By Jason Keidel
We adore sports for so many reasons. Beyond the athletic splendor is the finality of the final score. We are forever tethered to numbers, the unequivocal superiority of them, the physical and symbolic meaning of scoring more points than the opponent.
So when we gauge a player, we use digits to determine his dominance. But that isn’t the only way to measure a man, or a football player.
Thus, you need not be a mathematician to know that Aaron Rodgers is simply different.
There are no metrics to measure his performance in Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, or to define his final pass that led them to the last-second victory.
Rodgers defied logic, physics and decades of sports science and technique. Quarterbacks are told to keep their eyes downfield, their bodies firm, their hips, legs and feet forever balanced to throw the ball a certain way.
So, of course, Rodgers took the snap, spun 360 degrees, rolled left, hopped and heaved a football 40 yards across his body. The throw was a laser that could only be caught by his target, literally out of bounds yet caught inside the lines. Jared Cook made a balletic grab, keeping his toenails on the turf long enough for it to count.
That play, as much as any during his resplendent career, framed the genius of Aaron Rodgers.
During the latest broadcast of the iconic program Inside the NFL, Phil Simms declared that Rodgers is the best pure passer in football history. That is correct. On another program, Max Kellerman said that Rodgers was the best QB in the world, and it wasn’t particularly close. That is also correct.
If you don’t believe your eyes and need numbers, Rodgers has archives. In his last nine games, he has 24 touchdowns and one (fluke) interception. During that streak of over 300 passes sans an interception, 47 NFL players — that’s correct, 47 — had thrown an interception. He’s also completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for over 2,500 yards. And the Packers have now won eight straight. To paraphrase the patriarch of the Miami Dolphins, Don Shula, the only stat that truly matters is on that scoreboard. Pick a stat and No. 12 has you covered.
Rodgers’s lone, wayward pass ended another remarkable streak. Over eight games, he was only the second player in history to throw for over 200 yards, complete 60 percent of his passes and not throw a single INT. The only other player to do so was… Aaron Rodgers, who only seems to compete against himself now.
We love the recycled wins-and-losses argument, as though shoving Super Bowl rings into the center of the table in a big poker hand, holding four of a kind. And while football is an increasingly QB-dependent game, there are too many moving parts to place the entire burden on the man squatting under center. So there is an inherent edge in Tom Brady having Bill Belichick and a superior scouting department, homogeny all the way up the totem pole. Brady enjoys a defense that allowed the fewest points this season and a nuclear weapon in Dion Lewis, who can score from any angle. Brady’s also had arguably the best tight end in NFL history (when healthy) in Rob Gronkowski.
Rodgers has converted wideout Ty Montgomery as his featured halfback and two wideouts who haven’t quite met their potential in Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. And he played in the Lone Star State sans his lone star wideout, Jordy Nelson.
Imagine Rodgers with Dallas’ granite offensive line. With that line, Ezekiel Elliott and Dez Bryant, there would be no need to play the remaining two games of these playoffs.
It’s only fair to eulogize the Cowboys with the spirit of hope, close the coffin with a glass lid so they can see their sparkling future. While Cowboys fans are in abject withdrawal today, their unprecedented rookie tandem of Elliott and Dak Prescott gives the team a future so bright they should wear shades to training camp this summer. Not only did they stun the NFL world with their 13-3 mark, but they would surely have defeated the Packers had Mason Crosby not gone bionic in the final moments.
And there’s no shame in losing to Aaron Rodgers, whom Kellerman said is the closest a football player can come to usurping a game like Michael Jordan. Also correct.
Imagine the gridiron serendipity of 15 years with Brett Favre, only to draft his superior as his successor. It’s all brands of blasphemy to say this in the land of the Cheesehead, but Rodgers is better than Brett Favre. And it’s not even close.
With his hybrid talent, temerity and intellect, Rodgers is in his own orbit, an athlete and performer in full. He has taken the quarterback position and forged it into an art form. This sports fan never thought he’d see a pure passer better than Dan Marino. But if we lean on aesthetics, not nostalgia, then it’s become clear that Aaron Rodgers has no peer.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.