Waiting with Aaron
“A-A-RON! A-A-RON! A-A-RON!”
This was the loud, cheering reception Pleasant Valley High School graduate and Cal Berkeley quarterback Aaron Rodgers received from roughly 1,800 rabid National Football League fans after league Commissioner Paul Tagliabue finally announced his name as the 24th overall pick, by the Green Bay Packers.
Rodgers was one of six top draft prospects invited to attend the 70th Annual NFL Draft held at the Javits Center in New York City. His invitation came because of wide speculation that Rodgers was a possible No. 1 draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers and at the very least a top-10 selection.
Once the 49ers selected Utah quarterback Alex Smith as the first pick, however, the buzz in the Javits Center quickly turned to the question of who would draft Rodgers, and when would they do it, particularly as the day went along without an answer.
As the CN&R’s stringer for this story, I spent most of my day at the Javits Center about four feet in front of the stage hanging out with national sports reporters and photographers. Since I proudly wore a Cal Berkeley football hat as a sign of support for Rodgers, these restless reporters and photographers would quip to me throughout the day: “When is your guy going to be picked so I can go home? Is it time?”
After four hours and 35 minutes of anxious waiting, Rodgers eventually appeared on stage with a Packers jersey. By this time he’d won over many new fans around the country and in the Javits Center for handling a tough situation—his unexpected drop in the draft order and millions of dollars in lost signing-bonus value—with maturity and humility.
I asked Rodgers’ agent, Michael Sullivan, if Rodgers’ drop in the draft just added to his underdog story, given that Rodgers was not heavily recruited in high school and had to play football at Butte College before moving to Cal Berkeley’s Division I team.
“If he leads the Packers to the Super Bowl and gets to the Hall of Fame, it will add to the story,” Sullivan said. “But this story is just getting started.”
Now that Rodgers is headed to Wisconsin, he shared with me his thoughts about his fans in Chico: “Don’t forget about me. My heart is in Chico. It’s a great community. I’ve received so much support from people in Chico and the local press.”
And what does Rodgers plan to do the next time he visits Chico as a NFL professional? “Go to Bear Hole—if it’s hot enough.”
It is likely those cold winters in Green Bay will make Rodgers miss hot Chico summers. When asked if he already owned a winter jacket, he answered: “I will.”
Footnote: Although Chico High graduate and Rodgers’ former Butte College and Cal Berkeley teammate Garrett Cross was not drafted, Cross signed a free-agent contract with the Green Bay Packers. My question is, “Who’s organizing the Chico caravan to Green Bay?”