In a rare one-on-one interview with a British journalist, US sporting superstar Aaron Rodgers tells Sky Sports' Neil Reynolds about life as an NFL quarterback, winning the Super Bowl and his love of Premier League football...
By Neil Reynolds. Last Updated: 13/01/12 9:40pm
As the Green Bay Packers take on the New York Giants in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs on Sunday night, they will take comfort from the fact they are being led by arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks in league history.
Aaron Rodgers has been truly sensational in leading the Packers to a record of 15 wins and just one loss this season, throwing for 4,643 yards, 45 touchdowns and just six interceptions. His passer rating of 122.5 was a new league record, smashing the old mark of 121.1 set by Peyton Manning, of the Indianapolis Colts, in 2004.
If you switched off halfway through that stats overload, what I'm trying to say is that Aaron Rodgers is pretty special and his 2011 season has been no fluke. Rodgers was virtually perfect in leading the Packers to Super Bowl victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers last year and has been flawless since taking over from the legendary Brett Favre in 2008.
As he prepares to embark on a second consecutive Super Bowl run, the highest-rated passer in NFL history knows he will take centre stage in the United States and around the world. But Rodgers can deal with the pressure and as you'll see from some of his answers below, he doesn't take himself too seriously and is not your typical sporting superstar.Aaron, let's start with a simple one. What's it like to be a quarterback in the National Football League?
There's a lot of pressure and expectation that goes with being an NFL quarterback. We get too much of the credit when our team is playing well and too much of the blame when we're losing. But it's exciting - I always wanted to be a quarterback and I'm living out a childhood dream. I think the way the rules are in place in the NFL and with things geared towards offensive football, it's a great time to be a quarterback.
Is it pretty special to play for a storied franchise like the Green Bay Packers?
When you grow up a sports fan you know what kind of organisation the Packers are and you understand their history of winning and the legends who have played here. Then when you join the team you realise it goes much deeper than that - the Packers are a community-based team and the only club in American sports without a true owner. Our fans own the team and it is a very special place to play.
"Do you know, I haven't actually seen any television coverage of our Super Bowl win and I still haven't watched the whole game yet. I think it will be something I'll watch when I'm done playing and I can go back and enjoy it."
Aaron Rodgers Quotes of the week
You mentioned it's a good time to be an NFL quarterback. Can you expand on that for us?
There are rules helping your receivers get open better, there are rules protecting the quarterback from those big, vicious hits to the head and legs. It's a great time to be an offensive skill player because the league wants points because TV ratings and fans come with that. They believe the best way to get that is by making it easier to score points.
You have made a tough position look easy this season. Is there a time when the game does come easy to you as a quarterback?
Definitely. It's the proverbial getting in the zone feeling where the game seems to slow down and plays that are normally quite difficult become a lot easier to execute. You see the whole field better. This season, our offense has been in that kind of zone and we're producing at a high rate - we have won a lot of games and that's due to the fact that we've been playing really well.
Do you ever watch one of your own passes on television and think 'Wow!" I'm thinking specifically about that long pass you dropped over the defender's head to Greg Jennings in last year's Super Bowl win.
Do you know, I haven't actually seen any television coverage of our Super Bowl win and I still haven't watched the whole game yet. I think it will be something I'll watch when I'm done playing and I can go back and enjoy it. It was a special night and I have re-lived every play in my mind 100 times but it's more something I can get nostalgic about when my career comes to an end. But right now, I haven't watched it.
Did winning the Super Bowl take the proverbial monkey off your back?
It does take some pressure off and eliminates some of the questions that are asked of quarterbacks who haven't won the big game. At the same time, the bar has been raised and we are expected to go to the Super Bowl and win it every year. But that's okay - that's what I want to do. That's the kind of success I dreamed of - my favourite player growing up was Joe Montana and he won four Super Bowls. So why not go and get a couple more? We have the guys in place and that's our goal every year. I loved Montana's play in the fourth quarter and the clutch - he always seemed to play his best in the big games and that's why he was the MVP in three of the four Super Bowls he played in.
What are the best and worst things about playing in the NFL?
The best is that this never really feels like a job. We're playing a game we love and getting paid very well to do it. The most difficult thing is losing a normal life and not being able to have the same privacy as other people without a little bit of interference. It's a different life - we're not off on the holidays (we played the Chicago Bears on Christmas Day this season) and we're not off when the weather is bad. And rightly or wrongly, every part of our life is scrutinised whether that be professional or personal. The lines between when you're a football player and when you're a normal person disappear.
How easy is it to handle criticism?
I don't really like to read the newspapers when they're critical but on the flip side, you cannot get carried away when they're positive. You have to set your boundaries as far as reading your media goes. It's better to embrace any criticism rather than be offended by it because you can use criticism in a positive way. You can use that criticism to motivate you. Criticism keeps you focused and it's always good to prove those guys wrong.
You seem a very laid-back character. Would that be a fair assessment?
I don't feel like I take myself too seriously. I grow a moustache every year during training camp because I enjoy funny facial hair and I like to let my personality come out. It's goofy at times and I can be dry with my humour, but I just like to have a good time. As a leader, you have to be yourself. Once I was able to let loose and be myself, I felt even more comfortable on our team.
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You even have your own touchdown celebration now with 'The Belt.' How did that come about?
The Belt kind of took off in a way I didn't expect - I didn't think it would get the cult following that it did. That's just another example of me not taking myself too seriously. That started when I was on the Packers' scout team as a young quarterback and I was just messing around. I was trying to get the defense to practice harder in 2005, 2006 and 2007, so I figured that if I taunted them maybe they would play a bit tougher. It's a move I didn't originate but it has been attributed to me and if a guy from another sport does it now, I hear, 'Hey, they did your belt.' I enjoy doing it.
Take us behind the curtain a little bit here... How do players spend their free time in the locker room? How do you guys pass the time?
There are a lot of games that go on in the locker room. I've learned a lot of card games, some of which are regional to the Mid-West such as Sheephead and Yuker. And I've also learned how to play backgammon, dominoes and spades. Different guys like to play different games and there is a lot of competition. It happens on flights as well - the guys are always trying to find ways to compete against each other. On gameday, every player has his own routine. I'm very close to my family so my one ritual before every game is to make sure I call my grandma and grandpa. That's really important to me. Some guys listen to music, some sit in the hot tub, some will have a massage. I like to relax and listen to some slower, softer music that is often instrumental. That gets my mind relaxed. Some of our players listen to rap or rock music and get themselves hyped up - I like to stay on an even keel.
"I'm used to that unique smell of sweat and mud. I'm sure it doesn't smell great to people who have to come into our locker room but to us, after a win, it smells pretty damn good."
Aaron Rodgers Quotes of the week
Tell us a couple of things that people might not know about you and about being on an NFL team.
One thing people might not know about me is that I love playing video games. In the winter time in Green Bay, after I've done all the film study that I need, I like to play video games such as Halo and Fifa soccer. Something people might not realise is that our locker rooms smell really bad after our games. You kind of get used to the smell. I'm used to that unique smell of sweat and mud. I'm sure it doesn't smell great to people who have to come into our locker room but to us, after a win, it smells pretty damn good. It's probably worse that I have got used to the smell.
You mentioned playing Fifa on your games console. Are you a soccer fan then?
I was a Liverpool fan for a while before they disbanded most of the guys I liked. They were the team I would use most between 2003-2007 and I bought a jersey signed by most of the players from the 2004 team. I have my Liverpool jersey in my basement among a collection of shirts of current and former NFL players that I like. They're coming back. I'm not jumping off the bandwagon - I've just expanded my horizons to other teams. I'm not going to jump on the Barcelona bandwagon - I keep my support in the English Premier League and enjoy watching the games on the English Soccer Channel here in the US.
So how does a superstar NFL quarterback spend the rest of his time away from the game?
I love to play golf. I don't think there are many good golfers out there - most of us are just frustrated. I love to play golf but I also know it's the most frustrating game in the world. I enjoy watching American football when I'm not playing but I also love to play the guitar in my free time. I've always had a passion for the music business. I also play the piano a little bit and I enjoy learning different languages. I took Spanish in high school and I'm getting back into my languages because I would love to travel to Europe in the next year.
We'd love to have you over here! What do you think of NFL regular season games being played in London?
I love the fact regular season games are being played in the UK - I would love to come over there. I've never been to Europe and it's one place I'd like to get to in this off-season. It's great to expand the game to the rest of the world and there are some incredible sports fans in Europe and you can feel the passion for the NFL fans in England. I know the games at Wembley have been great and I hope to be a part of one in the future.
Don't miss Neil Reynolds' Pick Six column for his verdict after every round of games, right here on skysports.com