FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers was still a couple of months away from being wined and dined by the New York Jets when Joe Namath stepped up with an offer of his own.
Wear my retired No. 12, Broadway Joe told him. If that helps get you to New York, take the handoff.
It never came to that.
After Rodgers brushed off thoughts of retirement and was traded in April to New York from Green Bay, where he spent his first 18 NFL seasons, the four-time NFL MVP called an audible — something at which he’s a master — and decided to wear his college No. 8.
“There’s some iconic names that have played here, probably none more iconic than No. 12,” Rodgers said of Namath during his introductory news conference. “To me, 12 is Broadway Joe and I didn’t want to even go down that path.”
Rodgers was ready to make his own way — as he did when he replaced Brett Favre in Green Bay — while leading a franchise that still has been to just one Super Bowl, back in Namath’s glory days of January 1969.
Heck, the Jets have the NFL’s longest active playoff drought at 12 consecutive seasons. Yet there’s talk about this year’s squad being a Super Bowl contender.
That’s the effect Rodgers has had since he arrived.
“He has an aura,” said wide receiver Garrett Wilson, last season’s AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. “And everyone feeds off it.”
The 39-year-old quarterback left a brilliant legacy in Green Bay, including winning a Super Bowl in 2011, but Rodgers has goals left to chase.
“It’s similar to Green Bay in that way when you win in a city like Green Bay, where I assume for a team like the New York Jets, you go down in history,” Rodgers said. “And there’s something special about adding that to your legacy.”
It might even supersede, in the minds of many, what Rodgers accomplished with the Packers. And he isn’t the first to try to lift a franchise after being the face of another.
Joe Montana was traded from San Francisco to Kansas City and led the Chiefs to the AFC title game in his first season. Peyton Manning left Indianapolis and led Denver to the Super Bowl twice, getting there in his second season with the Broncos and winning it two years later. It took Tom Brady just one season to win it all after leaving New England and joining Tampa Bay.
“Tom Brady willed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the Super Bowl,” said Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Klecko, who was injured early during the 1982 season when the Jets made it to the AFC championship game — which the franchise has reached only three times since. “Now if Aaron Rodgers can will the New York Jets to the Super Bowl, he’s going to make himself a definitive legacy.
“I mean, listen, they’re going to be in the playoffs. They’re going to win football games and they’re going to be favored by a lot. They have a great nucleus. They have a defense that is off the charts. And now they have the quarterback.”
That hasn’t been something the Jets and their frustrated fans have been able to say for most of the past five decades while searching for the next Namath.
And the only quarterback who had the credentials close to what Rodgers brings to New York was Favre, who was traded to the Jets in 2008 — creating the opportunity for Rodgers to start in Green Bay. But Favre retired after one year in New York, unretired and then played two more seasons in Minnesota.
Rodgers quieted the doubters as to whether he’s all-in with New York when he signed a reworked two-year, $75 million guaranteed contract that will save the team nearly $35 million over the next two seasons. It was a signal he won’t be just one-and-done in the Big Apple. The deal should help the Jets acquire and/or sign players moving forward, as they did with running back Dalvin Cook a few weeks ago.
“It was just like, I’ve got the chance to go join him and help him win again,” said Cook, who signed a one-year deal. “That was a big thing to come over here.”
Rodgers has shown himself to be very comfortable in his new city, hanging out with teammates at Knicks and Rangers playoff games at Madison Square Garden, going to Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran concerts at MetLife Stadium, attending the Tony Awards in Manhattan and hitting Broadway to see several shows.
“I told a friend this is like waking up inside of a dream, this whole experience,” Rodgers said. “A beautiful dream. So many times, you have a great dream and you wake up and you’re like, ‘I just want to get back into that thing.’ And you can’t quite get back into the dream. Well, I’ve woken up inside of that dream. It’s been really, really special.”
He also mingles not only with offensive teammates on the field, but those on defense, sharing information about things he sees that could help them — and listening to feedback from them about things they see.
“It’s a different vibe,” linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “He sets the bar. He sets the expectations with his résumé, with his name and the way he approaches the game every single day.”
Rodgers’ journey with the Jets officially begins on Sept. 11 against Buffalo in front of a Monday night prime-time audience.
All eyes will be on him. But that’s nothing new.
Everything else is, though. And Rodgers is enjoying every moment.
“There’s a lot of times where I just look around and just go, ‘This is my life now. Like, how cool is this?’” Rodgers said with a big smile. “Driving into the city and you hit that spot before you go into the tunnel and looking across at the city and going, ‘Man, how cool is my life now?’
“And I’ve just tried to keep that perspective every day.”
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