Goodman: Sports May Offer A Life Lesson From Time To Time
Commentary: The NFL just completed its annual draft.
In reverse order of last season’s finish (absent trades), each team picks a top college player. There are seven rounds over three days.
In 2005 the San Francisco 49ers had first choice, which meant they’d fallen on hard times. I hoped they’d draft Aaron Rodgers, quarterback at nearby Berkeley. Aaron and others thought they would; but quarterback Alex Smith of Utah, got the call.
That call made Alex an instant multi-millionaire, and revealed Aaron’s incredibly strong character. The expected draftees wait in the Green Room for their turn to parade on stage with his team’s cap and the Commissioner. As more names were called, Aaron waited. And waited – until he’d long been the only guy left in the Green Room. No team needed a quarterback. With each pick, he was losing millions of dollars. It was also a uniquely public humiliation. With each pick, the television camera showed Aaron, alone, maintaining a cheerful face.
After five hours, Green Bay drafted him. No. 24. When interviewed, Aaron wished Alex well.
In San Francisco, Alex started immediately; but the ‘Niners were lousy. Their offensive lineman couldn’t protect him and wide receivers dropped his passes. He lost often and got banged around a lot.
Green Bay, with star quarterback Brett Favre, was a weird destination for Aaron. For three years, he sat and watched the games. Favre, a skilled quarterback but sometimes a jerk, showed his resentment of Aaron. Favre retired once, meaning Aaron would start; but then he unretired, reclaiming the job.
In 2008, Aaron finally started. In 2010 they won the Super Bowl. (The Wisconsin countryside was still full of barns with paintings of Brett on ‘em.) Aaron eventually won three most-valuable-player awards.
Alex soldiered on as the 49ers repeatedly made stupid coaching hires, until they hired Coach Jim Harbaugh in 2011. Soon the line protected Alex, receivers caught his passes, and the defense defended. In 2012-13, the ‘Niners were Super Bowl bound. Alex ranked high among quarterbacks; but his backup, Colin Kaepernick, could throw laser passes and run amazingly well. Harbaugh started Colin, then traded Alex to Kansas City. There, Alex played well; but in 2017 the Chiefs drafted phenomenon Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes sat behind Alex a year, then took his job and won the 2020 Super Bowl (over the ‘Niners), then lost the 2021 Super Bowl.
Alex joined Washington (a horrendously managed team, whose Trump-like owner thinks he knows more than the coaches). Alex played well, then suffered a gruesome leg injury most people couldn’t watch replays of. Expected to retire, he rehabbed a year then started games in 2020-2021. Washington won its division, and Alex was Comeback Player of the Year. He recently retired.
Aaron is still in Green Bay, but looking to leave. (He’s also in the running to be TV’s next “Jeopardy” host.) In the 2020 draft, instead of drafting a wide receiver to help him win a Super Bowl, the Packers drafted Aaron’s eventual replacement. He treated the rookie much better than Favre had treated him, but when Green Bay narrowly missed the Super Bowl, Aaron wondered if one more star would have made the difference.
Aaron and Alex are charming, smart, incredibly talented young men, with strong characters. Their relative ups and downs illustrate an old Chinese tale, the moral of which is that you often can’t tell whether life is toasting you or roasting you.