbol for all, nor does Tim Tebow lack sex appeal. My girlfriends and I consider Tebow a far sexier man than Tom Brady because he is genuine, confident, and resonates sincerity. Sticking to one's beliefs has got far greater sex appeal than Brady could ever have for us.
--Jillian (Corvallis, Ore.)

I get that women find Tebow sexy, but to what end?

Are you really comparing Tim Tebow as a pro with Tom Brady? Seriously? That would be insane.
--Kelley Whitmire (Atlanta)

Yes, I was comparing them. You can compare a Humvee to a hummingbird if you want. Doesn't mean they're the same.

Really? You think Broncos coach John Fox deserves credit for playing Tim Tebow? Seems like nothing could be further from the truth. He and John Elway only did so grudgingly in hopes he would fail so they could tell the Denver faithful, "See? He's no good. Now can we go and get us a 'real' NFL quarterback?"
--Brian McNulty (Dallas)

Must be wonderful to know everything. And from Dallas no less! Do you read the paper in the morning to see what they left out?

The only reason Fox played Tebow is because Kyle Orton was playing like such crap and they had to do it to keep fan interest. Strictly a PR move in my opinion. Now Tebow and that ridiculous defense are making Fox look like a genious. As a Raider fan living in Denver, this is brutal to watch.
--Adam Pope (Denver)

That's poetic -- a Raider fan misspelling "genius."

Great piece on Akers. So often in sports we cheer and boo without considering the human sides of our heroes and villains. At the end of the day, we all have our dreams and demons, and the trifecta of a sick child, financial chaos and professional ambiguity would fell many, if not most. To follow that up with a record-setting achievement and high recognition among your peers is an inspiration and a half -- and, I can't stand the Niners.
--Jay Cooke (Alameda, Calif.)

When you said the fans booed Akers and sports radio blasted him, you forgot to mention that none of the fans knew about his daughter's condition. As soon as that news became public, there was no bashing of Akers.
--Andrew Mackenzie (Philadelphia)

You're right. I should've mentioned that.

You also fail to mention that he loved the city of Philadelphia enough to pay for a billboard, out of pocket, thanking the fans for their support throughout his career.
--Flare f'orDramatic (Philadelphia)

I try to keep all my columns under 900 words so people don't have to quit their jobs to read me. It's just sports, not the American Medical Journal. Not everything fits in 900 words. I never insinuated that Akers had any hard feelings towards the city or the fans, did I? So I think you're wrong. I didn't need to mention that.

Touching blog about David Akers.
--David F (Worcester, England)

No, no, no! Not a blog. It's a column. For some of us, there’s a big difference.

C'mon! Kobe is averaging 6.0 assists per game {at time of writing} this year, which is good for 18th in the league, third best among shooting guards. Heck, that total is better than some starting point guards! To not bring up that part of the equation is shortsighted. Fact is, Kobe shoots that much, and still manages to be a better passer than most of the league.
--Andrew (San Francisco)

I agree. Somehow people got the idea that I think Kobe shoots too much. This is because Kobe does shoot too much. But he's Kobe and he'll never change so why mention it? It's like asking a cheetah to go vegan. He's always shot too much and he has five rings. He gets to shoot as much as he wants. He will still be shooting three years after he retires. This year, though, is beyond the pale. He's averaging six more shots per game than his career average. Then again, he's shooting better than he has since the 2001-2002 season. My question is: What happens when he cools off?

Any chance we can get an apology column for your single-handed dismantling of the city of Cincinnati, the Bengals, and their owner? [Ed note: Reilly predicted Bengals wouldn't win a game this season.] Now that Mike Brown has won executive of the year, lowered season ticket prices, won back (some) of his fan base, and re-energized the least successful franchise in professional sports? If not for Harbaugh in San Fran, Marvin Lewis would be coach of the year. If not for Cam Newton, Andy Dalton would be rookie of the year. And if not for Andy Dalton, AJ Green would be rookie of the year. Any chance you might apologize for being SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
--Sam Dobrozsi (Philadelphia)

Did it on Cincinnati radio, but I'll do it here. Didn't count on the Red Rifle. Didn't count on Mike Brown finally making a good move. Didn't count on A.J. Green being the reincarnation of Art Monk. So, yes, I'm SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Why isn't there more questioning of the NFL's playoff seeding? Isn't it time the NFL ditch the "win division rule"? The Titans were 9-7 to Denver's 8-8, they scored more points, allowed less points, and beat them head-to-head. Why should Denver be a 4 seed? Just like last year, the team with the much better record has to go on the road. It just doesn't make sense. Pittsburgh lost the tiebreaker to the Ravens, and by doing so, they dropped from a 2 seed to a 5?
--Eric H (Joliet, Ill.)

I've railed against this rule on Twitter (@ReillyRick). Pittsburgh was 12-4 and had to go on the road to play 8-8 Denver. In doing so, the Steelers lost their fastest safety, Ryan Clark, who couldn't play at altitude or risk life-threatening illness. So what happens in overtime? Demaryus Thomas outruns the Steelers' Clark-less secondary 80 yards for a game-winning touchdown. Dumbest rule in the NFL.

I am sick of the "guarantee". Every year Rex Ryan or some other big mouth guarantees a "Super Bowl" or a victory, and then doesn't deliver. And then they either pout or say, "I have no regrets" and then "guarantee" again. From now on, it should cost them significant dollars, or dress up in a ballerina outfit, or work for free.
--Gary Groenewold (Villa Park, Ill.)

Genius! I'm behind you. Here would be my schedule of fines for reneging on a guarantee that ...

... you'll win a game: Duct-tape mouth for one day.
... you'll win a series: Wear opponent's jersey, mouthpiece and slippers for four days.
... you'll sweep a series: Sweep opposing coach/manager's driveway wearing page 6 from Victoria's Secret catalogue for a week.
... you'll win the World Series: Work as beer vendor at opponent's stadium, one month, unpaid, in SCUBA fins.
... you'll win a championship: Shave head, take vow of silence, move into Tibetan monestery for a month.
... you'll win a Super Bowl: Buy plane, get pilot license, and skywrite every day for one year: (Your Name) Is A Big Hairy Incontinent Liar!
... Jimmer Fredette will not start an NBA game his rookie year: Pay $5000.

Re: Your $5000 pay-up. I like people who keep their word. Now, I'll keep mine and start reading your column again.
--Thomas Bigham (Yorktown, Ind.)

Thanks Reilly. Jimmer started a PRESEASON game. It doesn't count. Our office bet was that he wouldn't start his "first" game. Because of your article my betting friends think that preseason games suddenly count. You're killing me Reilly.
--Matt Jensen (Brigham City, Utah)

Yeah, sorry about that. But he was going to start a regular-season game sooner or later and it turned out to be sooner -- the 10th game of the season (20 minutes, 4 points.) What's weird is he was SO much better in the preseason. Since the regular season began, he seems to be sleeping in a refrigerated truck. He's shooting only 34 percent from the floor, and 28 percent from 3-point range. He seems a little lost and timid. Maybe virginity and the NBA just don't mix?

Your column showed up in some spam, work was slow and so I thought I'd read it. You are an unmitigated class act. I have never heard of anyone in your profession with such a degree of honor ($5K??)...and relentless humor.
--Steve Brown

Spam? (Large sigh.)

Thanks for writing about this float in the Rose Bowl Parade. I am one of the lucky ones that actually received my new kidney from my junior high school girlfriend. Who knew that 33 years later she would wind up saving my life?
--Eric Leviton (New York)

Eight and a half years ago I received the gift of life from unknown hero. The kidney I received then allowed me to watch my son swim in high school and now allows me to be able to coach my daughter.
--Brett Swihart (Evansville, Ind.)

Thanks for the column. I'm a 2-time kidney recipient, now 72, who was given 6 months to live when I was 21. I am a lucky lucky guy.
--Bill Sharp (Long Beach, Calif.)

As a transplant recipient myself, I thank you many times over for the sensitivity you brought to our cause. If it were up to me you would be voted SOTY for the 12th time.
--Gary Foxen (Orange, Calif.)

It IS up to you. Go get a job in the business and cast a vote.

You are everything that is wrong with ESPN these days. If I wanted to read your "Feel Good" stories I would tune in to CNN. I want to read about sports, not the sensationalized, drama based articles that you and your network continue to publish.
--Don McGrew (Phoenix)

I know. I feel terrible about myself when I try to tell compelling stories that inspire people to help each other and help themselves. I suck. I'll go back to writing about pro athletes knocking up women by the half dozen and angrily rejecting $100 million offers. Btw, what's for breakfast? Boiled kittens?

Trying to compare Brett Farve with Aaron Rodgers is almost like comparing Babe Ruth with Lou Gehrig - except Rodgers isn't yet anywhere near Lou Gehrig.There is no question that Brett Farve is the Babe Ruth of professional football.
--Bob Patterson (Picayune, Miss.)

If he's the Babe Ruth of football, why can't you spell his last name?

I'm soon to be the father of a baby boy. I've always been a die-hard Cubs fan. However, I've relocated to central Florida. I'm not sure I want my future child to endure the life of "We'll get them next year" and the agonizing feeling when next year never comes. Should I raise him to be a Tampa Rays fan to save him from the pain I have felt, or continue the line of Cubs fans?
--Mat Steckman (Ocala, Fla.)

I'm sickened that you're even asking this question! You'd turn your back on your team just because you MOVED? When American soldiers fought at Normandy, you think they suddenly started liking soccer? What's wrong with you? Of course your kid should be a Cubs fan! There's no choosing! He's born into it! Just as you were! Fandom is not about switching teams just because you're going through a little 104-year championship drought. Have a vinegar and water and man up! You'd trade Tampa for the Cubs? Tampa fans only go to games in hopes of SEEING the Cubs! Tampa is a football town first and a Matlock town second! The Rays might not even BE in Tampa in five years! And when they're gone, it will be another TWO years before the papers notice! But the Cubs will always be in Wrigleyville! And Cubs fans will always have a community blanket of heartache and hope and passion-against-all-odds to warm themselves. It's what binds them together in a bittersweet, wholly inescapable concept called loyalty. Loyalty is what you sorely lack, sir. Tampa? Please. When your kid grows up, I'm going to recommend he seek adoption.

Aaron Rodgers is the MVP of this teeth-grinding, palm-sweating Super Bowl, and it has nothing do with how he throws or how he runs. It has to do with how he lives.

In 50 years, when they write Rodgers' life story, they won't praise so much his freakish arm.

They won't write about his Houdini feet.

They won't go on about his grace under pressure, his rifle-scope accuracy or his courage while the land around him burned.

No, they'll write about his unlimited capacity to forgive.

Through all the hell Brett Favre put him through, through all the yo-yoing Favre did with Rodgers' career all those years, Rodgers never lost his patience. He never lashed out. Instead, he forgave and got to work.

Fast-forward to the biggest moment of his life -- Super Bowl XLV -- and teammates started turning on him again.

They started dropping the ball. Literally.

Five different perfect passes went begging. One to Brett Swain and one to James Jones that would’ve been a touchdown.

The main perpetrator, though, was Jordy Nelson, a third-year kid who dropped not one ... not two ... but three wide-open, room-service, pretty-as-you-please passes.

But did Rodgers lose patience with him? Did he lash out? No, he did something more amazing.

With the game in the balance and Pittsburgh trying to pull off the greatest come-from-behind Super Bowl win, Nelson dropped a spiral that could've iced the game.

Anybody else might've bit a hole in his helmet.

What did Rodgers do? He threw the very next pass to him. He ignored his safety-valve receiver and waited for Nelson to cross.

This time, Nelson's hands were true. He caught it for a colossal first down. Two plays later, Green Bay scored the winning touchdown.

To err is human. To forgive is divine.

To forgive in the Super Bowl, even better.
It's so cold in Dallas, the windows in my rental are frozen shut. Had a drink in the hotel bar last night next to a guy wearing a stocking cap, scarf and gloves. It's snowing again as I write this and 70 degrees in San Diego.

After a week like that, you want to drop rocks in blind men's cups. You snark and snarl. And every quote you come across on Super Bowl week starts to sound dumber than fur sinks.

All the more reason to collect them:

“I think it’s one of the greatest organizations I have been around."

--Green Bay TE Andrew Quarless, who's a rookie

"Who was your favorite player growing up?"

--Reporter, to Green Bay LB Clay Matthews, whose dad played 19 years in the NFL

“I think for me, I mean, obviously, we have to try to score more points than they do.”

--Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger, on how to win this game.

“When you say the name Hines Ward, everybody knows exactly who it is."

--Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh RB

(An ID also works.)

“They’re good players. They’re basically all the same guy, except for Jordy Nelson is Caucasian."

--Ryan Clark, Pittsburgh S, on the Green Bay receivers

“I’m not that prima donna kind of receiver. I don’t have that personality. ... Some of the guys do it just as a publicity stunt to get themselves out there, which is a good strategic plan, but there are other ways to do it. I chose the humility role. This is not a front. It’s just who I am."

--Green Bay WR Greg Jennings, who went on to refer to himself in the third person and complain about how annoyingly early the interviews were and how suffocating his jersey was on Media Day: “I want to ... let people know who I am and what I’m all about and get a feel for Greg Jennings, not the football player, what I like to do. I’m trying to get myself out there so I can be in a movie this year."

(Hopefully, some director can cast him in the humility role.)

"He’s not a guy that’s going to go out there and say a lot of gibberish. He’s going to say what needs to be said."

--Pittsburgh NT Chris Hoke, on teammate James Farrior's pregame speeches. Then Hoke added this: "A lot of times you don’t hear everything he’s saying, because he’s screaming and yelling ..."

(In other words, gibberish.)

"I have always had cake and no one ever took the cake away from me."

--Oddly serious Green Bay WR Donald Driver, who celebrated his birthday Wednesday and, we're assuming, did so with cake.

"I'm tired of chewing on my mustache when I eat."

--Pittsburgh DL Brett Keisel, whose beard is otherwise magnificent. It looks like it should be on a cough drop box or running against Chester A. Arthur. It's the greatest looking beard since Kimbo Slice. Santa Claus' beard aspires to this. It's inspired T-shirts and websites, if not musicals. It stole the hair hype away from Troy Polamalu and Matthews, locks, stock and barrel. NFL Network ranked it the greatest facial hair in NFL history. Better yet, Keisel's musings on it were equal to the moment:

"The beard is why we're here. It's unleashed Super Bowl powers on our whole team, and hopefully it can win us one more."

And ...

“Steeler Nation is strong. They’ve accepted the beard. They believe in the beard, and we believe in them.”

At one point, Keisel tweeted:

"My beard's getting too caught up in this media attention, basking in the glory. It just need to focus on the game."

Greatest beard tweet ever.

Roethlisberger, who is bearded himself, is in awe of it: "It's its own entity. He hides everything in there. We go hunting, and he hides his decoys in there."

Keisel hasn't shaved since June and says he'll shave it after Supe 45.

Hello? Letterman bookers?

Then there was Polamalu, who is a unique blend of humility, commerce and pure physical genius.

"When he gets an interception, he doesn’t let us congratulate him. Casey Hampton tried to congratulate him by jumping on him and [Troy] moved. Casey fell, that’s a lot of man falling to the ground."


Polamalu steadfastly refused to accept congratulations for winning the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year award, saying just about everybody in the league should've won it except him:

"I was not deserving of this honor."

Did you know Polamalu practices in tennis shoes so putting on game cleats Sundays feels like a huge advantage? Clark:

"He’s really smart. He sees things. He can cover so much ground. He practices in tennis shoes on a grass field and still makes every play."

Talk about smart: In the first half hour of media day, Polamalu mentioned his sponsor, Head & Shoulders, three times.

He also said the coolest thing of the week when asked about the Steelers' talent and the Packers' youth:

“Our strength has never been in our talent. It’s always been in our virtues, of our hard work and most importantly our camaraderie, our humility and how we respect the game and respect our opponents. That’s something youth can never have."

The dumbest thing anybody said all week came from much-fined Pittsburgh LB James Harrison, who was a warehouse of contradiction and illogic all week, alternately ripping the NFL's attempts to curb concussions and ruing his own mental future over being the NFL's leading distributor of them. For instance, when asked how long he intends to play, Harrison issued this circuitous journey:

“I won’t sit here and say that I want to play as long as I can. That’s not true. I want to try and play out my contract, and if I get that done, I’m through. Like I said, everybody has to take into account their own health and think about things. With all the concussion stuff that’s out, I’d walk away right now and say, 'Here, take it. It’s not worth it and I’m more worried about my health.' But, right now, I’m going to take my chances and live with whatever I have to live with later on down the line and hope I come out of it better than most. I’m not going to sign another contract. ... I want to be able to run around and play with my kids.”

(Insert sound of America slapping its forehead.)

This is exactly what the NFL is trying to do -- protect anvil-heads like Harrison from themselves -- and it seems to suddenly be getting through to him, intermittently.

Here's a player who fought every dollar of his $125,000 in fines this season for helmet-to-helmet hits, for leading with his head, for endangering the brain pans of not just his opponents but himself. Harrison threatened to retire over Goodell's fines, remember? Was supposedly distraught over them? Set off an avalanche of protest from players and analysts who sided with Harrison and accused Goodell of trying to turn the game into "touch football" and "soccer" and sports with "dresses"?

Still, it's not as dumb as what he said after Super Bowl XLIII, when he refused to go to the White House at the invitation of President Barack Obama:

"If you want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, invite us when we don’t win the Super Bowl. As far as I’m concerned, [Obama] would’ve invited Arizona if they had won.”

Apparently, Harrison is unclear on the whole winner-gets-to-go-to-the-White-House concept.

Lastly, there was this from Steelers CB Bryant McFadden, who seemed to issue a kind of oddly casual public prayer to random gods:

“If I can have the best game of my life Sunday, I would really appreciate it.”

We'll get back to you.
You say you can't decide whether to root for Green Bay or Pittsburgh this Super Bowl Sunday?

No wonder.

They're the exact same team!


Both teams have no cheerleaders.

Both teams are named after local industries -- Packers and Steelers -- the only two left in the NFL.

Both teams wear yellow pants.

Both teams come from lunch-pail, small-market, beer-and-pretzel towns.

Both teams have ownerships that have never changed. Pittsburgh has always been owned by the Rooneys and Green Bay has always been owned by, well, Green Bay.

Both teams are famous for linebackers with missing teeth. Green Bay had Ray Nitschke and Pittsburgh had Jack Lambert. Both men must've hated to eat corn on the cob.

Both teams have fans who don't get dressed without team-logo underwear. And nobody travels better, or more friendly, or in greater numbers, than these two fan bases.

All-time playoff winning percentage? Green Bay is first at 63.6. Pittsburgh is second, at 63.5.

Green Bay was the Team of the '60s. Pittsburgh was the Team of the '70s.

Pittsburgh was first in scoring defense this season, Green Bay second.

Pittsburgh was first in sacks, Green Bay second.

The Green Bay coach, Mike McCarthy, was born and raised in Pittsburgh. He has nine coaches on his staff who have Pittsburgh connections. Gee, you think he looks for that on résumés?

Both teams play the same 3-4 blitzing defense, which was installed by the teams' best-buddy defensive coordinators -- Dom Capers (Green Bay) and Dick LeBeau (Pittsburgh) -- who perfected it when they were both coaches under Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh.

Both teams were led this season by bearded, Christian, mobile quarterbacks -- Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers -- who play in the shadow of legends they don't particularly admire. For Roethlisberger, it's Terry Bradshaw. For Rodgers, it's Brett Favre.

Both teams have superstar defenders who would make very good Chia pets. Pittsburgh's is Troy Polamalu, who won the AP Defensive Player of the Year award this season. Green Bay's is Clay Matthews, who finished second. They both went to USC.

For headline writers, Pittsburgh fits perfectly on top of Green Bay. Or vice versa.

And finally, you have to pull a hammy to find a way to hate either team.

There's no way to choose. They're identical. It's like picking your favorite Olsen twin.

Which is why Super Bowl XLV won't be played in either of the twin cities of Dallas OR Fort Worth.

It will be played in Arlington, square in the middle.