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Packers' Rodgers displays right touch under pressure

TAMPA — While much of the nation was transfixed on this summer's Brett Favre saga, Aaron Rodgers stood by patiently and, more important, quietly. He knew, even at 24, when it comes to words, sometimes less is more.

"I fully understand that there are still thousands and thousands of Brett Favre fans in Green Bay," he said of the 16-year Packers legend. "I understand and respect that, and I never want to take that away from them."

Rodgers has maintained his deference for Favre, even as he enters Sunday's matchup against the Bucs as one of the hottest passers in the NFL, sporting a 102.9 quarterback rating (seventh) and 796 passing yards (sixth).

It's a delicate set of circumstances, attempting to strike a balance between being respectful of the great player who preceded him while conveying the confidence necessary to be a leader of men — or in Rodgers' case, a huddle of huge ones.

The fact that Favre initially did his best to return to the Packers after retiring after the 2007 season further complicated matters. Green Bay management resisted, ultimately trading Favre to the Jets after a deal with the Bucs did not materialize.

So, when you think about it, Rodgers wasn't just replacing a legend. He was replacing a legend who didn't want to go.

"The guy I was replacing didn't want to come back and play," said Bucs quarterback Brian Griese, who went through a similar scenario when he replaced Hall of Famer John Elway in Denver in 1999.

"The less you say the better, I think," Griese added. "You let your play speak for itself, and he's played really well. I think you go into it humble. He's not going to try to be Brett Favre. I didn't try to be John Elway. You can't do that."

Using that template, Rodgers has skillfully navigated this minefield. He has even gotten the Packer Nation to buy in.

"I really appreciate the support I've gotten from the fans: the ovations, the nice things they've said to me in the community," he said. "I can't explain how good it feels to be the starting quarterback for the Packers."

The whole situation could have been explosive. At some point, you inevitably grow tired of being compared to your predecessor. And, eventually, living in someone else's shadow gets old.

But you'd never know it watching Rodgers.

"I think they should (teach) a class on how Aaron Rodgers has handled this whole thing," Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan said. "A lot of guys say a lot of petty things in the media, but I think Aaron always took the high road through this situation. You're dealing with a Hall of Fame quarterback."

Of course, the thing that has most helped Rodgers win over cheeseheads across the country is his success — the Packers are 2-1. After watching Favre make the impossible appear routine since 1992, the fans expected nothing less.

"The expectation of winning is so high," Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia said.

He should know. He took over for injured Steve Young late in the 1999 season, the tail end of the 49ers' two decades of greatness. He took on the job permanently in 2000, when Young retired.

"I think you can't necessarily worry about what happened before you," Garcia said. "They say the time is now, and that's really where you have to live. You have to live in the present because if you get caught up thinking about what's happened in the past, it's going to take away from all of your preparation."

As the Bucs prepare for Rodgers, Hovan sees a quarterback with the ability to make plays with his arms and his legs. Coach Jon Gruden said he sees a man with mannerisms that are eerily similar to Favre's, even down to the way he hands the ball off.

Asked to describe himself, Rodgers will simply say he is a guy with a strong will and an equally strong sense of self-belief.

"I wasn't surprised by the way I played so far," he said. "Two things that I feel like every quarterback needs to have are confidence and mental toughness.

"I feel like I have both those things."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

Packers' Rodgers displays right touch under pressure 09/25/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 26, 2008 7:39am]
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