“He’s a teaser, in a quiet, professional way,” Katers said before the lunch rush last week. “He’s a very quiet, good-hearted guy.
“He’s just a really normal person. If you didn’t know he was the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, you’d think he was an ordinary guy.”
After two spectacular postseason performances, Rodgers finds himself in the most important game of his career as the Packers face the in the N.F.C. championship game Sunday.
“He’s definitely the quarterback we all hoped he would become,” Packers Coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s playing his best football of his career at this point, and that’s what you want, especially this time of year.”
Those who have known Rodgers for years say fame has not changed him. Craig Rigsbee, his coach at Butte College, a community college in Oroville, Calif., said Rodgers was still the same low-key yet driven player who made himself a successful quarterback despite being lightly recruited out of Pleasant Valley High in Chico. Rodgers seems to handle pressure and expectations with the ease of, well, somebody ordering lunch. That, Rigsbee said, enables Rodgers to maneuver through difficult situations that might unnerve someone less grounded.
Take draft night 2005. Some experts predicted the might take Rodgers, who played at California, as the No. 1 pick, a thrilling possibility for someone who grew up idolizing . The 49ers chose Alex Smith instead. Rodgers sat uncomfortably in the broadcast green room until the Packers took him at No. 24.
Or take training camp 2008, Rodgers’s first as a starter, when and tried to bull his way back onto the team. Packers , things became ugly, and Rodgers faced an almost daily barrage of Favre-related questions from reporters.
Or take the notion that Rodgers, despite being the first quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards in his first two years as a starter, could not be considered an elite quarterback until he won a playoff game.
Now, he has won two. He followed a three-touchdown, no-interception performance against the in by throwing for 366 yards and 3 more scores in last week’s . Rodgers completed 31 of 36 passes, the fifth-best single-game percentage (86.1) in postseason history and the highest by anyone with at least 35 attempts.
All last week, Rodgers deflected attempts to compare him to past or present greats. “Let’s slow down and take it easy on the comparisons until we get some hardware around here,” he said.
That may be coming. Because of Rodgers, Packers players say they are more confident going into Sunday’s game than they were in the title game three years ago, when the , 23-20, in overtime at frigid Lambeau Field.
“The guy is playing flawless football,” wide receiver James Jones said. “You can’t even describe how well he’s playing. If we can keep Aaron standing up and keep Aaron comfortable in the pocket, we should be able to move the ball.”
Rigsbee, now Butte’s athletic director, said Rodgers had the same effect there. Rodgers led Butte to a 10-1 record and No. 2 national ranking in his only season with the Roadrunners before leaving for Cal. Rodgers remains close to Rigsbee and the program. Last week, Rodgers wore a Butte Football hooded sweatshirt to a news conference aired on the NFL Network, and he donated a signed jersey to a fund-raiser at the college last weekend.
“He’s got a great confidence about him — not cocky, but confident,” Rigsbee said in a telephone interview. “When I was recruiting him, I started telling him who we had at the position. And he said: ‘Stop right there. I just want a chance to compete.’ And he earned the job.
“We had several older kids — a center who was 25, a left tackle who was 24 — and he jumped right in and led them as an 18-year-old. He’s the best competitor I’ve ever been around. But if he throws two interceptions, he’s not going to go in the tank.”
Rodgers’s ability to elude the rush, avoid sacks and throw with precision even on the run has made him especially dangerous this postseason.
“He does some things sometimes, it blows me away at how talented he is,” center Scott Wells said. “He’s got a really fast, quick release. It looks like he’s just flicking his wrist, and he throws it 30 yards downfield. He does some things very, very few quarterbacks can do.”
He also thinks well on his feet. Late in the second quarter on Jan. 15 against Atlanta, after Jones suggested a pass route, Rodgers switched Jones and the veteran receiver Donald Driver in the formation before hitting Jones for 20 yards and the go-ahead touchdown. Rodgers, though, credited Driver for volunteering to change places.
That Rodgers trusted Jones at all says something, because Jones has dropped three potential touchdown passes since Dec. 12.
“The way I prepare, the time I put in, I expect to play well,” Rodgers said. “That doesn’t always happen, obviously. Sometimes, I make poor decisions, throw the ball not as well as I want to, or the defense outschemes us or makes plays out there. But the last couple weeks, I’ve played the kind of football I think you need to play to win playoffs.”
That has made Rodgers a rock star here. On Thursday night at Resch Center, opposite Lambeau, Rodgers made a surprise appearance onstage at a Brad Paisley concert. Rodgers was supposed to sing a line from the song But the crowd chanted Rodgers’s first name so loudly that he missed his cue — a rare moment of fluster from an unflappable quarterback.
“I couldn’t hear anything,” Rodgers said Friday. “I just realized I should maybe give high-fives. That’s probably a better option for me anyway, if anyone’s heard my singing voice.”
Then Rodgers thanked Packers fans for their cheers, and offered a message of quiet confidence to those who have been waiting since the 1996 season for another championship.
“This place is nicknamed Titletown,” he said. “It’s been too long.”