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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Will Aaron Rodgers and New York Media Be Match Made In Hell?

  • New King of New York launches a charm offensive in first presser.
  • But will Rodgers eventually fall out with aggressive local media?
Aaron Rodgers Jets
Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK – Start spreading the news: Aaron Rodgers killed his first press conference with the notorious New York media.

There was the Jets new superstar utterly charming the Fourth Estate Wednesday. He smiled, called reporters by their first names, and even claimed he was “excited” to get to know them.

“I’ve heard a lot about the New York media. I’m excited to see what that’s all about,” said Rodgers. A smitten media chuckled appreciatively.

Yes, Rodgers is in the honeymoon phase of his relationship with the dreaded Big Apple sports media. 

But what happens if the 39-year-old quarterback flops on the big stage? And the Jets continue their losing ways?

The press here is known to change its tune in a New York minute. What if the New York Post and Daily News back pages start skewering the Jets’ $59 million man? If the gossipy Page Six digs into eligible bachelor romances? Or if the city’s two all-sports radio stations start screaming the aging QB has lost his fastball?

Then the former Green Bay Packers QB’s relationship with Big Apple media could become the equivalent of a King Cobra vs. a Mongoose.

With Rodgers on his best behavior Wednesday, the early returns were glowing. The Post hailed him as the “Second Coming” of Broadway Joe Namath himself.

The Jets haven’t made the playoffs in 12 seasons: the longest postseason drought in North American sports. The trade for the four-time Super Bowl MVP makes Gang Green an instant Super Bowl contender. 

Like long-suffering Jets fans, local beat reporters, columnists, and sport radio hosts hope the Super Bowl-winning QB will lead the sad-sack franchise to its first Super Bowl in 55 years.

But Rodgers also boasts the biggest rabbit ears of any superstar outside the NBA’s Kevin Durant. His thin skin about criticism could potentially cause a rupture down the road.

Consider his appearance last month on “The Pat McAfee Show,” where he asked the Packers to trade him to the Jets. 

The former Super Bowl MVP spent more time trolling ESPN NFL insiders Adam Schefter and Dianna Russini for daring to report on his plans than he did talking about the Jets. 

Rodgers acted like he didn’t recognize Russini’s name. Then he related how he dismissed an interview request from Schefter. “Lose my number. Nice try tho,” the QB texted Schefter. 

As a national sports figure, Rodgers won’t be intimidated by the New York media, Russini told Front Office Sports. But she wonders how the cloistered star will handle suffocating coverage in the world’s media capital vs. small-town Green Bay. 

Memo to Rodgers: You’re no longer in Kansas (or Wisconsin).

“His style is to be a bit passive-aggressive at times. It’s been documented how paranoid he is about how the media covers him – and how particular he is about making sure his message is put out there,” Russini said. “He wants to always make sure it’s his narrative. Even if that doesn’t mean the facts are always correct.”

(For the record, Russini said she gave Schefter Rodgers’ telephone number after the QB ignored multiple messages from her).

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She has a point.

The tri-state area is the last bastion of daily newspapers such as the Post, Daily News, Newsday, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Newark Star-Ledger, and Bergen Record. 

There are not one but two sports radio stations that will talk Rodgers non-stop: WFAN and ESPN NY. Three regional sports networks: The Jets’ own SNY, plus MSG and YES Network. Dozens of local TV stations. Plus, magazines like Sports Illustrated. 

Nobody Holds a Grudge Like Rodgers

On the plus side for the media, Rodgers is highly quotable and a big personality. He’s known to be thoughtful and respectful with local press. But he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. 

On the McAfee show in December, he blasted an article in The Athletic as “complete horseshit” and the “dumbest nothingburger” of the season. The only “dumber” article, he added, was the Wall Street Journal’s claim he was suffering from “COVID toe” in 2021.

Similar to superstars like Michael Jordan, Rodgers thrives on criticism. It fuels and drives him – even at an age when most QBs are retired.

But reporters who covered him in Green Bay say he can be next-level regarding nursing grievances.

The feud between Rodgers and former Packers coach Mike McCarthy (no relation) dates back to the 2005 NFL Draft, wrote Tyler Dunne of Bleacher Report in 2019.

Even after winning Super Bowl XLV together, Rodgers resented McCarthy (the former offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers) for taking QB Alex Smith instead of him with the first overall pick. 

Rodgers dropped to the Packers at No. 24. ESPN captured his humiliating fall on national TV. Rodgers never forgave McCarthy (now head coach of the Dallas Cowboys), Dunne told Front Office Sports. 

“Nobody holds a grudge like Aaron Rodgers,” said the founder of GoLongTD.com, who covered the Packers from 2010 to 2015. “It has always been part of his greatness: He is always looking for any slight, whether it’s real or perceived…His antenna is always up.”

During his early days with the Packers, Dunne said that Rodgers banned one media outlet for reporting on his personal relationships. 

Over his 18 seasons in Green Bay, the controlling Rodgers swung between fiercely protecting his private life and openly dating celebrities like Shailene Woodley, Olivia Munn, and Danica Patrick.  

Green Bay media were never quite sure which Rodgers they were dealing with. They stepped carefully around the franchise. 

“I would imagine he’ll curry favor with somebody [in the New York media]. Someone will be Rodgers’ apologist,” Dunne said. “If the Jets are 7-1, nobody will say a thing. If they’re 1-7, and the shit hits the fan, I’m sure it will be everybody else’s fault. He’s never the guilty party when things go wrong.”

The future Hall of Famer faces other challenges as he joins a franchise with Super Bowl-or-bust expectations.  

The Chico, Calif. native is a bit of a new-age hippie. Witness his recent “darkness retreat” in a Hobbit-like cave in Oregon. 

When he tried to explain the therapeutic benefits of meditating in darkness to Adam “Pacman” Jones, the former NFL star wasn’t buying it. 

“It sounds like a f—— jail cell to me,” said Jones.

Back Page Mockery

Things like the darkness retreat and his experience with psychedelic drugs are the kind of quirks New York tabloids could “jump all over,” warned Gary Myers, author of the upcoming book, “Once a Giant.” 

Myers also wonders how Rodgers will handle the screaming back page headlines/cartoons from the local tabloids. 

Sure, Rodgers can handle criticism. But can he endure mockery?

“The back page headlines don’t necessarily reflect what’s in the stories. They’re designed to get people to buy the newspaper,” said the former columnist for the Daily News. “The guys who do the back pages in New York are incredibly creative. They can be very vicious. You have to have thick skin. Or just don’t pay attention to them.” 

Meanwhile, Rodgers is known to parse and twist his words like a Washington politician. Witness the furor over him misleading the public about his COVID-19 vaccination status by claiming he was “immunized.” 

That was Rodgers shooting himself in the foot by acting too cute by half. But that self-serving sophistry won’t endear him to straight-talking New Yorkers. 

“Aaron Rodgers will absolutely loathe the New York media. They will dig into his personal life; they will pick apart his bizarre comments; they will not allow him to deflect blame. It will be his worst nightmare,” predicted Bleav Network host Mike Asti.

Master Manipulator

On the other hand, don’t think of Rodgers as some Midwestern bumpkin who’ll be dazzled by the bright lights of Broadway. 

He’s a smart, savvy operator who’s won a Super Bowl, been a national figure for 15 years, and starred in national ad campaigns. 

When it comes to protecting his own image, Rodgers is a “master media manipulator,” according to Dunne. 

Years before becoming McAfee’s favorite guest, Rodgers’ MO was to cultivate one influential member of the local Green Bay media – then let that person sing his song. 

Rodgers has other factors in his favor as well. The once-fearsome New York sports media might be more of a paper tiger these days.

Mike Francesa, the bombastic voice of WFAN, is retired. Mass layoffs have thinned out the media herd from a decade ago. 

Brett Favre, Rodgers’s Packers-to-Jets predecessor, was treated like a “golden boy” in 2008, noted Myers, before his arm practically fell off from injury. 

The real heat on Rodgers may come from national TV talkers like ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith and Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd, Skip Bayless, and Shannon Sharpe.

Winning Is The Great Deodorant

Who knows? At age 39, Rodgers might revel in all the media attention. With Tom Brady and Peyton Manning retired, he’s the biggest NFL star outside Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs.

On Wednesday, Rodgers self-effacingly portrayed himself as another small-town kid who wants to wake up in the city that never sleeps.  

Luckily for him, it only takes one championship to become a Gotham sports legend. 

Think Mark Messier’s 1994 Rangers. Keith Hernandez’1986 Mets. And, of course, Namath’s Super Bowl III champions in 1969.

Giants coach Bill Parcells used to say winning is the “great deodorant.” 

If Rodgers can bring the Vince Lombardi trophy to the Jets, all the doubts about his strange behavior will vanish. 

Win the Big One, and he’ll get a parade down Manhattan’s Canyon of Heroes. If not? Get your popcorn ready.

“Winning cures all,” said Russini. “He could start here as a strange figure – and end his career as the King of New York.” 

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