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Rodgers Filled With ‘Appreciation, Gratitude, Thankfulness’ for McCarthy

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his former coach, Mike McCarthy, will be reunited at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Rodgers will always remember the day when Mike McCarthy was fired. The date was Dec. 2, 2018. The Packers had just lost at home to the Arizona Cardinals. Friends had gathered to throw a party to celebrate Rodgers’ 35th birthday.

“That was a really strange night for sure,” Rodgers said on Wednesday, recalling the “shock” and “numbness” of the moment.

The next day, interim coach Joe Philbin invited McCarthy to talk to the team to provide some closure. But it wasn’t until a chance encounter when McCarthy’s firing became real.

“One of the strangest parts about the whole thing, there was a morning like 7:30 and I’m coming in the stadium off the freeway, and I’m on Lombardi (Avenue) at Ridge (Road), and I look over to the left and I see Mike in his truck,” Rodgers said. “It was a really weird feeling because it was one of the first times where it really, really sunk in, like, ‘Man, he’s not the head coach anymore.’”

Fired after 12 3/4 years on the job, McCarthy will return to Lambeau Field for the first time on Sunday when his Dallas Cowboys come to town. McCarthy has the Cowboys rolling with a 6-2 record. The Packers, after an unprecedented three consecutive seasons of 13 regular-season wins under McCarthy’s successor, Matt LaFleur, are 3-6 and losers of five straight.

Rodgers was drafted by the Packers in 2005 and McCarthy was hired in 2006. Together, they brought a championship back to Titletown in 2010. There was a 15-1 season in 2011 and NFC Championship appearances in 2014 and 2016. Rodgers won MVP awards in 2011 and 2014 and had about the hottest stretch any quarterback has ever had in running the table in 2016.

Super Bowl Eve is among Rodgers’ fondest memories.

“We delayed the team meeting 15 minutes or so because a couple of guys were on the piano playing some songs,” Rodgers said. “You just kind of felt that moment was special. I appreciated his delaying things and allowing that moment to exist. And getting sized for your (Super Bowl) ring, just the confidence we had and the kind of statement was always really special.”

Eventually, their relationship became strained. Early in the 2018 season, following a 22-0 victory over Buffalo, Rodgers said the Packers were “championship defensive level and non-playoff team offensive level” and was critical of “the plan” for not getting the ball to the team’s top playmakers.

On Wednesday, through the healing passage of time, Rodgers spoke fondly of his time with McCarthy.

“It’s probably normal in any relationship you have, when you’re able to take time away and you have that separation, it’s natural to look back and have a greater sense of appreciation and gratitude and thankfulness for that time,” he said.

“I think comparison is definitely the enemy of joy, so you never want to compare this to that. I don’t think that’s fair to anybody involved. But I think it’s normal to be able to think about the things you really loved about that relationship, that style or that program and just contemplate on how special some of those moments were, how the journey is really the most important thing and the ups and downs. I’m thankful for the incredible moments, the highs we had, and there were many of them, and even for the low moments, too, because it gives you perspective on life. Life is not all about the beautiful ups. It’s the downs that you learn the most lessons in.”

Rodgers says they’ve remained in touch over the past few years, and even more frequently over the past year.

“I think as time goes by, the gratitude for that time as you look back on the journey of your career goes up a little bit,” Rodgers said. “I appreciate the little things a little bit more because really this game and life is about the journey. I’ll always be tied with him because of the connection that we had and the years we spent together. Obviously my longest-tenured coach, my longest-tenured play caller. I’m thankful for those years and thankful maybe a little bit more now as the years go by.”

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