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Rodgers no longer has to demonstrate he's one of game's best

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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Thanks to a 4-0 postseason run, Aaron Rodgers is now considered an elite quarterback. (US Presswire)  
Thanks to a 4-0 postseason run, Aaron Rodgers is now considered an elite quarterback. (US Presswire)  

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Last summer at this time, Aaron Rodgers was one of the NFL's promising young quarterbacks. Now the promise has been realized and Aaron Rodgers has gone from someone knocking at the door to someone locked in the penthouse suite.

So what happened? I'll tell you what: A Super Bowl. Aaron Rodgers became an elite quarterback because Aaron Rodgers won a Super Bowl.

Dismiss the importance of Super Bowl success all you want; you can't ignore the impact it had on Rodgers. It turned him from one of the game's likeable young talents into one of its most effective and most feared passers.

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A year ago, Rodgers was a young talent with a limited résumé. He not only hadn't won a Super Bowl; he hadn't won a playoff game. Now that he has ... well, some people insist he'll be better than Brett Favre. Others suggest he's already there, refusing to allow him room to exhale. Still others believe it won't be long before he squeezes Tom Brady and Peyton Manning off the quarterback summit.

All I know is one game has made a difference for one guy.

"I don't really pay a whole lot of attention to that," Rodgers said Sunday. "When I hear the term 'elite quarterback,' I think of Peyton and Tom, first of all. I think [when people mention it] they're talking of a standard of play that sets the standard for the rest of the league."

Well, then, congratulations, Aaron Rodgers; you've arrived.

Rodgers set the standard for the rest of the league in last year's playoffs when the Packers ran the table, winning three straight before toppling Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV. In defeats of Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago and the Steelers, Rodgers was more than just a competent, young quarterback; he was an elite quarterback, with nine touchdown passes, two interceptions and a perfect 4-0 record.

By contrast, Brady and Manning were 0-2 and are a combined 0-4 in their last four playoff games.

But this isn't about Brady and Manning. Their reputations are established, and their places in Canton reserved. Nope, this is about Aaron Rodgers, and no victory last season was more important for him than the last -- the Packers' first Super Bowl triumph since Brett Favre was here in the 1990s.

Granted, it didn't change Rodgers. He says he's still the same guy --looks the same, dresses the same, acts the same and all that -- but it did change the way he is perceived ... and he's perceived as one of the NFL's best and brightest.

There's a lesson there, and the lesson is this: Never underestimate the importance of a Super Bowl victory for a quarterback.

"It seems to [be a big deal] from the media's perspective," he said. "For me to be satisfied at the end of my career -- I thought about it as a young man -- winning a Super Bowl was part of that equation. In order to feel I finally accomplished what I wanted to accomplish on the field, winning a Super Bowl was part of the equation."

What Rodgers accomplished is not unlike what Brady or Manning accomplished in their careers. Brady was the young quarterback who displaced Drew Bledsoe ... until he won a Super Bowl. When he won a second, he was the quarterback others somehow missed. And when he won a third in four seasons he bought himself a ticket to Canton.

Manning was the quarterback who couldn't win a big game ... until, of course, he did in the 2006 playoffs, dispatching Brady and the Patriots in the playoffs and the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. When he returned three years later, he was the quarterback who would be king -- with some analysts suggesting a victory might make him the best of all time.

What they forgot was that they were the same people who in 2006 charged that Manning needed a Super Bowl win to validate his career. I don't know about that. What I do know is that the Super Bowl changed the perception of Manning, just as it changes the perceptions of almost all top quarterbacks, with Rodgers the latest example.

Look, for instance, at how he and San Diego's Philip Rivers are portrayed: Young, talented, accurate and successful quarterbacks. Except one won a Super Bowl, and one has not.

Where the game solidified the reputation of Drew Brees in 2009, one year later it launched Aaron Rodgers into the stratosphere at his position, and hallelujah. Until then, Rodgers' pro career was littered with speed bumps, and the poor guy was due a break. With Super Bowl XLV, he caught it.

This is the prospect, remember, who could've been the top draft choice in 2005, only San Francisco passed on him in favor of Alex Smith -- leaving Rodgers to plummet to the 24th position before Green Bay came to the rescue. So he landed here, sat behind Favre for three seasons, then emerged to become what he is now -- an elite quarterback.

Of course, San Francisco passed on Brady, too, after working him out prior to the 2000 draft, and I can't imagine how Rodgers' career might have changed had he been the first pick in 2005. What I do know is how that career has changed now -- and not because of anything the 49ers did but because of what Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers just did.

"As a quarterback," said Rodgers, "you'd like to think you'd have the same type of success, had I been picked one [in the draft] or picked by the Dolphins or Tampa Bay or the Cardinals at eight. But it's hard to replicate that same feeling of disappointment as you continue to drop. That was matched by the same sense of wanting to prove yourself again ... and needing to. That was invaluable to me.

"Then you look at what's happened in the league. I'm not going to take all the credit for it, but teams are starting to realize it's not a horrible thing to have a guy sit for a couple of years and learn the position instead of being thrust into a situation where they're not surrounded by a team that's intact and having to do too much ... or be asked to do too much. It's a lot of pressure. So you're looking at quarterbacks now who in the first round might have an opportunity to sit for a couple of years, and that time for me was invaluable."

In Green Bay, you're looking at a quarterback now who should have an opportunity to win more, maybe several more, Super Bowls, and that's invaluable, too. No longer must Aaron Rodgers demonstrate he's one of the game's best quarterbacks; he just proved it.

"From a credibility standpoint," said coach Mike McCarthy, "[winning a Super Bowl] definitely takes you to another level, and that is so big in our business. I’m talking in the locker room and in the building because that’s where it matters the most.

"But if you look at the guys who achieved true greatness the key is to stay at that level. I tell him that, from here on, in his biggest challenge is himself -- and when you reach that point, it’s fun."

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