GREEN BAY, Wis. – During the 15-year span from 1976 to 1990 the Green Bay Packers’ top three quarterbacks suffered season-ending injuries so severe that all were physically handicapped to a degree upon their return.
Lynn Dickey suffered a separated right shoulder in 1976 and then a broken leg in mid-1977 that sidelined him for more than a year and a half.
Randy Wright blew out his knee as a rookie in 1984.
Don Majkowski underwent rotator cuff surgery in his right shoulder in 1990.
Even Bart Starr saw his career end prematurely in 1971 after an assortment of arm and elbow injuries.
Back then, the sight of quarterbacks getting carted off the field was as much a part of the football landscape in Green Bay as losing seasons.
When Brett Favre arrived in 1992 to start 277 consecutive games, it was like an overdue gift from the football gods. Now, with Aaron Rodgers having missed just one game due to injury in his five seasons as starter, a generation of fans has never seen the Packers’ quarterback go down.
Will this 21-year streak of indestructibility at the quarterback position extend to 22 in 2013?
Given the extraordinary importance of Rodgers and the sketchiness of his backups, the Packers’ championship chances depend on it.
As recently as 2 years ago, Rodgers’ health was an issue. In 2010, he suffered the first concussion of his career in Game 5 and then a second in Game 13. He sat out half of one game and another complete game (the Packers went 0-2) but has started the last 41 without incident.
Rodgers changed to a more protective helmet after the concussions. He also has governed himself far better in the open field while mastering how and when to slide.
Through the years, Rodgers also has made himself stronger and leaner with greater attention to personal fitness. Described before the draft in 2005 as “just so fragile” by an AFC personnel director, Rodgers’ body today is far better served to absorb punishment.
“He came back in great shape,” quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo said. “He has a competitive edge about him that probably separates him from the rest.”
Not unlike Favre, Rodgers has shown a remarkable ability to play through injury.
He played four football seasons – two in high school, one in junior college and one at California – with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. At last, he relented and had surgery performed after his first season with the Golden Bears.
During the ‘03 season, Rodgers suffered a broken index finger on his throwing hand but missed just one day of practice.
It was beginning to appear as though Rodgers really was injury-prone during his second and third seasons as Favre’s backup.
The first time Rodgers got a legitimate chance to play, he suffered a broken fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot against the Patriots and underwent surgery 5 days later. Although injured in the third quarter, he nevertheless managed to finish the game.
In 2007, Rodgers pulled a hamstring in practice a few days after his first performance of promise (in Dallas) and sat out the next four games.
Since succeeding Favre, Rodgers has been on the injury report for five ailments aside from the two concussions.
For a player who began high school at 5 feet 6 inches and 123 pounds and played as a senior at 6-0 and 185, Rodgers (6-2, 225) now has the build and tolerance for pain to lead the Packers for years to come.
At 29, he should be at the peak of his physical powers. His chances to continue playing 16 games every season have been dramatically enhanced by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s ongoing directives to safeguard quarterbacks.
For the second summer in a row Rodgers has been judged the best player in the NFL by Pro Football Weekly. On April 26, after becoming the league’s highest-paid player with a five-year, $110 million extension ($54 million guaranteed), he referred to himself as “the face of this franchise.”
Counting playoffs, the Packers have been sacked a whopping 236 times in Rodgers’ 86 games as the starter. By subjective count, he has been charged with 60 (26.9 percent), and that total includes 14 in 2012 compared to 6˝ in ‘11.
In contrast, Favre was charged with just 22˝ sacks in his final five seasons for the Packers (85 games) and the team had 107. At the same time, if Favre had taken more sacks he probably would have thrown fewer interceptions.
Graham Harrell is back in Green Bay for a fourth season. After two seasons as No. 3 behind Rodgers and Matt Flynn, he won over rookie B.J. Coleman for the No. 2 job last summer despite an ineffectual showing.
“Well, we’re going to even out the reps between Graham and B.J. and let them compete,” McAdoo said. “It’ll be interesting to see how B.J. develops with reps.”
Among the veterans the Packers could have signed in the off-season were Ryan Fitzpatrick, Chase Daniel, Matt Hasselbeck, Matt Cassel, Jason Campbell, John Skelton and Drew Stanton.
Did you know?
• The last time that the Packers did not have one quarterback start at least 13 games was 1991. Dan Majkowski started eight games, Mike Tomczak started seven and Blair Kiel started one.