It’s happened, and I can’t believe it. Aaron Rodgers is an old man now.
Maybe his play has slowed down a bit, maybe he’s starting to sprout a few grays up top, or maybe it’s his desire to get home after a game and enjoy a fine scotch.
But what put me on alert was a simple audible in the fourth quarter of the Packers’ NFC Divisional win over Seattle.
“Yellow weasel! Yellow Weasel! YELLOW WEASEL!” screamed the green-and-gold field general.
It was in that moment Rodgers had completed the move from sprightly young play runner to old man quarterbacking legend. Rodgers joined Peyton Manning in football lore. Manning’s “Omaha!” captivated the sport for years, and now Rodgers has joined Manning as a future Hall of Fame quarterback with a Super Bowl ring, a series of funny commercials, and an audible call for the ages.
Dan Marino was my favorite athlete growing up. He was a pocket passer with golden locks and played in the sunny shores of South Beach. He broke nearly every record possible during his playing days, despite missing entire seasons to major injuries. Yeah, I know “bUt hE DiDn’T wIn A sUpeR bOwL.”
When Marino retired, I looked to see who would be the best quarterback after him — and Manning fit the part perfectly. He was a pocket QB who called many of his own plays (and audibles) and was consistently the leading passer in the league. Unlike Marino, Manning won a Super Bowl — two, actually, with separate teams. His “Omaha” audible is what a lot of people remember about his final years in the league, which is sad because he saw the field unlike any other player in history.
Despite growing up in Wisconsin, I never adopted the Packers as my team. I disliked Favre because he was careless with the football. He was mega talented, but every pass had to be 100 miles per hour in traffic through three defenders. It worked for him a lot: He threw for nearly 72,000 yards and 508 touchdowns in his career — more than the 61,000 yards and 420 TDs Marino achieved (aNd a sUpEr BoWl TrOpHy). The careless gunslinger also threw 336 interceptions in his career — an NFL record by 68.
When Rodgers was picked in the back end of the first round of the 2005 NFL draft, I was intrigued. Partly because as a 20-year-old college kid, anyone spending time playing Butte football seemed hilarious and worth following (Rodgers played Butte Junior College before transferring to play at Cal).
My dislike of Favre made me a Rodgers fan instantly. And the more I watched Rodgers in his younger years, the more I liked him. Sometimes it was his flair on the field, and his holding grudges to fuel passion on the gridiron. Sometimes it was photo-bombing pictures in pregame.
This was now my guy.
When he won a Super Bowl in 2011, I high-fived my dad. I still wasn’t a Packers fan, but I was a Rodgers fan and winning the Lombardi Trophy did a lot for his legacy early on, especially since Favre kept retiring and un-retiring and trying to make life miserable for his former organization, which realized he was no longer the better player to put on the field.
While Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees have eclipsed nearly all of Favre’s records (save for the INTs), Rodgers has battled injuries and continued to be one of the best in the league. His 1.4% INT percentage is 60 percent less than his predecessor. Rodgers’ career QB rating is 102.4, and he averages nearly 260 yards passing per game (Favre: 86.0 rating, 237.9 ypg).
And while it took Favre to reach Minnesota late in his career to accept that he was no longer the QB he once was and the he needed to manage the game to win, Rodgers has been transitioning to that role more and more over the years. Even if it means floating a ball off his back foot 30 yards downfield to make sure it’s over the head of the corner covering Davante Adams for a timely pickup. Or checking down to a tight end known for his dropped catches to pick up a crucial first down in the final two minutes of a playoff game.
“Yellow weasel” was a play that went nowhere — a handoff to running back Aaron Jones gained just a yard. Maybe the term meant nothing. Maybe the term meant everything. All I know is, Aaron Rodgers is the oldest QB left in the playoffs. He’s working with a new coach just four years his elder. He still gives great interviews, and he’s one win from another Super Bowl. It’s almost as if State Farm set it all up that way.
Somewhere, Pauly Shore (aka “The Weasel”) is smiling at the return of his 90s persona on social media.
— Adam Krebs is a reporter for the Times and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. There are also just 28 days until pitchers and catchers start reporting to spring training.