By Steve Robinson | April 29, 2018 - 7:06 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – On those Sundays when he has to go into enemy territory south of Green Bay , into Chicago ’s Soldier Field, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers can almost count on there being some Packers faithful among the normally-antagonistic crowd at such away games.

But invited to be the guest speaker at the 25th annual “Evening With The Stars” benefit for Heartland Red Cross April 24, when the veteran quarterback who will enter his 14th season with his team this fall asked those attending the annual fundraiser how many present were fans of his team, it seemed over half of the 1,100 people present responded. It was estimated the silver anniversary event would take in enough to surpass the $230,000 raised by the event last year.

Following dinner, with questions posed to him by WJBC Radio play-by-play man Dick Luedke, Rodgers said this appearance was not his first trip to the area. He said he had had breakfast at The Cracker Barrel on Bloomington’s West side with teammate long snapper Brett Goode as the pair drove from Goode’s home town of Fort Smith, Ark. back to Green Bay on two separate occasions, and both times, fans who spotted him picked up the tab for his meal.

He said being associated with winning a Super Bowl and later appearing in commercials for State Farm Insurance raised his public profile. In the State Farm ads, he appears with a dog – a subject he said he received plenty of queries about as to whether it was his own dog used in the ads, among other curiosities he has had to address from fans. “It wasn’t my dog,” Rodgers said. “And they wouldn’t sell it to me,” he quipped to the laughing approval of the crowd.

Luedke prodded applause from the audience when he asked the 34-year-old Rodgers, “I was just wondering who you were going to be rooting for in the Indy 500?” The obvious answer is his current girlfriend, Danica Patrick. Not mentioning Patrick by name, Rodgers responded by mentioning her team sponsor, saying, “The Go-Daddy Team,” referring to the internet page provider. It was another line that brought cheers from the gathering.

He reminded the crowd he visited the University of Illinois between his junior and senior year at Pleasant Valley High School in his native Chico , Calif. U. of I. offered him a scholarship, but Rodgers, instead, opted to go to California-Berkeley. The crowd applauded again when Rodgers mentioned his first start as a college quarterback was at Memorial Stadium in Champaign when the California Golden Bears played a road game against the Illini in 2003, a game the Golden Bears won, 31-24. He said his college playing years taught him a lot about assuming a leadership role on a team.

About his decision to enter the NFL draft after his junior year at Cal , Rodgers lamented, “I wished I had stayed another year. There’s nothing like the college experience. It’s a special time in your life, because you don’t have to have the responsibilities that you do as a professional, and there’s nothing like that college atmosphere.”

“There’s a different type of pride when you play for your college,” Rodgers said, adding that type of pride has carried over when he suits up in the Packers’ green and gold, or, he added, in Bears’ colors, too.

At first without mentioning Packers great Brett Favre by name, Rodgers said of his first couple seasons in the league was “playing behind a legend. That’s because not only did I get to fill out my body and my mind, but I got to see firsthand what greatness looked like. I know that you guys appreciated what Brett did on the field.”

He said unlike a number of first round quarterbacks who might have been thrown into tough game situations, Rodgers said, “I got to wait and watch and study and pick out things I liked that I wanted to incorporate into my own play.” By doing that, he added, he also saw intricacies of the game he wanted to do apart from how he had seen them done, as well. “I’m thankful for those three years,” he stated about the time he spent observing Favre.

He said those years he served as Favre’s backup helped him receive “a dose of humility,” which he said everyone needs now and again. He said NFL’s Draft process puts players in a position where they need to compare themselves to other players involved in that process so they will stand out to teams. Those first few seasons after the Packers selected him in the draft, gave him “a big dose of humility, and I needed it, and it was on national TV, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

He said that experience “also fueled me because I thought of all the teams who passed up on me,” including the Bears. Mention of the Bears under those circumstances brought laughter from the audience. In addition for playing for an area team in Wisconsin , Rodgers also holds a small ownership stake in NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. During the event, an audience member informed Rodgers the Bucks won over Boston in their first round playoff series, giving the Bucks a 2 games-to-1 edge.

Luedke asked whether Rodgers believed he would have been having the career he had experienced if he had given the starting quarterback job right after being drafted. Rodgers said his first couple pro seasons in Green Bay in 2006 and 2007 “were vital to my development and that set me up to have some success.”

Addressing his experience in aiding the Red Cross, Rodgers said it began with his family as a young person. “When I was a kid, it was important for us to volunteer and get involved in our communities,” he began. He joking compared his family getting their kids involved in such activities to team workouts players do in the spring. He said his family tried to do “two outreaches” for charities every year.

“I have to take my hat off to you,” Rodgers told the gathering. “What you’re doing is phenomenal. You’re pouring your heart and your life and your emotions into this and I just want to applaud you for your grit.” The statement was another of the night’s applause lines from Rodgers.

Prior to his appearance, Rodgers posed for pictures with select fans, and spoke with athletes from some of Illinois State University sports teams.

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