Saturday, May 17, 2008
Packers' Rodgers is Mayor Big Cheese(head) at home
By Bill Williamson
CHICO, Calif.-- It might be a Brett Favre world, but this small Northern California college town is all about Aaron Rodgers.
As much as Favre's Gulf Coast Mississippi town of Kiln became an extension of frigid Wisconsin, this idyllic place famous for Sierra Nevada beer and inner-tube excursions down the Sacramento River has become Green Bay West to Favre's Green Bay South.
"This is a small town and we're very close-knit," said Matt Hock, who has known Rodgers since the player was a 13-year-old. "There is definitely a buzz around town and we're all ready for football season. We're all ready for Aaron and the Packers."
This is how Joe Hoglund -- a Wisconsin native and Chico resident for the past 16 years -- sees it: "When Brett retired everyone was so depressed, but not us. We were like, 'Yeah, now it's Aaron's turn.' Chico all knows what Aaron can do. Now, everyone else will, too."
Life is changing for Rodgers. It's part of replacing a legend. With Favre's announcement in March that he is retiring as the Packers' quarterback, Rodgers instantly became the NFL story of 2008. The weekly pressure cooker officially starts Sept. 8 when Green Bay plays host to NFC North rival Minnesota on ESPN's "Monday Night Football."
Favre's No. 4 jersey will be retired that night.
With his turn in the spotlight quickly approaching, Rodgers took time out last weekend to return home. On Saturday, Rodgers hosted his third annual golf tournament at Tuscan Ridge Golf Course, halfway up the short drive from Chico to a town actually named Paradise, to support Young Life, a program that he participated in as a youth.
Several of the 100-plus tournament golfers were wearing Packers hats and shirts. Chico traditionally had been 49ers and Raiders country as it sits about three hours away from the Bay Area.
It's Packers Country these days. Few professional athletes hail from these parts; fewer still replace legends. Excuse Chico if its residents aren't on their hands and knees wishing Favre would change his mind. There's no disrespect here aimed at Favre, just admiration for one of their own. Rodgers' father, Ed, who has lived here since 1973, said he is offered congratulations and encouragement everywhere he goes in town.
"Our love for Aaron isn't based on what Brett does," said Hock, who runs the Chico-area Young Life group and who ran the golf tournament. "We're all on Aaron's side."
Shortly before teeing off, Rodgers, looking relaxed and sporting shoulder-length hair, took a moment from being Favre's replacement to reflect. The kid who grew up as a chiropractor's son and who went to the local junior college before starring at the University of California in Berkeley is happy to be home.
"It's always good know you people's support," Rodgers said. "I know I have people behind me here. Really, things haven't changed much here in the past two months, other than I'm getting a lot more ticket requests than I used to get."
At the beginning of his interview for this story, Rodgers politely made it clear that he wasn't going to talk about football matters. He said he was "advised" by Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy to hold off on football chatter until the Packers' minicamp next month. Rodgers will have plenty to talk about.
There are the hints by Favre that he someday could return to the playing field. There's also the fact that Green Bay selected Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm in the second round of the draft two weeks ago despite the fact that Rodgers is just 24.
|Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, flanked by brother Jordan and father Ed (standing), hopes to make an annual charity golf tournament he has in Chico, Calif. as popular as the one Brett Favre has in the Deep South.|
While Rodgers wouldn't discuss football, his father didn't shy away from the topic. While he said he respects Favre, Ed Rodgers said the fact that Favre has kept the door of returning open, "doesn't help the matter."
"He retired and the Packers are turning to Aaron and think that's where the focus should be," Ed Rodgers said. "I have looked at Packers chat rooms and I think about 70 percent of the comments are that the fans love Brett. But he has decided to leave and it's now Aaron's turn. I think there is support for him in Green Bay."
As for the Packers drafting Brohm, and adding LSU's Matt Flynn in the seventh round, Ed Rodgers said he understands. In the days leading up to the draft, Green Bay brought in veteran QB Daunte Culpepper for a visit but did not sign him.
"I don't see drafting the rookies as a problem," Ed Rodgers said. "You need younger quarterbacks and I think these guys can all grow together. It can add camaraderie to a team. But if a guy like Culpepper, a veteran who still wants to start is brought in, it could have been a problem
I think this is for the best."
Confidence is high in Chico about the Rodgers era. The Favre talk and the presence of fresh new draft picks won't burst the bubble.
"Aaron is going to start his own history," said Hoglund, who at the first Rodgers golf tournament won a trip to Green Bay during an auction. "We all know it here."
Rodgers smiles when reminded of his hometown support as he entering the biggest challenge of his life.
"This is my home," he said. "I love Chico."
And Chico loves its Green Bay Packers quarterback right back.
Bill Williamson covers the NFL for ESPN.com
I have looked at Packers chat rooms and I think about 70 percent of the comments are that the fans love Brett [Favre]. But he has decided to leave and it's now Aaron's turn. I think there is support for him in Green Bay.
--Ed Rodgers, Aaron Rodgers' father