All eyes on Rodgers ... again

Aaron Rodgers heads home to play the 49ers, who famously spurned him on draft day in 2005. Packer Report's Bill Huber examines the story lines surrounding the Packers' quarterback tonight.

Aaron Rodgers said this is "just another game." He also said it with a wide smile that detected his real feelings better than any lie detector.

Rodgers leads the Packers into tonight's preseason game at San Francisco. As far as preseason games go, this one is pretty special. Rodgers grew up in Chico, Calif., which is about 200 miles from San Francisco. He played his college ball at California, and Berkeley is practically in San Francisco's shadow.

"This one's going to be fun. I've got a lot of family and friends coming down," Rodgers said. "The area's very special to me."

His homecoming is merely a subplot, though. The 49ers were torn between choosing Alex Smith or Rodgers with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 draft. San Francisco went with Smith, and Rodgers fell and fell and fell until he dropped into the Packers' laps at No. 24.

"No, I don't think I have anything to prove to them," Rodgers said.

There was that lie detector of a smile again, though.

"I'd like to throw a couple touchdowns, for sure," he added.

It's not that Rodgers is holding a grudge. He's too much of a laid-back California guy for that, even though his draft-day misfortune cost him more than $10 million in bonus money.

"At the time, a week before the draft, they were saying it was going to be me or Alex, and then things changed," Rodgers said. "Looking back, I know things happen for a reason. I'm in a great situation, and I wish the 49ers well."

Adding to the context is Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who was the 49ers' offensive coordinator when San Francisco decided to take Smith over Rodgers. When McCarthy was hired by the Packers about eight-and-a-half months later, the coach and player cleared the air and buried the hatchet.

"I remember dollar signs in his eyes when we talked about it. No, I'm just kidding," McCarthy said. "I just felt it was appropriate for him and I to talk about it. I think it's only natural that it would be on his mind, because the last time I saw him, he was sitting in my office going through an interview, the week or so before the draft.

"But like I told him, just the fact that he was part of the conversation for the No. 1 pick in the draft, I think it speaks volumes. Now, why it happened and why the 49ers went in another direction, that's really another story. But he was definitely one of three guys that were going to be chosen for that pick."

Today, Rodgers uses the events of April 23, 2005, as a way to needle his coach.

"He jokes about he didn't think I was very athletic. Stuff like that," Rodgers said. "They went there way, and I came here and landed in a great situation."

As they say in real estate, it's all about location, location, location.

While Smith got the big bucks and a chance for immediate playing time, he also was thrown into the fire and still doesn't have much of a supporting cast. Tonight, journeyman J.T. O'Sullivan — not Smith, with his 19 career touchdowns and 31 interceptions — will be the starting quarterback for the 49ers.

Rodgers, meanwhile, got to sit and learn the NFL nuances from a legend. While he wasn't thrilled with having to wait his turn, he's infinitely more prepared for what awaits during the regular season. Plus, he's got one of the NFL's most dynamic receiving corps at his disposal and a top-notch defense that can help make up for some growing pains.

For Rodgers, it's not going to be easy replacing the iconic Brett Favre — especially after the tumultuous events leading up to training camp — but it probably beats being Smith, who's already being tossed into the conversation as being one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history.

McCarthy couldn't be happier with how the first round of the 2005 draft transpired. Rodgers' loss on draft day is McCarthy's gain today.

"I think it's bigger than all of us," he said. "I'm a big believer things happen for a reason. He came to Green Bay for a reason. I think his path when it's all said and done will be the best path for him, and I'm glad he's our quarterback."

Bill Huber writes for Packer Report. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com


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