When the Green Bay Packers host the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Rodgers — the Packers’ rookie tight end — will be on the sideline opposite of his father, Panthers special teams coordinator Richard Rodgers Sr.
“You don’t really get a chance to play your dad’s team that much,” Rodgers said on Thursday. “I’m looking forward to it.”
When Rodgers was born in 1992, his father was an assistant at Diablo Valley Community College. Then it was off to San Jose State in 1995 and 1996 and Portland State from 1997 through 2000. It was there that Rodgers’ path to the NFL began.
“I watched film with my dad all the time,” Rodgers said. “I was always at work with him and we’d be in his office and he’d be watching film, so he’d teach us little things throughout the game. Obviously, that’s a benefit when you’re younger to learn things about the game that other people may now know.
“Ever since I can remember – probably 6 or 7 — I’ve been going to work with him and watching him coach his players and watch film and meetings and stuff like that.”
Whether it was at home or with his brothers in the meeting room, Rodgers soaked it up like a sponge.
“When you’re young, you just watch and learn,” he said. “I really just sat quietly. You’re not allowed to talk in there because the players aren’t allowed to talk. We were just in the room and he would explain certain things to us and, if we understood it, we’d just shake our head ‘yes’ and, really, that’s how we learned.”
In Green Bay, he’s been a quick study, with the third-round pick starting the first four games before losing the job to Andrew Quarless. His intellect is typical of a coach’s son who’s been around the game at a much deeper level than his peers for most of his life.
“He generally takes one mistake to get the proper answer the next time,” tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. “He’s been really good about being able to anticipate possible problems and asking the right questions. From that perspective, watching football from a very young age to playing it through all of his younger years, I think that’s definitely helped him. He’s a smart kid, in general. I don’t know if it would have been any different if his dad hadn’t been in coaching, but having the inside track I’m sure gave him a lot of insight into what to expect and how to be a good problem solver. Those are characteristics that he definitely displays.”
Before joining the Panthers, Rodgers’ father coached at New Mexico State from 2001 through 2004 and Holy Cross from 2005 through 2011. Regardless of the location, his father’s office served as a second home. And sports — regardless of whether it was football, baseball or basketball — would be the conduit in replacing old friends with new friends.
“It was tough at times, but mostly I could get along with people pretty well,” he said. “You have to play different sports and so that’s a good way to find friends. When we’d move you’d have to join a team and those are pretty much immediate friends you’d have. It wasn’t that hard for me.”
What was harder was the separation. During Rodgers’ three seasons as a receiver and tight end at Cal, his father was across the country at Holy Cross or the Panthers. Thus, Rodgers played in front of his dad for only two or three games during his college career.
“I’m sure he’s excited about playing his dad’s team, probably for no other reason than he gets to see his dad,” Fontenot said.
According to Carolina coach Ron Rivera, Rodgers Jr. goes by the nickname “Young Biggie.” While father played defensive back at Cal — he was the second and fourth player to handle the ball on “The Play,” the five-lateral, kickoff-return touchdown that stunned rival Stanford in 1982 — son is a 6-foot-4, 257-pound tight end.
“It’s funny, when Green Bay picked him, Richard had stepped out of the draft room,” Rivera recalled to Panthers beat reporters on Thursday. “So he had no idea. We were trying to get him back in so he could see the announcement on TV. He came in just as they announced the name. It was kind of neat to see that.’’
Sunday will be neat, too. Not only will his father be on one sideline, but plenty of family will be at Lambeau Field, including his mother and paternal grandmother. And while there will be no time for a family reunion on Saturday night, Rodgers hopes to enjoy an extra-special game of catch with his father before the game.
“It’s going to be pretty awesome, just to play catch with him,” Rodgers said. “I think he’s just as excited as I am. I think it’s going to be a good experience.”firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.