Man in the middle

Fans are wrong to take their frustration out on Aaron Rodgers, Packer Report's Tyler Dunne says.

Just act like nothing happened, Aaron.

A tornado blew through your town this past week, and it had nothing to do with you.

Grandma rang the cow bell in New Jersey. That's where the media cattle is herding next. Time for football, the way it was back in May and June. Not the way it's been, when one of your teammates glanced at the horde of reporters around you Tuesday and said out loud, "That's absolutely ridiculous."

The talking head that sprinted – yes, sprinted – to your locker probably is bunked up at some hotel near Hofstra University. Any fear of claustrophobia will fade. The focus is returning to football. Amidst 15 softball questions Wednesday for coach Mike McCarthy, only six were Favre related. Compare that to the 52-for-52 batting cage of death McCarthy boldly survived Tuesday.

OK. So, that disturbing magic-markered "%$#@ Me Ted" graffiti in the training camp Porta John will be tough to erase. (Memo to vandal: Get a hobby.) Maybe the team can use some of that $25 million payout money on a new stall. Just a thought.

Fact is, when practice resumes Friday, the coaches, the locker room and most of all, Aaron Rodgers, will return to the state of homeostasis they were in on July 4 – one day before the text message heard around the world.

Way back in March, the Packers put the Brett Favre era behind them. The decision to push Favre away four months later could blow up in the organization's face and leave irreparable damage to decades of fans.

But it's never been about Rodgers.

Rodgers didn't attack Favre for trying to undercut everything he did since March – from the summer barbecues at his place to humble leadership at practice. Rodgers could've tried to scare Favre away with subtle jabs and no one would have blamed him. Instead, he's practiced through ups and downs and never escaped character.

When a legion of fans positioned around the left corner of the near end zone at Clarke Hinkle Field booed Rodgers and boomed with "Bring back Brett!" chants, Rodgers joked afterward that rookie wide receiver Brett Swain "was getting a lot of attention today."

The same Swain who Rodgers trained with during the offseason in California, along with James Jones. The same Swain who says Rodgers reached out to him and "snapped me out of overwhelmed mode."

Rodgers didn't sign up for this. Every year, hard work behind the scenes has warranted only increased drama and disappointment. The 4 1/2-hour wait in the green room that cost him millions of dollars on draft day, the freak injuries that have pessimists labeling him injury-prone and Favre's annual delayed comeback announcements. Now, he finally gets his moment to shine, and yet another mind-numbing twist is thrown into his running autobiography. Mr. Bill had it easy.

It's probably not a coincidence that Rodgers had his worst performances on Sunday at Family Night (7-for-20, one interception) and practice on Tuesday, while his best practice came on Wednesday, when the now-famed maroon Escalade was getting ready to head back to the airport.

On Wednesday – with the Favre saga behind him – Rodgers played loose.

In the morning session's two-minute drill, he was 6-for-8 on a 70-yard touchdown drive with simulated crowd noise blaring each play. In the nightcap, while amateur fireworks blasted into the sky down Oneida Street, Rodgers mixed in a few of his own. He scrambled out of the pocket for a 25-yard gain on third-and-5, and hooked up with Jones for two deep throws.

Rodgers was himself. He found a rhythm and fired thread-the-needle passes underneath the secondary. And his likable, carefree demeanor was back. During a multilateral, last-second play run by Brian Brohm's No. 2 unit, Rodgers hopped onto the field from the sideline to join the lateral frenzy.

It was a special sight, even for the most staunch Favre supporters and most malicious Thompson haters. Rodgers having fun. No voice recorders stuffed into his face. No 30-some reporters huddled around his locker 20 minutes before he's there. No chants for Favre after every incompletion. No leash tugging at his collar – something he'd certainly feel if there was an open quarterback competition.

The weeklong carnival never had anything to do with Rodgers. The ugly relationship was between Brett Favre and Ted Thompson. Rodgers just happened to be the middle man, like an innocent bystander getting dragged into a street fight.  

Now comes the really, really unfair part, though. Thompson's decision to "move forward" and shut out Favre will put the weight of the franchise on Rodgers. Anything short of another division title will knee-jerk an instant "Told you so!" from Favre loyalists.

Yep, Rodgers is the middle man again. But at least this time, he'll have some control.

Tyler Dunne is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at tydunne07@yahoo.com.


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