SAN FRANCISCO — The anxiety-filled green room and draft day seem so long ago now to Aaron Rodgers.
Tonight any lingering frustration about how far he dropped in the 2005 draft will be directed right at the team that passed him up with the No. 1 pick.
Rodgers brings the high-scoring Packers to Candlestick Park to face No. 2 seed San Francisco for a place in the NFC Championship Game. He'll play in the venue where he once rooted for Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Steve Young.
Rodgers, who appeared in a preseason game at Candlestick in 2008, plays his first meaningful game at the stadium as an eighth-year pro. He also faces the team that beat Green Bay 30-22 on opening weekend.
"It will be fun. I went to a few baseball games there growing up and saw a game there when I was in college," Rodgers said. "Stadium's got a lot of tradition. … But it will be a night game, it will be loud, it will be a great environment, and it should be a good show for the fans."
Rodgers is a native of Chico, Calif., about 170 miles northeast of San Francisco. He became a college star for Cal, across San Francisco Bay in Berkeley, with a healthy cast of receivers and the swagger of a champion.
When Rodgers fell to 24th in the 2005 draft after Alex Smith went No. 1, he was asked about his disappointment. He matter-of-factly said, "not as disappointed as the 49ers will be that they didn't draft me."
Rodgers already has upset some friends he couldn't accommodate with tickets for this game. Family first, with everybody else making the trek from Chico fending for themselves.
Most important for him is getting Green Bay one step closer to another Super Bowl. Last season's chance at a repeat came to a halt against the Giants at Lambeau Field. The Giants went to San Francisco the next week and won the NFC title game 20-17 in overtime.
Just as the Niners moved on from that heartbreak and used it as motivation this season, the same goes for Rodgers after being slighted by his beloved San Francisco on draft day.
"It's been a long time since the green room," Rodgers said. "I have a lot of good memories growing up watching Steve Young and Joe Montana on TV and the Super Bowl wins and being a 49ers fan. … I'm eight years removed here, and obviously I'm really happy with the situation I'm in."
The QB the 49ers picked in '05, Smith, spent the second half of this season on the bench as coach Jim Harbaugh promoted second-year pro Colin Kaepernick, who makes his playoff debut.
Kaepernick was born in Milwaukee and adopted before moving to California at age 4. Yes, he began as a toddler Cheesehead, then changed allegiances "when I got drafted," Kaepernick said.
Rodgers hasn't thrown an interception in five straight games, and his top four wide receivers — Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones — are together and healthy at last.
The 49ers need big days from Aldon Smith and Justin Smith, the pass-rushing menace expected back after he missed the final two regular-season games with a partly torn left triceps.
But this 49ers team has defeated Drew Brees in New Orleans and Tom Brady in New England as well as Rodgers in Green Bay.
"We've played some of the best quarterbacks this year and have done well," 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. "(Today) is going to call for our best. We can't afford to not play our best football, play our best defense. There's no tomorrow, there's no next week."