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THE NEW YORK FANTASIES OF AARON RODGERS FELL WITH A TORN ACHILLES
So much for the new dreams of the Hall of Famer, whose serious injury Monday night is a reminder he turns 40 in December — the more prominent issue when we discussed his now-shaky Jets career
He talked about visualizing a Super Bowl, his dreams intact, and realized 9/11 was 22 years ago when he carried an American flag into MetLife Stadium. This was his steadiest reminder that he’s with the New York Jets, the team of a Butt Fumble and a Sucker Punch, the franchise with the NFL’s biggest playoff drought. Should we have asked other questions when he wandered into a Manhattan ballroom late last month, wondering if he was heading into a Hollywood premiere?
“It was like we were some sort of pop band or something — a boy band,” Aaron Rodgers said. “There were a ton of fans, just like paparazzi. It was incredible, just the energy. But it's like that wherever we go.”
What we never inquired about was a body that turns 40 in December. And just four snaps into his debut Monday night, Rodgers was gone already, feeling his leg with a lame arm before the trainers arrived. As his crestfallen coach said after a shocking 22-16 victory over the Buffalo Bills, the Jets firmly believe it’s a torn Achilles, the worst fate imaginable. So much for one of the compelling twilight stories that will not end up like Tom Brady, sadly, who won seven championships when Rodgers has one in 2011.
“Personally, I don’t hurt for me or our locker room. I hurt for Aaron,” coach Robert Saleh said. “Say a prayer.”
Rodgers was taken to a blue medical tent and worked on for several minutes, when he sat on a cart and was taken toward a locker room before getting off and limping inside. Before you knew it, in what is more stunning to the NFL than the relentlessly pitiful Jets themselves, he was gone from the most anticipated game in recent league memory. Why did we never ask about the man’s bones? ESPN didn’t say so immediately, of course, with Joe Buck mentioning at some point, “We don’t know the severity, but it does not look good.” What, were they hoping fans would stick around through a devastation spreading fast through America?
And that’s what this is, painful damage to whatever the Jets were hoping this season. Rodgers was in a walking boot in the second quarter, and while left ankle X-rays were negative, he could not overcome a series of rushes from the Bills, including a Leonard Floyd sack that left him sprawled on grass that had been lit green minutes earlier. Did he try to twist away? All we did was wonder if he could lead the Jets through the AFC battles. No one asked if he could stay healthy. The Jets somehow won, with Zach Wilson taking advantage of Rodgers’ training sessions with a phenomenal touchdown catch by Garrett Wilson, but a victory behind Josh Allen’s messes is not what anyone had in mind. Even if rookie Xavier Gipson ended it in overtime with a sensational 65-yard punt return, which suggests the Jets’ defense is so good … no, not going there.
“There’s no recovering from something like that,” Garrett Wilson said of Rodgers. “Hate ever seeing anything like that.”
So ended five months of waiting for … what, exactly? Did anyone ask if Rodgers was physically prepared, through his ayahuasca psychoactive brews, to handle a journey through the maddest of cities? He has been to all the sports events, the Broadway plays, the transformation in football mid-life. He allowed ESPN to use Billy Joel on a long pre-game show — “You’re not just playing in New York, you’re playing the world,” he said — and John McEnroe to discuss ambitions that no one has publicly harbored since Joe Namath. “We expect to dominate and make a run at the Super Bowl,” he said, as Carmelo Anthony suggested they’d put a statue of him beside the Statue of Liberty if he won a title.
At one point, Rodgers even remarked, “This has felt like waking up inside of a dream, this whole experience, a beautiful dream. There’s a lot of times — I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — where I just look around and say: This is my life now. How cool is this?” But it would remain cool only if he stays healthy.
With no Willis Reed in his veins, Rodgers will be spending several weeks, months — years — with leg specialists. While over in Green Bay, what, are they celebrating? The day before, in Chicago, a successor named Jordan Love took over for the Packers and did what Rodgers always did at Soldier Field: throwing three touchdowns in a 38-20 romp. Late last year, receiver Romeo Doubs said he hadn’t earned Rodgers’ trust. Suddenly, after catching two TDs, Doubs said he has earned Love’s heart already. It wasn’t the first time Rodgers had been doubted, with Marquez Valdez-Scantling once saying, “There are two separate playbooks. There’s the one we get written down. And then there’s one that Aaron has. It’s not an easy thing to just come in and play right away.”
Look at Matt LaFleur now. “There's a big-time belief in that locker room for Jordan Love,” the Packers head coach said. “I think the guys, they're going to rally around him. They're excited for him. They love him. They respect him. He comes to work every day, great attitude, great energy. I think you saw that today.”
One of Rodgers’ longtime friends, David Bakhtiari, weighed in from Wisconsin with a shot at MetLife’s field. “Congrats NFL,” he said online. “How many more players have to get hurt on ARTIFICIAL TURF??! You care more about soccer players than us. You plan to remove all artificial turf for the World Cup coming up. So clearly it’s feasible. I’m sick of this … Do better!”
Suddenly, the Jets must deal with more internal insanity. How about the fan who flipped a middle finger at the camera late in the first half? Anyone who saw HBO’s “Hard Knocks” saw Rodgers’ affinity for last year’s backup, Wilson, in hopes they’d prepare him for future use. Who knew it would happen in the first quarter of Week 1? The Jets play the Cowboys, Patriots, Chiefs, Broncos and Eagles before their bye week.
Super Bowl? How about what happens in a New York minute?
As it was, ESPN attempted to handle the horror of 9/11. The dread was evident when betting company DraftKings made an awful mistake, apologizing for using those terror attacks as a promotion to bet on New York teams. “Never Forget,” came the ads, which the company took down. “We sincerely apologize for the featured parlay that was shared briefly in commemoration of 9/11,” DraftKings wrote. "We respect the significance of this day for our country and especially for the families of those who were directly affected.”
Sure, you do. Aaron Rodgers, wearing an NYPD hat, was trying to meld into the city’s terrors and dreams. He waited for the anthem, eyes closed, and threw a few more balls before the action came his way on the field.
Then, he was gone. “Hate that, man … Praying for the best,” Patrick Mahomes said online. When will Rodgers return? Every question, from this point on, is about his own health. And how much time he has left in football.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.