Whether you love him or hate him, the Aaron Rodgers injury is a tough blow for the NFL
Aaron Rodgers, the new starting quarterback for the Jets, was lost for the entire 2023 regular season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon just four plays into his debut in a Week 1 matchup vs. the Bills at MetLife Stadium on Monday Night Football.
That was it, just four plays.
It was easy to think the injury was something minor in the moments after Rodgers stood up and then quickly sat back down on the turf following an innocent-looking sack by the Bills’ Leonard Floyd. In fact, I said, “It’s probably an ankle, and he’ll likely be back by the next series,” as I watched Rodgers being helped off the field by the Jets’ training staff.
But Rodgers never came back into the game, and news soon began to circulate on social media that the injury was not good.
It obviously wasn’t.
I know many people celebrated the injury and even the comedy of Rodgers, who the Jets acquired in a major trade with the Packers in the offseason, having his season cut short so soon. But it doesn’t make it any less surreal.
It doesn’t make it any less disappointing for a Jets’ fan base that had to be ready to burst from anticipation after waiting months for Rodgers to finally make his 2023 debut as a member of Gang Green.
Talk about a franchise that has continuously felt like Little Brother in a city where the original NFL team has always loomed much larger (pun intended). But while the Giants have more Super Bowl titles (four), the Jets clinched perhaps the most famous one when, as members of the old American Football League (AFL), they upset the Colts in Super Bowl III in January of 1969.
While the NFL/AFL merger had already been agreed upon and would still be a reality beginning in 1970, few NFL players, coaches, owners and fans had ever taken the upstart football league seriously.
That remained the case throughout the 1968 campaign when the Colts posted a 13-1 regular-season record before running through the postseason like an out-of-control mustang–including a 34-0 road win over the Browns in the NFL title game.
Cleveland was the only team that defeated the Colts in ’68, and these AFL Jets, who vanquished the Raiders in the AFL title game, appeared to have no chance.
The oddsmakers agreed and quickly established Baltimore as a 19.5-point favorite. But Joe Namath, the Jets cocky and charismatic young quarterback, guaranteed a win in the days before the game, and he, along with a stout New York defense, delivered to the tune of a 16-7 upset victory that shocked the world.
The victory made Namath, a ladies man nicknamed Broadway Joe, a national celebrity. It gave the AFL credibility.
Most importantly, it gave the Jets a championship.
Sadly, it was the first and last for Little Brother. Not only haven’t the Jets won a Super Bowl since that ’68 campaign, but they haven’t even been to another one. New York has won three division titles since 1969–including just two since the NFL merger–and has made the playoffs a grand total of 13 times.
It hasn’t been a good run for the Jets, especially lately. That’s why it had to be such a shot of adrenaline for those fans when the trade to bring Rodgers to town became official.
New York had built quite the roster in recent years, complete with a dominant defense and explosive weapons on offense. The only thing missing was a franchise quarterback. Zach Wilson, who was the second pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, was supposed to be such a passer.
But Wilson had failed so miserably over his first two seasons, that he was relegated to third-string at the end of the 2022 campaign.
A lightning rod of a figure who had gone from one of the game’s most popular players to a mega heel in just two years, Rodgers had long since worn out his welcome in Green Bay and was looking for a chance to win elsewhere.
Rodgers cemented his heel status by demanding many things from the Jets and getting them.
As far as they were concerned, Jets fans didn’t care. Rodgers was their guy, now. He was their savior. He was going to get them their first Super Bowl since before America put a man on the moon.
As for football fans, in general, they either wanted to see Rodgers claim the ultimate prize or fail miserably. Would Rodgers pull a Tom Brady by going to a stacked team at an advanced age and walking away with another ring? Or would Rodgers follow in the footsteps of another polarizing former Packers quarterback and the man he succeeded in Green Bay, Brett Favre, and come up short when the stakes were the highest?
Rodgers came up short, but I don’t think anyone imagined he’d come up THIS short.
Whether you desired to watch Rodgers succeed or fail, you likely wanted to see him and his saga play out in New York, the media capital of the world.
While social media and modern technology have exposed fans to the nuts and bolts of football, including film study and play design, at the end of the day, being a sports fan is all about the drama, the theater, the story.
Rodgers going to the Jets was a huge story. Rodgers winning a title at the age of 40 (he’ll hit that mark on December 2) would have been a huge story. Rodgers failing miserably in the postseason or simply failing to get the Jets that far would have been a big story.
What a first chapter it figured to be on Monday night, the 22nd anniversary of 9/11, one of the saddest days in this country’s history. New York was Ground Zero for that day’s tragic events, and to see Rodgers run out onto the field while carrying Old Glory had to fill those in attendance with plenty of emotions.
Everything about Rodgers to the Jets was compelling theater.
But there was nothing compelling about how it all ended for Rodgers and the NFL fans who wanted to see him either succeed or fail.
The Jets may have defeated Buffalo in overtime, but the Aaron Rodgers to the Jets story now feels like a pilot episode that oversold and under delivered.
Which brings me back to the word surreal.
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