“I think a lot of guys carry stuff like that around. I would never fault anybody for whatever motivates them. Whatever drives you, man, that’s your deal. You think about it, all of us have had people in our lives who told us we couldn’t do something. Even if you grew up in a country club, behind some gates, you still had people tell you you couldn’t do something. We’ve all had that.”
Greg Jennings has had it happen, too. A second-team all-state wide receiver in high school in Kalamazoo, Mich., Jennings desperately wanted to wear the maize and blue of the University of Michigan. He even orally committed to the school without visiting it. But then-Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr decided he wanted another prep wide receiver from Detroit – Braylon Edwards. Jennings ended up at Western Michigan instead, intent on showing Carr the error of his ways.
It still motivates him, even now, in his seventh season in the NFL.
“Knowing him and how he is, he’s definitely thought about it,” Jennings said of Rodgers and his 49ers snub. “This is a chance to stick it to the team that could’ve drafted him. This is his chance to say again, ‘You were wrong.’ I’m sure it’s in the back of his mind. I don’t think he’d say so. But it’s definitely something that he probably would love to do.
“His memory is unbelievable. I find it very impressive that he’s able to use that as fuel and actually utilize that. A lot of guys can take that and can try to use it as fuel and it’s hurting them because they’re carrying too much of it and they let it affect him. But him, it drives him. It drives him.
“When somebody tells him he’s not as good as some other guy, he won’t say anything about it. But he may subtly throw out a comment, and he means every bit of it.”
Jennings paused and pointed to the Nike Jumpman logo on the 1 /4-zip pullover he was wearing, referring to Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player who ever lived – and a legendary grudge-holder who once used his Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech to detail every slight, real or perceived, that ever motivated him.
“(He’s like) this guy,” Jennings said, smirking. “For someone to pretty much tell you that you’re not good enough … When you get rejected, if that doesn’t propel you and drive you to want to prove everybody wrong, something’s really wrong with you in my humble opinion. Some people can sit back and say, ‘You know what? They may be right.’ My mindset, the way I’m built, no.
“In my case, it was as pretty much, [Michigan] chose Braylon over me. And Braylon’s had” – pause, smile – “a great career.” (Edwards’ career NFL numbers: Eight years, 112 games, 359 receptions, 5,522 yards, 40 touchdowns, no Super Bowls. Jennings’ career numbers: Seven years, 96 games, 425 receptions, 6,537 yards, 53 TDs, one Super Bowl XLV ring.)
This week, Rodgers has been his typically media-savvy self with the storyline. He’s diffused it with humor, pithy quotes (“Different coach, different me”) or by changing the subject. He’s made no reference to the draft-day snub during preparation, according to his coaches and teammates.
“He was hopeful at that time to be drafted by them, but I think he’s happy with how it turned out. He never talks about it,” said Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements, Rodgers’ quarterbacks coach until this season and confidant since his arrival in Green Bay. “It’s a playoff game, a game away from the (NFC) Championship Game. I don’t think he’s worried about what happened eight years ago. He’s concerned with what’s going on now.”
That, he is. And what he can do now is get his team to the NFC Championship Game – something he’d want to do regardless of the opponent. But don’t discount how much it would mean to him to do it at the expense of the team that didn’t want him.
“He was like this in the playoffs (the last two years) – just real intense, real focused. He’s not saying too much. You can tell on his face he’s just focused,” said wide receiver James Jones, another of Rodgers’ friends who grew up in the Bay Area.
“But if you’re an athlete and you’re competitive and they take another guy over you, I would hope you would want to knock that team out. I’m sure he has that in the back of his mind If you felt like you should’ve been the first pick in the draft, and you felt like you should have been with the Niners, I’m sure anybody with pride wants to play well against them. I’m sure that’s all he’s getting at. I’m sure he wants to put them out, the team that didn’t draft them.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.