|ESPN.com: NFL Playoffs 2013||[Print without images]|
MADISON, Wis. -- This postseason, Aaron Rodgers may well be the most-watched man in the NFL.
Last Sunday, with his Green Bay Packers one play away from the offseason, Rodgers deftly avoided Bears defensive end Julius Peppers and hoisted a 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb. The desperate heave came on a fourth-and-8 and gave the Packers a 33-28 lead with 36 seconds left. It was the third fourth-down conversion of the drive and it delivered the NFC North title and a wild-card game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Did we mention it was Rodgers' first game back after suffering a broken collarbone on Nov. 4? What in the world will he do for an encore -- when he starts to feel comfortable again under center?
|Aaron Rodgers returned to action after missing seven games and led the Packers to a playoff-clinching victory over the archrival Bears.|
The Packers, who are 6-2 with Rodgers and 2-5-1 without him, are a completely different team when he's throwing the ball. After serving a three-season apprenticeship behind Brett Favre, in six years he has fashioned the best career passer rating in league history, currently at 104.9.
Rodgers, who played at the University of California, has always been a thinking man. Even in those ubiquitous insurance commercials, when surrounded by chaos and frivolity -- and sizzling bratwursts at 30,000 feet -- he is the earnest (if slightly baffled) voice of reason.
Back in October, Rodgers told this story about the Packers' victory three years ago in Super Bowl XLV:
"I remember sitting on the bus after we won in [Arlington, Texas], probably two hours after the game, thinking to myself, 'I'm on top of the world. We just accomplished the most amazing goal in football.' But I'm sitting there with a semi-empty feeling because I accomplished everything I wanted to do since I was a kid, and I kind of had a moment.
"I said to myself, 'Is this it? Is there more to life than this?'
"And the answer was resoundingly, 'Yes.' And that's why I'm here tonight."
"Here" was an old-school college rally for Raise Hope for Congo on the shores of Lake Mendota. There was Rodgers, as you've never seen him before, wearing a wool cap and gleefully pogo-sticking around the stage to the House of Pain classic "Jump Around." The 1,500 University of Wisconsin students in attendance jumped right along with him.
Later, Rodgers would say, "It was a blast. The energy on a college campus is unbelievable. I feel like it was something special out there.
"Hopefully, it just starts a snowball momentum that runs downhill and finishes in resolution."
Rodgers first crossed paths with actress Emmanuelle Chriqui several years ago, meeting through a mutual friend. She has often talked about the atrocities occurring in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a Central African nation that was consumed by a horrific civil war.
I think it's important that you use the gifts you've been given and the opportunities for influence to make a difference.” -- Aaron Rodgers
"He was really interested," Chriqui explained. "He's like, 'So tell me, what are you guys doing? What is this?'
"I would share what I was learning. I remember having this conversation with Aaron, saying to him, 'Did you know that in the Congo they use rape as a weapon of warfare?' And he's like, 'No.'"
Since then, Rodgers has done his homework.
"I think the easiest way to portray it," he said, "is to reference a movie such as 'Blood Diamond,' where in Sierra Leone the warlords aid their war machine with diamonds to buy weapons and wipe out entire villages.
"The same practices are being used in the Congo. But instead of diamonds, it's gold, it's tin, it's tantalum, it's tungsten -- minerals that are used in our smartphones, our computers, our jewelry. And that money is fueling the war."
Chriqui, who played Sloan in the HBO series "Entourage," was moved to tears when she saw a video of what was happening in the Congo.
|Rodgers and Green Bay teammate Andy Mulumba spoke at a rally with Raise Hope for Congo campaign manager JD Stier and actress Emmanuelle Chriqui.|
"We started Raise Hope for Congo five years ago, and it's grown since then," she said at the rally. "What we're doing tonight is trying [to educate] people about conflict minerals. Because people don't realize they're indirectly contributing to a massive conflict over there. The pain and suffering that country has seen is just beyond anything."
There was a moment in the 45-minute rally when Rodgers raised his cellphone.
"Many of you in the crowd are holding your cellphones up," Rodgers said at the rally. "A device that I take everywhere with me that means a lot. It's my lifeline to my friends, to my Candy Crush, to my Twitter account in the offseason. This is the heart, the lifeblood of these warlords.
"And we can say to these tech companies that we want to live in a world where our electronics do not fund rape and war."
Andy Mulumba did not trace a typical path to the NFL.
He first played football at a French-language secondary school in Montreal and later at high school before matriculating to Eastern Michigan University. Earlier this year, the 6-foot-3, 260-pound linebacker signed a free-agent contract with the Packers with a $5,000 signing bonus.
|Mulumba, a linebacker, is the only current NFL player who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo.|
Many media reports have listed him as a native Canadian, but Mulumba was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, then left at the age of 12. He is the league's only active player from that unlikely starting point -- and only the second ever.
Mulumba connected with Rodgers for the first time during training camp at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis. The quarterback was wearing his Raise Hope for Congo T-shirt.
"Why do you have my country on the back of your shirt?" Mulumba asked him.
"It was probably the first time we had a real conversation," Rodgers said. "I can't imagine some of the stuff that Andy had to live through and what a normal life was to him."
Mulumba made himself useful on the Packers' special teams and started three games. He contributed 30 tackles and a sack and recovered a fumble.
When the subject came up in interviews earlier this year, Mulumba didn't volunteer much information. Making the decision to appear at the rally was difficult.
"It's hard for me to open up to people," he said. "I've seen the struggle that people are going through, so I need to open up a little bit so I can make people know what I lived and what my people in the Congo live at this moment, so they can do something about it."
There are more than 150 colleges involved in Raise Hope for Congo's Conflict-Free Campus initiative. Student leaders organize rallies and information sessions to raise awareness of the issue, then persuade students to help pressure electronics firms to invest responsibly in the Congo's mineral trade.
According to the group, some companies have made great strides toward more responsible sourcing, while others have not.
"You can have an impact in a tangible way with something that's your lifeline," Rodgers told the crowd. "Stand up."
"College kids, they're like sponges," Chriqui said. "They want to make a difference. It's like when you learn something, it's hard to unlearn it. Ultimately, they will make the biggest difference."
"It's the richest country in Africa but at the same time the poorest because we don't see and we don't touch those [natural] resources," Mulumba said at the rally. "Keep this movement going. Thanks for having me and ... Go Badgers!"
Naturally, the crowd roared.
When the Packers' playoff run is over, Rodgers says he'd like to visit the Congo.
"That's the plan," he said. "I think it's just going to increase my resolve to get after this as long as I can, until there's peace in the region and those people have a brighter future.
"I understand the way I'm viewed in society. I understand the opportunities I've been given through my platform. I think it's important that you use the gifts you've been given and the opportunities for influence to make a difference."