In the end, sport is about results, not possibilities. Sure, football, the 49ers and the Green Bay Packers would have been different if San Francisco had drafted the man who as a kid always wanted to play in The City — Aaron Rodgers. But they did not, and in retrospect, Rodgers is better off, if indeed the Niners are not.
Here he is, Aaron Rodgers, the kid from Chico, the kid from Cal, the kid who became a man and will quarterback the Pack in Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Cowboys Stadium.
And here he is, Mike McCarthy, head coach for Green Bay, who was offensive coordinator for the Niners when in 2005 they used the first overall pick in the draft to select Alex Smith, not Rodgers.
And there they are, the 49ers and Smith. San Francisco has a new coach in Jim Harbaugh, and almost certainly Smith will have a new team.
Oh, yes, what might have been. Or maybe what might have been wouldn’t have been much different from what is.
Of Rodgers, who McCarthy could have had in that fascinating chain of events so necessary in our sporting tales and now has, the coach says: “He’s definitely the quarterback we all hoped he would become. He’s playing his best football of his career at this point, and that’s what you want, especially at this time of year.”
Rodgers slipped to 24th in the first round of that ’05 draft, a blow to his ego, a blow to his earnings. “Things happen for a reason,” advised McCarthy.
While Smith became a starter only weeks into his rookie season, Rodgers became a student. Behind Brett Favre, and his faux retirements. Patience, management told Rodgers. Your time will come. His time came, when Favre was dispatched to the New York Jets before 2008, and indeed Rodgers was ready.
“What I learned from Favre,” Rodgers said this week, “was consistency. The best players in this league are consistent week-in and week-out, and that’s something I’ve tried to do. It’s important to be consistent not only with your preparation, but with your personality, trying to be the same guy every day in practice that you are on the field on Sundays.”
“It’s awesome to be with him,” Packers receiver James Jones, from San Jose State, said of Rodgers. “He’s a very humble guy.”
Linebacker Desmond Bishop entered Cal after playing at City College of San Francisco when Rodgers left and was drafted by the Packers.
“Surreal” was Bishop’s summation of making it to the Super Bowl with Rodgers. “It’s crazy how things work out.”
Maybe, in retrospect, not that crazy.
“I have a lot of respect for Alex Smith,” said McCarthy, who was the first of the six offensive coordinators for which Alex would play in his six seasons in San Francisco. “He’s a fine young man and had a hard road to travel. How Aaron might have handled that, being a local kid, would have been tough. I think Alex has his best football ahead of him.
“But if someone asked me today, having gone through it, if you take a quarterback No. 1 in the draft, do you play him right away or not, it’s a team game. I’d only play a quarterback if the team is ready, because the components have to be in place to help that quarterback survive. To ask him to win games that early ... well, Dan Marino probably is the only pro to do it.”
Rodgers, the erstwhile Niners fan, was asked if he would feel the same sense of fulfillment as Steve Young did when, replacing the great Joe Montana as San Francisco quarterback, Young got the victory (and MVP) in Super Bowl XXIX.
“Not really,” was Rodgers’ response. “It would be a fulfillment of a season and nothing more ... an up-and-down, adverse season with a great ending. Steve obviously had it very similar, following a legend. I reached out to Steve when I became a starter. I wanted to talk to guys who had success in [the] NFL.”
Young had it. Montana had it. Rodgers is having it. What 49ers fans always will have, however, are regrets about the draft of 2005. What might have been.