Everybody loves Aaron Rodgers

Chico is nuts about Green Bay’s quarterback and his shot at the Super Bowl

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers was feeling like a badass after running for a touchdown during an away game against the Pittsburgh Steelers back in 2009.

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers was feeling like a badass after running for a touchdown during an away game against the Pittsburgh Steelers back in 2009.

Photo By ttsburgh Post-Gazette/ZUMApress.com

The biggest sports story in Chico’s long history is taking place at this very moment. Not only is Pleasant Valley High School graduate Aaron Rodgers heading to the NFL Super Bowl, but he also is the unquestioned team leader of the National Football Conference champion Green Bay Packers (13-6-0).

Rodgers is a darling of the league, talked about in glowing terms for most of the season by nearly every major football analyst in the country. The star quarterback is just days away from playing a huge role on the most-watched TV event of the year, this Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers (14-4-0). The Super Bowl is expected to draw 93,000 fans to the new Dallas Cowboys’ stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Despite the massive buildup, Rodgers told the Chico News & Review that he is calm and approaching the game as he would any other.

“My preparation for the Super Bowl is not any different than usual except trying to get all the tickets and travel plans for my family, and I was able to get that done in two or three days,” he said by phone from Green Bay last Friday (Jan. 28).

Rodgers’ father, Ed, a local chiropractor, will be in Arlington for five days with his wife and two other sons to support his Super Bowl-bound son.

“I’m really proud of Aaron, and we’re getting lots of local and media support,” said the elder Rodgers. “After the Packers won the NFC championship I was visited in my Chico offices by representatives of The New York Times and the Dallas newspaper.”

For further emotional inspiration, Rodgers said he will be listening to soft music on game day that will keep him calm and not get him too excited. “I like to keep my emotions intact, especially before a game,” he said. “No heavy metal or rap, just easy listening and guitar stuff.”

That’s in stark contrast with Chico, where the Super Bowl hype has reached a near fever pitch. Anticipation of the game is much higher than normal in the city, since one of its own is the Packers’ most celebrated player.

Evidence of the fandom is all over town.

Over on The Esplanade, for example, the parking lot of The Horse Store and More features a life-sized model horse decked out in Packers’ green and yellow leggings and a blanket emblazoned with Rodgers’ No. 12. Particularly amusing is its head topped off with the team’s signature yellow, triangular cheesehead hat.

“Lots of people honk when they drive by or stop to thank us and take pictures of it,” said store owner Donna Mathis.

West on Highway 32 near Meridian Road, a buoy-sized ball in a field is painted like a Green Bay Packers helmet. Several sports supporters recently donated 500 green T-shirts with the No. 12 for students at Pleasant Valley High. Meanwhile, local salons have been busy painting nails green and yellow.

Naturally, sports bars are having a field day.

“Everyone here is catching Super Bowl fever,” said Chuck Tatreau, owner of The End Zone sports bar and grill on Cohasset Road. “During the Super Bowl we’re usually already near capacity, but now with Aaron in the game it should be pretty packed.”

Typical of many sports bars, The End Zone will be offering free giveaways, drink specials, raffles and even green drinks.

Rodgers expressed a strong fondness for Chico. He noted his years attending local schools and mentioned that his younger brother, Jordan, now a quarterback at Vanderbilt University, also attended Pleasant Valley High and Butte College, and his older brother, Luke, attended Chico State.

“Chico always has a special place in my heart. I love coming back there, because it was a special place to grow up,” he said. “Every time I come back it’s great to see my old coaches and friends, and we definitely keep in touch a lot when I go up there.”

Rodgers went on to explain one of the crucial factors to success in the upcoming game. “When you’re playing the Steelers you can’t turn the ball over,” he said. “If you do you’re going to have a hard time beating them, because they thrive on causing turnovers and converting them into points.”

He explained that his other main strategy for victory will be scoring touchdowns when the Packers get within 20 yards of their opponents’ goal line, also known as the red zone.

Though this is Rodgers’ sixth year in the NFL, it is only his third as a starter, since he sat most of his first three years on the bench behind legendary Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre. Rodgers’ rise to national prominence happened on a fluke when Jeff Tedford, coach at the University of California, Berkeley, came to Butte College to scout the team’s tight end. He saw the undiscovered talent in Rodgers and brought him on board for a stellar two-year career with the Cal Bears.

Rodgers said there are three keys to his overall success in the NFL. First is the thorough preparation he goes through to play well in every game. Second are his high-quality teammates. “I have a lot of great players around me, and I get to throw to guys like Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson,” he said. “Those guys make me look good.”

Last, he noted his coaches. “I especially have a very great quarterback coach who gets me ready to play a good game every week,” Rodgers said.

In the upcoming showdown in Texas against the Steelers, Rodgers and company face a team composed of many Super Bowl veterans (the Steelers have played in and won two Super Bowls in the past five years). Rodgers, a first-timer at the big game, said he’s sought counsel from two former Super Bowl champion quarterbacks, Steve Young of the San Francisco 49ers and Kurt Warner, who led both the St. Louis Rams and the Arizona Cardinals to national titles.

“Both of them are friends of mine, and the main advice they both had was to not let any of the Super Bowl hoopla distract me from my preparation, because it is just another game,” he said.