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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Marion Peterson came here, to the outskirts of Lambeau Field, for reasons unrelated to her beloved Green Bay Packers. When she planned a leisurely day trip to Titletown on a mid-May afternoon, Peterson, a retired speech-language pathologist, wondered who she might run into. She wondered, specifically, about Aaron Rodgers. Because she had a message for him: “I feel disappointed in you."
Peterson grew up an hour north of here. As a child, she had no means to get to Packer games. Soon enough, the bus trips and end-zone bleacher seats endeared her. Later in life, she fell for the team’s MVP. She thought of Rodgers as an “outstanding quarterback,” and a man of “integrity.” Her husband, Rick, bought her an authentic Rodgers jersey, her “special jersey,” which she wore with pride.
That is, until reports began trickling out that Rodgers wanted out of Green Bay. She looked at the jersey, with its bulging No. 12, and thought: “Man, I'm gonna have to lay this to rest now?”
She hopes the reports aren’t true. She, like many Packer fans, hopes Rodgers will remain in Green Bay for the rest of his career.
But she, like many Packer fans, feels aggrieved.
“I feel betrayed by him,” she said on this calm May evening, with Lambeau looming over her right shoulder. "We've all held him in such high esteem. So why does he want to do this, to the people that support him?"
“Maybe his character's not the character I thought it was,” she mused. “I'm just very, very disappointed in him as a person. I lost what I felt for him as being an important person with a lot of virtue.”
And if you were to roam around Green Bay now, to pubs and public spaces and Packer hot spots, you’d find many fans who agree. Not all do. Opinions on the Rodgers drama vary wildly. “There's plenty of blame to go around everywhere,” said Ben Culbertson, one lifelong fan.
This is a small, tight-knit community, a town of 100,000, where, as one Wisconsinite in his 50s put it, “a handshake means the world to most people. If we tell you we're gonna do something, we do something.”
And many feel that Rodgers is breaking his pledge.
‘Suck it up, buttercup’
Standing at the bar inside D2 Sports Pub, a few hundred yards away from Lambeau, with country music trying to drown out his words, Jeff Stoeberl, a local teacher, is getting worked up.
“Let's take a look at the Packers,” he begins. “They drafted a quarterback [Rodgers] in the first round when everybody else passed on him, gave him a chance. They pushed out a first-ballot Hall of Famer [Brett Favre], pushed him out, sent him packing, said [to Rodgers], ‘We're going with you.’ And so they embrace Aaron Rodgers, they give him $240 million. And in the end, this is how he treats them?
“I think that's BS,” Stoeberl seethes. “You don't treat the [Packers] like that when they did all that for you. He has a short memory. They pushed Brett Favre out the door, for you. And you say they don't have loyalty to you? What are you talking about?”
It’s a common sentiment around town. Not just the Favre comparisons, but the feeling that Rodgers, in reportedly pushing for an exit, has wronged the franchise and the city. At Cranky Pat’s Pizza toward the end of lunch hour, two middle-aged locals, John and Curt, are discussing just that.
“It's to the point where you think, OK, are you letting the fans down?” John says.
"Yeah, it's a kick in the shorts for us," Curt agrees.
John continues: "My feeling is, OK, you're spoiled goods now.”
Adds Curt: "This team, this community, Packers fans did a lot to support this guy. I think it's kinda foolish that he's doing this.”
"I think he oughta grow up and deal with it,” Curt continues. “He's got a contract. A very good contract."
"It's your job," John says.
That’s the other belief that arises again and again all across this working-class city. There’s a deep reverence for honoring commitments. “When I sign a contract, I have to live up to it,” said one local contractor named Mark, who chose not to give his last name because he feared potentially losing work due to his opinions. Rodgers, Mark said, shouldn’t be exempt from contractual obligations “just because he makes a million times more money than I do.”
“I think anybody that gets paid that type of money oughta do what his boss tells him to do.”
Mark said he did some work at Rodgers’ house soon after the QB arrived in Green Bay, “and he was real nice. Now, I think he's kinda got an attitude.”
Back at D2, fans on both sides of the bar felt similarly.
"He just needs to suck it up, buttercup, and do your job,” a woman named Cynthia said.
Or, as Justin, a man whose company shirt had the Packers logo on one sleeve, said: “If he's a drama queen, and wants to play his little game, go away.”
‘Either way, he’s retiring a Packer’
Outside the Packers Pro Shop, in front of statues that welcome you to hallowed Lambeau grounds, Rick Westby is juggling two allegiances.
"I think he oughta be treated well,” Westby, a middle-aged fan, says of Rodgers. “He's still the man. And he deserves to get paid, and if he felt like he's been mistreated, then he's got the right to respond.”
“And if he ended up on another team, I'd still kinda root for him.”
“But,” Westby clarifies, “I always want the Packers to win. … It’s still ‘Go Pack.’ ”
And that, perhaps, is the one thing that everybody here can agree on, from the man in a knock-off Packers shirsey taking his dog for an afternoon stroll to the babysitter in a Packers cap pushing a stroller down an exit ramp; from the east side bartender in a Packers hat and sweatshirt to the antsy elementary schooler, waiting in the outfield during a parking-lot tee-ball game, fiddling with his Packers t-shirt. Their allegiances to individuals come and go. Their allegiance to the team – and to the city, where garbage bins are green and yellow with Packers logos – is binding.
"Whether Rodgers is here or Rodgers is not, we're still fans,” said John, the season ticket-holder digesting his lunch at Cranky Pat’s. “I'll still go to the games, and buy overpriced beer and hotdogs, and drop 200 bucks.”
And the bartender at D2: “I just want the bar to be busy. No matter what, it'll be busy, whether he's in or he's not. Packer fans are Packer fans.”
Many, to be clear, not only want Rodgers back but think he will be back. “One-hundred-percent chance Rodgers is a Packer this year,” Dylan Flaskrud promised after sipping an IPA at Hinterland, a popular brewery in Lambeau’s shadow. He called the reports “all bulls***” and “blown out of proportion.”
Back at D2, Patrick Boomer agreed: "I think this is getting all overblown. I think when September comes, Rodgers will be under center, and they're saying nice things, and it's gonna be a thing of the past."
And if it is, some fans say, this saga will be forgotten. Winning will cure all ills. "As soon as he drives the ball 80 yards and goes like this,” said Stoeberl, the teacher, as he mimed one of Rodgers’ signature celebrations. “Green Bay fans have a short memory. Just win, baby."
And even if Rodgers leaves, Ben Culbertson says: “Either way, he's retiring as a Packer. … One day we'll honor him like we did Brett Favre, and we'll retire No. 12, and we'll name a street after him.” In fact, he already has a place alongside Packer legends on a front yard mural across the street from Lambeau.
Some fans, however, aren’t so sure about that legacy. In fact, if Rodgers doesn’t emerge to deny the reports, they say, it might, at least temporarily, be tainted.
Tired of the talk
The last overwhelming sentiment is that fans are tired. Tired of Rodgers’ “ego” and “diva” act. “I'm just sick of talking all about him,” Culbertson says. Sports talk radio shows, he says, even amid promising Bucks and Brewers seasons, have been all Rodgers, all the time.
Says Boomer, who donned a Bucks t-shirt, of the Rodgers drama: “Just ridiculous.”
Several fans pointed out that it differs in key ways from Favre’s exit a decade and a half ago. “Brett Favre never brought up, 'I wanna play somewhere else.’ He never said that," Stoeberl points out. "He came back, we said, ‘You're too late.’ Rodgers is the opposite. He's saying, ‘I'm not playing.’ ... Green Bay will not forget that."
Of course, Rodgers hasn’t actually said that — he hasn’t said anything publicly since the reports started to swirl — which makes deciphering the situation difficult. The more measured Packers fans have taken an equivocal approach. Back outside Lambeau, as children milled about behind her, Marion Peterson tried to remind herself: “I recognize that some of what's been put out there by the media, maybe it's not all true or accurate.”
“But still,” she continued, “he hasn't come forward to correct this.”
“I thought, ‘I know this guy, I know his integrity,’ ” Peterson said. “Now, I'm doubting him.”
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