A Morning With the Super Bowl MVP
A Tuesday last July turned out to be unique because it was an opportunity to examine what does work with sports. Aaron Rodgers the Super Bowl MVP was in town visiting the William and Mary All-Pro camp as the guest speaker. Fortunately, my local publication in Williamsburg asked me to cover the visit.
Over the course of my 60 minutes on the field at Zable Stadium, and later inside of the Jimmye Laycock Football Center (named for the current W&M coach of 31 years), I rediscovered that feeling once experienced as a youth – the sheer excitement of watching sports and seeing the players in person. At 45 years old, I was transformed back to 10 – the kid who got an autograph from Sonny Jurgensen at Luckett Field in Alexandria, chased Brooks Robinson’s car (he stopped and signed) after an Orioles game, held a neighborhood parade with my brother and sisters, the Hopewells and other kids from my neighborhood, for Hank Aaron, then later reveled with delight after meeting Hammerin’ Hank at a public appearance he was doing for Magnavox in Tysons Corner, VA and handing him a copy of the newspaper clipping while getting my “Aaron” book signed. It didn’t matter that half of his head was cut out of our picture together!
On that Tuesday, the reigning Super Bowl MVP was in town and there were 400 kids waiting for Super Bowl MVP.
The morning started out slow. I entered Zable Stadium at the main entrance on the 50-yard line and immediately began walking around the perimeter of the field – first, to meet my contact from the sports information office, but second, to see where Rodgers was. Couldn’t find him, and later discovered he was practicing on the adjacent field with another group of campers.
I began the slow process of melting in the 93-degree heat as I didn’t have a chance to change out of work clothes beforehand. But the wait was worthwhile as I continued walking around and witnessing the sheer joy in these kids eyes as they worked their way around to different stations, showing their expertise (or lack thereof) in catching, blocking and running pass patterns. The W&M coaches had captured the “spirit of the thing” and offered their encouragement to the campers.. “Good catch! Way to block! C’mon, put your weight into it!”
Not many Packers jerseys..hmmm.
Anyhow, at 10:05, the moment everyone was waiting for happened. A golf cart drove through the corner of the northwest stadium entrance carrying none other than the NFL’s all-time passer rating leader. Clad in a black T-shirt and shorts, Rodgers looked genuinely happy to be there. As the cart reached the field, I heard a cry.
“Show us your ring!!!!”
The first thing I noticed was that Rodgers was not wearing his Super Bowl ring. Anyhow, the cart stopped briefly at midfield, then proceeded to the 10-yard line at the south end of the stadium where the quarterback got into position for drills. For today, the drill was simple. Rodgers will toss you a pass — and you have one chance to catch it.
I couldn’t help but think. Wow, the pressure!! Years ago, one of my buddies at our open mike night at the country bar had told a story of having John Riggins pull up next to his truck while he was in the parking lot at the firing range. Noting the stranger in the neighboring car, Riggins reached into his cooler and yelled out his window, “Wanna beer?” I remember Scotty describing the pressure in that situation.
“You know, a football Hall-of-Famer throws you something, you better damn well catch it!”
I couldn’t help but think about Scotty while watching these kids catch pass after pass. For those who believe that kids lack concentration, I’m going to beg to differ for a second. But, I also had to look at the kids who dropped their ball. It was kind of sad because there was not going to be a second chance, not today, not ever.
And as will happen when one is wearing a press pass and writing in a notebook, people will come up and talk. I generally don’t mind a bit, unless it’s at a game and I’m trying to keep stats, especially basketball. One gentleman sauntered in my direction and pointed out a fact I thought was unknown, but had certainly noticed while searching for the Super Bowl ring.
“Look at his hands!!! Wow, they’re like… catcher’s mitts!”
Indeed, Rodgers has large hands, as he demonstrated while moving the football between his legs in an impressive show of dexterity. I have to thank that man for giving me the angle for the WYDaily story. Right!!! The hands!! Same ones that were on the Lombardi trophy. And look, he’s just lobbing these softballs for little kids to catch and smiling right through the whole drill, even as another two dozen youngsters arrive for their turn.
After the drills, all of the campers, including the ones from the other field, met at the 50-yard line and were recipients of a short talk from the Green Bay QB. I didn’t get to hear any of it because we were relocating to the Laycock Center so that the local TV cameras from Richmond and Norfolk could get situated and we could all find our foldout chair and claim our “spot” for the interview session.
Parked inside the Laycock Center and armed with my recorder, about 15 TV and print reporters and I sat waiting the arrival of Mr. Rodgers. Safe to say, the kids got their money’s worth and he didn’t keep us waiting long. Over the course of his ten minutes in the spotlight, what I saw was an example of how all professional athletes should act. No bling, no foul language, no bravado, no plugging his side gigs. I actually may have made a faux pas by asking him about his newly acquired recording studio. “Actually, it’s a recording label,” corrected Rodgers. But no mention of the label name (Suspended Sunrise Recordings) or the name of the first group he’ll be promoting (The Make). The guy from the Pilot in Virginia Beach made sure to add these to his article, then add a post comment (To Aaron — you’re welcome for the plug).
Rodgers is not a pushover by any means, but he does possess a degree of humility which is rare for a millionaire superstar athlete. Perhaps having Butte Community College on his college resume helps, or even having to spend three years backing up future Hall of Famer Brett Favre while sitting through Favre’s public displays of misplaced attention seeking and on-again, off-again bouts with retirement.
“It made me better as a person, on and off the field.”
Rodgers talked of being the wide eyed youngster, of not having the opportunity to go to such a camp, of having this experience remind him of what is really important. “Hopefully, the kids will get something out of this.”
Looking at the comments at the end of my Internet article, it appears that there are a few Packers fans here in the Tidewater region One commenter wrote in from Chico, CA, Rodgers’ hometown. They all write of Rodgers and other Packers in glowing terms.
I hope to see more of this. In spite of the lockout which caused Rodgers “zero frustration,” that day in July was a good day for football. At least it was here.
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