Field Reversals 

Article by Phil Hanrahan

When you write a sports book about a team’s previous season, as I did in 2009, telling the story of the 2008 Green Bay Packers, you have to make judgments about players that get set into the cement of printed pages and which later, depending on how the players do career-wise, can make you feel lucky, or dumb as hell.

I got lucky with quarterback Aaron Rodgers (perhaps you’ve heard of him), and wide receiver Jordy Nelson. Rodgers replaced living-legend Brett Favre in 2008, and though neither he nor the team had an especially great season (Rodgers threw 13 interceptions, a career high through 2017; the Pack went 6-10), the former Golden Bear displayed lightning footwork, moments of uncanny accuracy, a quick brain, and a cannon disguised as a human arm that saw him launching the rock on 60-yard arcs to receivers running go-routes.

Even in 2008, Rodgers had games that incinerated the reports of those NFL scouts who looked at his college work and concluded he “lacked arm strength” and “couldn’t throw the long ball” — these are actual quotes — and warned if you drafted him you’d be signing a dink-and-dunker with weird mechanics who’d never be more than a game “manager.”

But it turned out the guy taking over for a very disgruntled Favre — the guy whose story-in-the-making had me move from L.A. to Green Bay in summer 2008 — possessed signal-caller skills so elite that Aaron Charles Rodgers now comes up anytime football observers start discussing the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game.

So I got lucky. We put Favre on the cover of the hardcover edition, because everyone on the fucking planet practically had heard his name by 2009, not least after the months-long retirement-unretirement-revenge-will-be-mine soap opera that ended up with the Ol’ Gunslinger playing for the New York Jets (wha??). But for the paperback edition? Buyers of the book were greeted with a photo of the Californian, future boyfriend of Olivia Munn, and I got to write a new afterword covering the Packers’ 2011 Super Bowl win.

Jordy Nelson caught nine passes for 140 yards in that 31-25 victory over Ben Roethlisberger’s Pittsburgh Steelers, setting a new Packers receiving record that had stood since Max McGee racked up 138 yards in Super Bowl I. Speaking of covers, Sports Illustrated ran a shot of Rodgers and Nelson doing an aerial shoulder-bump on the front of the mag in its postgame issue. I got lucky with Jordy, too. (I feel like I can call him by his first name because halfway through the 2008 season I drove to his tiny farm town of Leonardville, Kansas, and watched a Packers-Titans game on TV with his mom, friends, grandparents, Little League coach, high school chemistry teacher, and others, gathered in Nelson’s Landing, a sports bar Jordy’s parents, farmers by day, had opened in town.)

Nelson was a rookie that year, the Packers’ first pick in the draft. I devoted a chapter to him. He could have sucked. A lot of Cheeseheads and national prognosticators more or less predicted him to suck, or be average at best. I had some doubts myself. But “the Hick from the Sticks,” as an unkind Great Plains football writer once called him during his record-smashing Kansas State career, has ended up kicking total ass as a Green Bay Packer.

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