It is difficult enough playing quarterback in the NFL, but following a legend has proven to be a mountain few can climb, a burden most cannot bear.
Jordan Love has been handed the keys to the Titletown kingdom, and all he has to do is make the Packers’ faithful forget that Aaron Rodgers will now be chasing his second Super Bowl championship with the Jets … 15 years after Brett Favre chased his second Super Bowl championship with the Jets.
Across the past two decades, the Packers have stood as the green-and-gold standard for the Quarterback Succession Plan. It is up to Jordan Love, the first black quarterback to start a season for the historic franchise, to scoff at those who remind him that heavy is the head that wears the crown.
The Jordan Love Era will begin Sunday on the road against the Bears, of all teams. Rodgers was 25-5 against the Packers’ blood rivals and reminded the Soldier Field crowd that “I still own you” in 2021.
The symmetry is eye-opening: Rodgers, a Packers late-first-round draft pick, waited three years behind Favre before getting his chance. Love, a Packers late-first-round draft pick, waited three years behind Rodgers. Favre was traded to the Jets, and so was Rodgers.
“They are going to expect me to come in and probably be as successful, and I have no problem with that,” Rodgers said 15 years ago. “Steve Young won a Super Bowl following my idol, Joe Montana.”
Rodgers was 6-10 in his maiden season as starter before he won his one and only Super Bowl in his third year at the controls.
He grew fond of Love, 24 years young now, during their time together and believes that the shoes he left behind won’t be too big to fill.
“You never really know until the live bullets start going,” Rodgers told Serby Says, “but I think he’s got a similar trajectory that I had. … I just think he’s got the disposition, obviously he has the talent and the ability, but he’s gotta go out and prove it, and gain his confidence, and make some mistakes, learn from ’em, make some big plays to keep bumping up that confidence. But I believe in the person as much as I believe in the situation and the people around him.”
Daniel Jones never shrank to the occasion when the Giants summoned him to replace Eli Manning.
“I was trying to just focus on what I could do and knowing my skill set, being confident in my ability,” Jones told Serby Says. “Everybody’s a little bit different player, so understanding what you do well, and playing to that.”
Love was every bit the sponge under Rodgers that Zach Wilson is now, and the Packers decided it was time for him to play.
“Ready to put on a show,” Love said this week.
Is he? After 83 career NFL passes? Love has exhibited poise, mobility and improved decision-making, but it is folly to expect the Packers not to miss Rodgers’ accuracy and beautiful mind. Rodgers recruited Randall Cobb, who has played with Rodgers for 10 of his 12 NFL seasons, to join him on the Jets.
“I’m looking forward to watching and seeing how everything plays out for [Love],” Cobb told Serby Says. “I think he’s a great kid, and I’m excited for his opportunity.”
He had better be made of the right stuff, and he had better be the mentally toughest dude in the room, or he will have no chance.
Jets safety Adrian Amos was in Green Bay when the Packers made Love a franchise-quaking 26th-overall pick out of Utah State in 2020.
“He had to build up some thick skin having to wait, all that stuff he had to hear all that time,” Amos told Serby Says. “So I don’t think it’s gonna be too much pressure for him at all. I think he’ll go out there and play well. He don’t have to go out there and be Aaron. He’s just gotta go out there and be himself and play well.”
When Young won Super Bowl XXIX as 49ers starting quarterback, he told teammates on the sidelines: “I’m going to take this monkey and pull it off my back. I’ve had it too long.”
If Andrew Luck hadn’t retired following six seasons, he would have had a shot at overcoming the odds after he replaced Peyton Manning in Indianapolis.
“I realize you could go crazy trying to measure yourself to Peyton Manning every day,” Luck said. “That would be an insane way to live. I know his legendary status, really. He was my hero growing up. Huge shoes to try and fill if you’re trying to do that. I’ll just put my best foot forward and work hard every day. If one day I can be mentioned alongside Peyton as one of the football greats, that would be a football dream come true.”
On and on it goes. I was there when Richard Todd, beginning his second season, followed Joe Namath. “No matter what I did,” Todd said, “I wasn’t going to be Joe Namath.”
Jay Fiedler went 37-23 with two playoff appearances for the Dolphins, but he wasn’t going to be Dan Marino. “It wasn’t my job to be the next Dan Marino,” he said. “It wasn’t my focus on what the fans were thinking. If we won, I’ll earn respect.”
Danny White went 62-30 for the Cowboys, but he wasn’t Roger Staubach. Brian Griese went 27-24 with one playoff appearance for the Broncos, but he wasn’t John Elway.
Cam Newton referenced the elephant in the room when Bill Belichick summoned him to replace Tom Brady on the Patriots.
“I’m ready. I don’t think it’s pressure, just do your job. … I know on opening day he’s not going to be worried about little ol’ me,” Newton said. “I know on opening day, I have other things to be focusing on rather than who was here before me.”
Love’s immediate task will be complicated if hamstring injuries limit young receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs.
Bryan Nixon coached Love at Liberty High School in Bakersfield, Calif.
“I think he’s gonna be fine. … That’s kind of his mindset, has always been pretty even keel, and nothing’s too big and nothing’s too drastic,” Nixon told Serby Says. “So I think he’s one of those guys that’s gonna be able to handle it well, and he’s put himself in a position with his hard work and dedication to his teammates that he’s gonna be fine.”
Love was 14 when he lost his father, Orbin, to suicide at 51 days after his doctor changed his blood pressure medication. They called Love’s father Big O at the Bakersfield Police Department, where he was a sergeant. Lyle Martin, who was Assistant Chief when Orbin passed, knows exactly what this Sunday would have meant to him. His son may have only been 5-foot-6 and 130 pounds as a high school freshman, but Orbin Love believed.
“This would be one of the happiest days in Big O’s life,” Martin told Serby Says. “He said early on when Jordan was like 3 or 4 years old that Jordan was gonna be playing in the NFL. And he did everything to put Jordan in positions to be successful. This is the dream come true ’cause he knew that this was gonna happen.”
Love is in the heir.