Did you know that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers played a couple games at Cal with a broken right index finger?
Rodgers made that piece information public Tuesday during the Pat McAfee Show when he was asked whether Jimmy Garoppolo's thumb injury will make things difficult for him when the 49ers come to frigid Green Bay for Saturday night's playoff game against the Packers. Rodgers had some thoughts about that, which we will share later, but he provided a story about his very first start as a member of the Golden Bears.
It was Sept. 20, the fifth game of the 2003 season, a week after Rodgers had played well in relief of Reggie Robertson in a loss to Utah, led by Alex Smith. (Smith and Rodgers will be the major players in the 2005 NFL draft, as you recall.)
Anyway, Rodgers was the starter against the Illini on the road, and we'll let Rodgers tell the story as it relates to him and Cal coach Jeff Tedford:
"I broke my finger, my index finger in the first start of my career, at Illinois in the second quarter. We were running Seven-50 Gator and I came up to throw the backside post, and my right tackle, who was about 6-7, and I threw it and hit my hand on his helmet, broke my finger.
"And I came to the sidline and tell Coach Tedford, 'Hey, I think I broke my finger.' He said, 'I don't give a s---, you're not coming out.' So I'm, 'Yeah, I know, I wasn't trying to say I was going to. I just wanted you to know, I think I may have broken the thing,' And he said, 'Just get out there.'
"And the next week he was great, and that's what I love about Coach, because he could always inspire me in the best ways. He said, 'OK, look, you might have a broken finger, you can miss one day of practice, and then if you don't practice the rest of the week, you're not playing.
"So here I am with a distal [fingertip] fracture of my index finger, and I got to sit out, I think, Monday, and then Tuesday I was right back out there practicing. Because that's what we do. It difficult made it difficult at times to throw it."
So three questions arise from this little story:
1. How did Rodgers perform against Illinois after breaking his index finger in the second quarter?
Rodgers finished 20-for-37 for 263 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in Cal's 31-24 victory to improve its record to 2-3. However, he was just 3-for-9 for 27 yards in the second half after being 17-for-28 for 239 yards and a touchdown in the first half, so we can assume the finger injury had an impact.
2. How did Rodgers perform the next week?
He only played the first half of the game seven days later against No. 3 USC because of an injury, but in the first half he completed 18-of-25 passes for 217 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions to help Cal to a 21-7 halftime lead. The Bears eventually won 34-31 in three overtimes in what was the Trojans' only loss in what became a national championship season. USC quarterback Matt Leinart would win the Heisman Trophy the following year, but Rodgers outplayed Leinart in this game, which was the one that indicated Rodgers would become a star. And he did it was a broken index finger.
3. Who was the 6-foot-7 Cal offensive tackle whose helmet broke Rodgers' finger?
That was Chris Murphy, who was listed at 6-foot-6. He came to Cal as a walk-on but was a starter his final two seasons at Cal. He reportedly passed away in 2015.
Here is Tuesday's Pat McAfee Show, with the interview with Rodgers coming about 3 hours into the video:
Regarding whether the cold weather in Green Bay will make things difficult for Garoppolo and his sore thumb, Rodgers said this:
"Definitely something that's going to be difficult. Always difficult to throw when it's really, really cold. If you have some sort of ailment with your hand, I would assume that would make it a little more difficult. I know Farvy (Brett Favre] broke his thumb and kept playing and would talk about, tell some stories from that year from time to time about how difficult it was to get your grip on a ball that's even slicker and feels fuller."
The temperature in Green Bay is expected to be near zero degrees by the time game ends. It starts at 7:15 Central time Saturday.
Cover photo of Aaron Rodgers by Wm. Glasheen, USA TODAY NETWORK
Follow Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jakecurtis53
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