Earlier versions of this column used a term that had a unintended double meaning. This version has been updated.
Super Bowl XLV: Aaron Rodgers has the monkey on his back for the Packers
Sunday, February 6, 2011; 12:15 AM
Young was Rodgers, circa 1995. He played the patient yet frustrated understudy who had to wait for an aging legend like Brett Favre to leave before he had a real opportunity to lead.
Young could put up all the numbers and wins he wanted, but until the 49ers won the last game of the NFL season with him behind center - instead of Joe Montana - Young knew he would never truly set himself apart from the greatest quarterback of all time.
"I somehow got down to the field after they beat the Chargers and began hugging Steve," said Leigh Steinberg, the agent who represented most of the game's premier quarterbacks. "I just remember him saying, 'The monkey's off my back, the monkey's off my back.'
"Like Steve, Aaron Rodgers has done so much to win over so many people, but in some fans' minds he is still competing against the unrealistic memory of a legend. To them, Brett Favre won every playoff game, was perfect in every Super Bowl. One of the only ways to win them over is to win it all."
Unless you years ago marked "Steeler Nation" in the residency box, this is why Rodgers and the Packers need the rest of the world to root for them Sunday night.
Green Bay's quarterback isn't just trying to scramble and avoid large men who want to violently slam him to the ground, he's trying to outrun the opponent who never dies: the nostalgic memory of another player in the same uniform at the same position.
"If Aaron Rodgers can pull this off, if he can lead the Packers to a Super Bowl victory over that Steeler defense and really have the kind of game people remember, then he basically knocked Brett Favre out," said Ross Tucker, the former NFL offensive lineman and now one of the game's most candid and sharp analysts. "Right now I see Brett Favre in some imaginary boxing ring, holding on to the top rope like a bloodied and tired fighter. And Aaron Rodgers is coming in for the [knockout] punch to end it. If he wins Sunday, he just landed that [knockout] punch."
Thanks to Favre's messy and embarrassing end in pro football, Rodgers already has something Young didn't 16 years ago: the full support of his fan base. After three years of backing up Favre, Rodgers has had three years of growing pains to gradually win over Green Bay.
He's done it with his nimble feet, his arm, his ability to grasp the moment and a smiling bravado even when the Eagles or the Bears were threatening to come back and end his season. And, yes, Favre indirectly helped.
In his season of staying too long, Favre has yet to call Rodgers and offer a word of encouragement.
For all Favre's inappropriate text messages that finally forced Commissioner Roger Goodell to fine him, for all the personal and professional embarrassments he brought on himself this past year - the year he finally found out he needed the NFL more than it needed him - the most iconic figure in Green Bay since Vince Lombardi couldn't even help his tarnished image by picking up the phone to say so much as "Good luck" to Rodgers.