You know how it goes when we're talking about quarterbacks: You have to win, and that means win titles, before they even consider you as the greatest of all time. Before you go into the G.O.A.T conversation. So Tom Brady, who has four Super Bowls, and Joe Montana, who is 4-0 in Super Bowls and threw 11 touchdowns in those games without a single pick, are always going to be at the front of the parade, and Dan Marino, as great a thrower as he was, isn't ever going to get as much love as he deserves because he never won and only played in the Super Bowl once.
The conversation about the best quarterbacks of all time is the most interesting in sports, all the way back to Sammy Baugh and Otto Graham and then the first glamour quarterback of the television age, Johnny Unitas.
So if you want to say the modern NFL started with Unitas, you can start the conversation with him, and then get right to Montana, and Brady and Peyton Manning and John Elway, who changed his place in the history of his sport by winning two straight Super Bowls for the Broncos before he retired. And Marino, even if he never won it all. And Rodgers' predecessor at Lambeau, Brett Favre his ownself.
And having said all that, and knowing he might not ever win another Super Bowl because there are no guarantees and no way of knowing that, no one has ever played the position better than Aaron Rodgers. Or more memorably. Now here he is again, with another flawed Packers team, trying to run the table after being 4-6 and win the NFC North, showing you all over again how much game he has, even in a season when he got hurt, again.
Going into the last game of the regular season, he has 36 touchdown passes against just seven interceptions and continues to remind us that he is as much fun to watch play football as any player of his time. Wide receivers like Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown, they have to wait for somebody to throw them the ball to be memorable. Rodgers is the one with the ball. It's a good thing.
He has just the one Super Bowl, in Jerry Jones' stadium against the Steelers. He and the Packers lost one of the great heartbreak games in the history of the NFL against the Seahawks a couple of years ago. He has only occasionally had enough defense to back up his spectacular offense. You know there were a couple of times in the playoffs when the Packers' defense made Colin Kaepernick look like a combination of Joe Montana and Steve Young.
This year, Rodgers didn't get a running game, really, until Mike McCarthy gave Ty Montgomery a battlefield commission. There have been some brutal losses for the Packers and the commentators were starting to blame some of what was happening to Green Bay on Rodgers and his decision-making. Right. Go with that. Now the Packers have won five in a row after being 4-6 and Rodgers has thrown 11 touchdown passes in those games without a pick, and when the tournament starts (should Green Bay make it) he will be somebody to watch again and so will the Packers.
Again: He's got just the one Super Bowl, and even guys like Eli Manning and Jim Plunkett have two. There was the year when the Packers were 15-1 during the regular season and Eli and the Giants got them good at Lambeau and ended up winning the Super Bowl that year. So, yeah, there have been plenty of years when Rodgers was the heartbreak kid.
It doesn't change the fact that no one, as far back as you want to go, has ever been better or more versatile or creative at playing quarterback in pro football than Rodgers is, and has been. He threw that pass down the field to Jordy Nelson against the Bears after the Packers had blown a 27-10 lead at Soldier Field. And no one who loves the NFL will ever forget what he did against the Cardinals in the playoffs last season, when Rodgers threw back-to-back Hail Mary passes, from the shadow of his own goalposts, to send the game into overtime.
That night, Rodgers was facing fourth-and-20 on his own four-yard line with 55 seconds left. Then he threw it 60 yards to Jeff Janis. After an illegal motion penalty, he threw it to Janis again for a 41-yard touchdown. Two throws, one yard over 100 because of the penalty. This is how Rodgers stretches the field.
That was right before Rodgers was once again victimized, in the playoffs, in overtime, by the NFL's boneheaded rule about letting a coin flip decide a season. Yup. Billion dollar industry. Coin flip. Twice, first against the Seahawks and then against the Cardinals; the Packers lose a coin flip and the most memorable quarterback in the sport doesn't get to touch the ball again that season.
By the way? Those two Hail Mary passes against the Cardinals came in the same season in which he had also beaten the Lions with a Hail Mary pass -- to Richard Rodgers -- during the regular season. There are other quarterbacks who make these throws and have made them. Nobody ever has made as many as Rodgers has. Brady will likely win the MVP this season, even having missed the first four games because of Deflategate. But Rodgers, whose team was gone at 4-6 -- with people also wanting McCarthy to be gone -- will finish second. He is making the last half of the Packers season feel like one long, entertaining Hail Mary this time. He really is to quarterbacks as a guy like Beckham is to wide receivers.
Seriously? If you can only watch one quarterback play, it would be him. And who else are you going to listen to? One year, memorably, he told Packers fans to "R-E-L-A-X" when the Packers were bumbling and stumbling, and away they went. This year when the Packers were 4-6, he said the Packers were going to "run the table." Now they have the chance to finish doing that against the Lions at Ford Field on Sunday night. The guy delivers, in all sorts of ways.
Nelson, who has 14 touchdown catches this year as he comes back from the knee injury that took the entire 2015 season away from him, is back to being Rodgers' primary wing man. Rodgers is in the process of making Davante Adams a star, something he has done with a lot of other young receivers. And even after the various leg injuries he's had this season, and the way he gimped around on some Sundays like an old man, he was moving in and around and out of the pocket against the Vikings.
You know what it is like with Rodgers: When he does buy some time, when he does create some space, when he looks down the field, you expect something amazing is about to happen.
There will always be other guys who won more titles than he's going to win with the Packers. Not one of them has ever played quarterback better than Rodgers has. And not one of them has ever been more fun to watch.