There’s long been something amiss with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Once a totem of “chill” in a position typically dominated by neurotics, recent years have found Rodgers increasingly restless, befuddling the public and those closest to him at every turn. He’s found himself in the running to host Jeopardy!, broken off his engagement to actress/free spirit Shailene Woodley, and gone to Peru and performed ayahuasca rituals in search of enlightenment.
At the beginning of the 2021-22 season, Rodgers misled reporters about his COVID-19 vaccination status, telling the media that he had been “immunized,” an oblique reference not to vaccination, but to a homeopathic treatment that involved constant light exposure to a somehow defanged (?) version of the virus. (Homeopathy is not real; please do not expect me to explain the specifics of how it does not work.) A few months later, he talked about it with Joe Rogan, which tells you all you need to know: Any man who appears on Rogan’s podcast cannot be said to be “comfortable,” “satisfied,” or “feeling 100 percent A-OK.”
Aaron Rodgers has been, to put a fine point on it, “going through it,” searching for answers to address the void in his soul.
What created that void is the same for everyone else—middle age, the feeling of time pressing against your neck—but what certainly compounded matters for 39-year-old Rodgers was the Green Bay Packers’ performance over the last few seasons. After winning the Super Bowl in 2011 and going 15-1 in the regular season that followed their triumph, Rodgers was repeatedly met with crushing disappointment. He played out of his fucking mind, season after season, building a career that stands with the greatest in the history of the NFL. But his teams kept coming up short, denying him the satisfaction of a truly great, all-timer career; the sort that makes TV pundits invoke your name to annoy their co-hosts. His ridiculous seeking, then, is the sign of the “damp, drizzly November of the soul,” as Ishmael put it; the strain of life.
What is a great NFL quarterback to do when they find themselves involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses and bringing up the rear of every funeral they meet? Easy: They sign up with the doomed whaling voyage of the NFL, the terrible black ship Pequod that is the New York Jets.
While appearing on The Pat McAfee Show (an ickier manifestation of Rogan’s show, hosted by an ex-NFL punter) on Wednesday, Rodgers confirmed the widespread gossip that he was looking to get traded away from Green Bay, the site of a lifetime of triumphs and disappointments alike, and arrive reborn and ready to rock at the Meadowlands, where he could ply his trade for New York’s second-most beloved professional football team. Apparently, he made this decision while he was isolated in total darkness for four straight days somewhere in Southern Oregon.
Now, the New York Jets are not a glorious franchise. If you were writing about their history and not eliminating motivated thinking from your analysis, you might be inclined to call them “cursed.” They won Super Bowl III after quarterback and fur coat enthusiast Joe Namath made a personal guarantee of their victory, then spent the next 50 years stumbling from gutter to gutter, nursing their side after karma kicked them in the ribs for achieving so much after Namath bragged that far out of pocket while wearing a dead animal around his neck.
Their problem always seems to be the quarterback play. Football is a complex game, and I acknowledge the fact that this is too neat an explanation for why any team is bad year to year, much less over the course of many decades. But the list of disappointments who have lined up behind center for the Jets is just too long and stressful. Chad Pennington, the NFL’s all-time leader in completion percentage at the time of his retirement, was derailed year after year by injuries. Ken O’Brien and Vinny Testaverde: good, but not nearly good enough. Mark Sanchez, a hot prospect from USC who was the obvious weak link on the defensive juggernauts that were the Jets’ best squads since the ’70s, is now primarily remembered for losing possession of the ball while running into butt.
The team’s recent vintage has been even worse: Ryan Fitzpatrick, playing out the end of his shitty career; Sam Darnold and Zach Wilson, a pair of never-beens. The best player the Jets have fielded at quarterback this decade was probably Geno Smith, who was really, really bad on the Jets, and only came into his own when he replaced Russell Wilson in Seattle.
Now, you, a rational person, might say, “Well, if the Jets are always getting let down by their shitty quarterbacks, and Aaron Rodgers is always getting let down by his shitty team, isn’t this a perfectly logical match? Sure, he might be a little on the old side, but Tom Brady won the Super Bowl for Tampa Bay at the ripe age of 43!” And, look: logically, you are correct. But the Jets don’t make sense; they’re like a swirling, eldritch box at the center of an H.P. Lovecraft story, but if it were a football team. Reason fails: the psychic void wafting off this dilemma will drive you to despair if you engage with it too readily.
Because, folks: the Jets already tried this with Rodgers’ predecessor in Green Bay, and that experiment ended up ruining people’s lives. Maybe Rodgers, who, to be clear, did not get vaccinated for COVID-19, has a less cluttered thinking process than mine and is less prone to being swayed by the nightmares of the past. But I am not sure how anyone could look at Brett Favre’s tenure in New York and not steer clear, if only for vibes reasons. After getting traded from the Packers to the Jets, Favre played great at first. Then, he tore an arm muscle, played hurt while the team limped to the finish line and missed the playoffs, announced he was going to retire again, then reneged on that retirement and left the Jets for the Minnesota Vikings. And that’s saying nothing of his lewd photos scandal, which was happening at the same time.
“Maybe he wants to prove he can do what Favre couldn’t, and believes in his heart of hearts that satisfaction lies behind the door of vanquishing the drunk older brother who he has been compared to for his entire career.”
How Rodgers could know all this and choose to take the same steps that Favre did is befuddling to me. Maybe he wants to prove he can do what Favre couldn’t, and believes in his heart of hearts that satisfaction lies behind the door of vanquishing the drunk older brother who he has been compared to for his entire career. But it doesn’t seem promising, especially when you factor in the list of washouts he wants to join him in New York. Or his propensity for being a little touchy with the relatively benign Wisconsin media, and now having to face the daily whining of the combative Eastern Seaboard freaks who cover sports in the Big Apple. Or the history of what it means to BE a New York Jet.
But… who knows? Maybe it will work. Maybe he can conquer his demons and find satisfaction from this NFL shit. This is the way of all men as they get older: seeking one last bite of the apple and hoping it doesn’t turn to ashes in your mouth. But if, in a year’s time, he is writing a “sole survivor” memoir about his entire squad getting killed by a whale… look, just don’t say I didn’t warn you, man.