GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers has fallen in love again.
No, we’re not talking about the once fiercely private Green Bay Packers quarterback’s personal life, which remains fodder for entertainment magazines and gossip sites. This “love affair” — his phrase — is more of a rekindling of a passion that has been inside him since he was an eighth-grader playing for the Chico Jaguars in his native Northern California.
To be clear, the two-time NFL MVP never lost his zest for the game. Those who watched him up close during last season’s run-the-table, eight-game win streak — or have been on the receiving end of one of his stern admonishments after a mental mistake — can tell you his intensity hasn’t waned.
But as the Packers kick off training camp Thursday morning — Rodgers’ 13th in the NFL and 10th as the team’s starting quarterback — Rodgers does so with a greater appreciation for the journey that is about to begin anew.
“I think it’s a change, a slight change that happened the last few years, where it really has become just a love affair,” Rodgers said in an offseason interview on Wilde & Tausch on ESPN Wisconsin. “From [being] a game I always enjoyed playing and enjoyed competing and am hyper-competitive [in] to just really loving the process even more — the practice, the preparation, just enjoying those moments even more.”
The result? The guy who used to say he wouldn’t be an NFL lifer, who didn’t see himself playing football beyond 36 or 37 years old, now has designs on playing into his 40s. He’ll turn 34 in December, and inspired by his friend Tom Brady, the seemingly ageless New England Patriots quarterback, Rodgers thinks himself capable of playing for another decade. Brady, who has led the Patriots to five Super Bowl titles, turns 40 next week.
“[That feeling] has kind of given me the idea that this is what I want to do. I love football, and I want to keep playing as long as possible,” Rodgers said. “And when you have that kind of slight shift in your thinking, then you start going to, ‘How can I do that?’ And the way you can do that, in my opinion, is taking care of yourself at a hyper-sensitive level to all the areas that that entails — the rehab area, the eating area, the workout/focus area. And all those combined have kind of given me the idea that I’d like to keep playing at a high level, as fun as it is right now.”
You are what you eat
To that end, Rodgers intensified his offseason workouts and made some adjustments to his regimen, alterations he wouldn’t specifically discuss but ones intended to increase his durability and longevity. (Although Rodgers missed seven games in 2013 with a broken collarbone, he has missed just one other game due to injury as a starter.)
He has also become borderline obsessive about his diet, and though he hasn’t authored a cookbook or created his own home meal delivery service like Brady, he is religiously following Packers director of performance nutrition Adam Korzun’s dietary advice — beyond his attention-grabbing decision to give up dairy awhile back.
“Tom takes really, really good care of his body and has for a long time. He understands what it takes to get that longevity,” said Rodgers, who reported to the offseason program in April in the best shape of his career. “I try to work out at least five times a week during the offseason, but really the key as you get older is your diet.
“I’m getting older, [so] you have to be smarter about what you’re eating. So for me, there’s a greater awareness about what you’re eating and then how the things you’re eating affect your energy and your ability to burn fat and just kind of your daily quality of life when it comes to your health.”
That has meant giving up some of his favorites, including Girl Scout cookies.
“I love ‘em. C’mon. Give me the red box, the green box … the Samoas,” Rodgers said with a laugh. “But [eating them was something] I could do when I was younger, when your metabolism is a little higher and you’re able to bounce back quicker. But when you get older and you’ve started a lot of football games and taken a lot of hits, for me, I just feel better when I’m eating a more plant-based, natural diet — stuff that’s grown in the ground. I just feel healthier.”
Mind over matter
For Rodgers, though, what he’s eating is only part of the equation. The more important shift, he says, has been in his thinking, something his predecessor remembers struggling with as well.
“The biggest challenge to me — and I hate to say ‘drudgery’ — was just the everyday grind,” Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, whose 16 seasons in Green Bay included three with Rodgers as his backup (2005 through 2007), recalled in an interview earlier this month. “It wasn’t a physical grind. For [guys] who had to put on pads and had to bang every day, it would wear on you. For a quarterback, especially the starter — and Aaron probably is going through this in his mind — it’s a [mental] grind.