Hello Packer Nation,
It wasn't long ago the Packers drafted the replacement to Packer legend Brett Favre in an arena filled with theatrics fitting of a soap opera title. Fans who remember how Aaron Rodgers became a Packer will never forget how the unthinkable happened, and how good things come to those who wait. In a 2005 off season full of unknowns, Donald Driver, who was good friends with Favre, said in a radio interview that he believed Favre will decide to retire and not play another season in the NFL.
"He was a real close friend of mine and we've been talking back and forth, and I think he's pretty much going to hang 'em up," Driver said. "I always told him, if you're coming back just because of that playoff game (loss in 2004 Wild Card round) don't show up. But if you're going to come back and try and win another Super Bowl, we'd love to have you."
Favre was 35 years old at the time and played 14 seasons in the NFL (13 in Green Bay). It put the Packers in a tough position to request he inform them of his intentions before the upcoming 2005 draft. Favre informed coach Mike Sherman on March 8-9, 2005 that he decided to return to the Packers for the 2005 season. The decision was not an easy one as his wife, Deanna, was recovering from cancer. She was doing well in her recovery and it made the decision much easier. 2004 was a tumultuous year for Favre, who dealt with his wife's breast cancer diagnosis in October - a week after his 24 year old brother died in an ATV accident. He was also dealing with the stunning death of Reggie White, who passed away a day after Christmas. It was almost exactly one year after the death of Brett's father, Irvin.
On top of all that personal turmoil, the Packers were humiliated at home in the 2004 Wild Card playoff match up against 8-8 Minnesota Vikings. The Packers looked listless in their 31-17 defeat to Minnesota and Favre didn't look like a man who had the fight to continue. I remember being at that game and the fans cheering for Favre as he walked off the field and he waved like it was his last walk off Lambeau. It sure felt like the end had come.
The Packers were well aware of everything Favre endured in 2004. He needed time away from the aftermath to think and make sure Deanna was making a strong recovery. Mike Sherman was very respectful of Favre's wishes when asked about the situation.
"After the season, he just needed to think about some things. Any man would have to contemplate his future when his wife is fighting cancer. It's not like he had to work to make money. He didn't want to be a part-time husband and part-time football player. It came down to his wife. If she's not healthy, its obviously a different ball game. But now she's doing well. She wants him to play. He never lost his enthusiasm for the game. It's just his family situation was pulling at him."
Favre's play didn't diminish as he just topped 4,000 yards passing that season and recorded his eighth 30-touchdown passing season. The Packers set franchise records for total offense and net passing yards in 2004. He extended his QB starting streak to 225 games. He was only sacked 14 times.
Leading up to the 2005 NFL Draft, the Packers knew they had a franchise QB who was on the back end of his career. He seriously contemplated giving it all up. It wasn't the only time he thought about hanging it up. There were rumors in the 2004 off season. There was also a big change in the Packers front office. Mike Sherman was relieved of his GM duties and Ted Thompson took over on January 14, 2005. Mike Sherman was allowed to coach the Packers in 2005, which would end up being his last season in Green Bay after the Packers finished 4-12.
The dominoes were beginning to fall. The Packers went into the 2005 off season with many needs on defense. They couldn't draft a defensive player and be wrong. Quarterback was not an immediate need but Thompson had an inclination that a franchise quarterback could be available in that draft. It was a hot potato who that guy would be. The San Francisco 49ers held the first overall pick and needed a quarterback desperately coming off a 2-14 season. Mike McCarthy, the 49ers offensive coordinator at the time, made a strong push for Rodgers because his "intellect" was off the charts. Mike Nolan, the new 49ers head coach, was rumored to have liked Alex Smith and decided on Smith when he saw Smith open the car door for his mom. This was a rumor Rodgers relayed in a 2016 interview on Bill Simmons' HBO show Any Given Wednesday, that Smith was chosen based on manners. Mike Nolan had already confirmed that April the personality of Rodgers played a part in their choosing of Alex Smith. Alex was a good person and came from humble surroundings. He was always trying to please everyone and never looked down on others. Rodgers was the complete opposite - very cocky, very confident, and arrogant.
Many insiders believed Rodgers had all the makings of a great quarterback and would be better than Smith. Quarterbacks were supposed to be cocky and high on themselves. They weren't supposed to worry about others. They are supposed to win championships, and you need to be above it all. The NFL has many egos, and to survive playing the highest pressured position, you needed thick skin. It wasn't necessarily talent that lead the 49ers to drafting Smith - it was his good manners.
Going back to that fateful draft day, it was not widely known the 49ers were going to select Alex Smith. Many pundits believed Rodgers was going #1. But, Rodgers showed up to the draft headquarters on April 23, 2005, and knew he wouldn't be the #1 pick as word got back to his team. Rodgers was confident that he wouldn't last long. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers held the #5 pick and head coach Jon Gruden watched film with Rodgers and talked football during a meeting before the draft. They even went out to a stadium to throw the ball around and Jerry Rice comes walking from the stands to catch a few throws from Rodgers. Gruden recalls the day by saying "I've still got the picture hanging right here at the FFCA" (Fired Football Coaches Association).
To preface the 2005 NFL Draft, not many teams went in looking to draft a quarterback. The 49ers were the only team in desperate need for a franchise QB. Tampa Bay was likely next but also needed a running back. After the 49ers selected Alex Smith, the picks starting falling and Tampa Bay was on the clock. Gruden loved Rodgers but also loved having a "bell cow" running back. The Buccaneers selected running back Cadillac Williams out of Auburn who was tailor made for great things. From that point on, Rodgers sat in the "green room" all by himself as players left and right were getting their names called. Four hours passed and workers in the green room wanted to leave and were giving Rodgers "the stink eye" as they cleared tables and stacked chairs around him, according to former Packer VP of Finance Andrew Brandt. As Aaron said on draft day, "It's not so funny when you are the last one in the green room."
The Packers still conducted drafts the same way as Ron Wolf used to; they had players arranged by round. As Rodgers continued to fall, Thompson fielded calls from teams looking to move up but couldn't agree to terms with the likes of Oakland. Oakland finally agreed to a trade with Seattle at #23 and drafted cornerback Fabian Washington. According to Thompson, he had Rodgers and another defensive player left on their board when pick #23 was up. He refused to name the defensive player.
Thompson was getting anxious when Oakland moved up to #23 but felt they were never in the running for Rodgers. Thompson felt extreme guilt knowing that head coach Mike Sherman was in the last year of his contract and the possibility of drafting a QB would not help his team in need of defensive talent. Thompson talked with every executive in the room and actually encouraged it. Thompson said, "I wanted to make sure everyone was comfortable with what we were doing. Everybody knows they can speak their mind. In fact, I've reinforced that every time we get together. It's their job to tell me what they're thinking."
Thompson went on, "It would have been easier if I had been there for 10 years and had some sort of track record. But everybody in the room said this was the player we should take."
After the Raiders chose Washington, Aaron Rodgers was still available at pick #24. The Packers turned their card in with Rodgers name on it with just four minutes out of their allotted 15 minutes gone.
Ted Thompson said after picking Rodgers, "I think when you look back five years from now you'll say 'This was a hell of a pick.' "
It is amazing to think since 1992, the Packers have been lead by Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers for the majority of every season up to 2020. In that same time frame, the Chicago Bears have had 30 different starting QB's. If there is one thing Green Bay has always valued, it is a great quarterback and the rest of the team cascades from there. In many ways, the 2005 NFL draft shaped two different paths for the 49ers and the Packers. The Packers would go on to win one Super Bowl, play in five NFC Championships and win seven NFC North championships since 2005. The 49ers have lost two Super Bowls, played in four NFC Championships and won three NFC West titles since 2005. It worked out pretty well for Green Bay.
When will Packer fans go through the draft day drama again, wondering when the replacement to Aaron Rodgers will be drafted? Will it be April 2020? Ted Thompson was right, Aaron Rodgers was a "hell of a pick" and the drama leading up to it will be remembered somewhere in between.
* Contributing to this piece: A March 9, 2005 article on Packers.com that retraced that off season Favre endured before deciding to come back for his 15th season.
* Contributing to this piece: An April 24, 2005 Journal Sentinel article written by Bob McGinn "April 23, 2005: Ted Thompson makes call on Aaron Rodgers."
* Contributing to this piece: A February 2, 2005 Chicago Tribune by the Tribune news services "Packer expects Favre to retire."