Skip to main content

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers likes milkshakes. Even now, and that’s after he swore them off three years ago.

“I remember the old days. I remember the old, old cafeteria, which was way back over there,” the Packers quarterback says in a quiet moment Friday, pointing to the east side of Lambeau. “I don’t even know what’s over there now. It was a tiny room, and we had soda machines, we had ice cream bars all over the place, and we had these milkshakes at night that were enormous, which I loved.

“The eating habits in 2005 were different than 2018.”

Rodgers was different then, too. He’s 34 now. He has 13 NFL seasons, 10 as Green Bay’s starter, under his belt. And maybe if he turned 35 during the 2005 season, rather than the 2018 season, he’d be looking at his quarterbacking mortality the same way Joe Montana (retired at 38), Dan Marino (38), Jim Kelly (36), John Elway (38) or Troy Aikman (34) did a generation ago. But it’s a different time. The math has changed, and Rodgers sees himself as a beneficiary.

It took a commitment on Rogers’s part. After the 2015 season he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery to take care of a lingering issue. After that he looked for ways to get out in front of the pain he’d experienced. It started with a simple fix, one that cost him his milkshakes.

“I decided just to cut out dairy from that point,” Rodgers says. “I have an allergy to it—I’m intolerant to it, my body just doesn’t enjoy it, my bowels especially. So I thought about how that’d affect my overall health. So it’s that, it’s eating more of a raw-type of diet, where it’s actual foods, or compositions of foods that are five ingredients or less. It’s being smarter about what I’m eating, limiting my sugars.

“And my overall health has improved. I haven’t had the same type of knee pain since that season, and I’d had a chronic knee issue since I was in high school. So that’s obviously improved, increasing the information on my body. And then I think you get older and you actually enjoy working out more, because you know it’s directly tied to your longevity.”

I came to Green Bay on Friday to kick off the longest leg of my training camp swing with the idea to ask about Rodgers, and what his collarbone injury cost the Packers last year, and how that look at the Packers without Aaron might affect things for him personally, as well as for a team going through a transition.

I left believing Rodgers has plenty of time left, and that in a few years we’ll be talking about him in the way we talk about Tom Brady now, rather than looking at him like we did Marino or Elway or even his predecessor in Green Bay, when they got to their late 30s. Brady, in fact, has a lot to do with it.

Image placeholder title

This week’s MMQB has camp in full swing. I’m going to take you with me to Patriots, Vikings and Lions camps. We’ll also look at some of the contract situations lingering out there, plus the ones in Atlanta and Los Angeles that got resolved.

But we’re going to start in Lambeau, with the idea that Green Bay struck this offseason under new GM Brian Gutekunst to try to maximize what’s left of Rodgers’s prime. It’s been eight years since the Super Bowl XLV championship, and the Packers have come painfully close very recently, making it to conference title games in two of Rodgers’ last three full seasons.

Add that to an uncharacteristically splashy offseason, with Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis and Mo Wilkerson anchoring a robust free-agent class, and Gutekunst trading aggressively on draft night, and the easy thing to think is that there’s more urgency here.

After visiting Green Bay, I learned one part of my equation was wrong—the notion that Rodgers sees the sun setting. He doesn’t, and as far as I could tell, the Packers don’t either.

“I’d say this: He’s a young 34,” coach Mike McCarthy told me. “He had the first three years to sit behind Brett [Favre], and if you look at him physically, the last three, four years, he’s clearly in the best shape of his career. He’s done a tremendous job taking care of his body.”

Scroll to Continue

SI Recommends

And it kicked into overdrive with that wake-up call he got from the adjustment in his diet back in early 2016. That was just the start. In seeing what changing his diet could do, Rodgers found a new challenge. For the longest time, the idea that 23 teams passed on him gave him an edge. Then he won a Super Bowl. A year later, he was league MVP. Three years after that, he was MVP again. Somewhere along the way, it became tougher to convince himself he was still the plucky underdog. So his motivation changed, too.

“I can’t really rely on the chips on my shoulder, whether it was actual or perceived, that motivational stuff you use,” Rodgers says. “So you look for different ways to challenge yourself. For me, it’s that longevity now. We play at a high level. And 40 is an interesting number for quarterbacks. There haven’t been a lot of guys that have gotten there. Tommy [Brady] was obviously incredible last year at 40, but there aren’t a lot of guys who can do that.”

That’s where Brady comes in. The two quarterbacks have talked about this quest for longevity, and Brady sent Rodgers the TB12 Method book he released last September. Rodgers has taken stuff from it and applied it in conjunction with the advice he gets regularly from Packers director of performance nutrition Adam Korzun, a man partially responsible for the disappearance of Rodgers’ beloved milkshake machine. Rodgers did his own research too, and as a result, it’s not just his knee that’s gotten new life. He has more energy. He’s sleeping better. He feels stronger.

“I do my own reading, and Adam’s been a fantastic resource, and obviously Tom and I are close,” Rodgers says. “We’ve talked about the stuff he does. I don’t swear off nightshades like he does. But I had a lot of room to grow in that area. I love sweets and food in general, so being smart about what I was eating tied to my performance.”

As he’s become a technician with his diet, he’s doing the same with his mechanics, focusing on balance and rhythm and timing, and being able to retain muscle memory on each throw. “I can make throws that look difficult, that are difficult, but I’ve done them before and you’re able to recall those moments, how to aim properly, how to release properly to complete balls that are difficult for most people to throw.”

That would qualify as bad news for the other 31 teams. As long as he’s healthy, Rodgers might be getting better the way Brady seemed to as he approached, and then hit, age 40. Rodgers knows what he wants now, too, because just as 2013 did, last year provided a valuable moment of self-actualization that came almost immediately after Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr slammed him into the US Bank Stadium turf.

“It’s that time that tells you, ‘Am I kind of over it? Are the injuries, that type of injury, too much? Are you worried about your future? Or do you miss it so much? Do you miss the camaraderie? Do you miss the competition so much that you can’t wait to get back?” Rodgers says. “And mine was obviously the latter. I love this game and I’ve given a lot to it, and it’s given a lot back. I want to keep rolling as long as I can.”

For how long?

“Minimum is 40,” he says. “I’d love to be a starter at 40, so that’d be 40 turning 41. That’d be awesome because not many guys have been to play really well to that age.”

Top 10 Quarterbacks in Football for 2018

That means getting to the 2024 season. So to answer the question I came here with: Yes, the Packers are trying to get the most out of Rodgers, and Gutekunst’s proactive approach has been part of it. But it’s not because some figurative clock is ticking.

“If this was all based on how the quarterback plays, we may win ’em all, just being honest,” says McCarthy. “It’s the other 52 [players], that’s the part that we always have to make sure that we’re focused on. But, yeah, I hope that when we’re sitting here 10 years from now, we’re looking back and that question isn’t asked.”

You can rest assured Rodgers is doing everything he can to make sure it won’t be.

Image placeholder title