There’s a chance Sunday will be the last time Aaron Rodgers saunters into Soldier Field as Chicago’s biggest villain since the burglars from “Home Alone.” Unlike Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, though, he usually walks out with what he came to take.
Justin Fields will have something to say about it in a showdown that belies both team’s dismal records. But it’s fair to wonder if Sunday will be the last chapter in Rodgers’ one-sided rivalry with the Bears.
Rodgers has 59.5 million reasons to return to the Packers in 2023 — that’s his guaranteed salary, in dollars — but he said Sunday night that he’s still putting off making a decision about retirement until after the season. That could come soon. Once the 4-8 Packers are eliminated from the playoffs — and they have only a 3.6 percent chance of making them, per Football Outsiders — then Rodgers will likely shut down for the season, rest his injured thumb and ribs, and ponder his future. Jordan Love would finish the season at quarterback.
For an athlete who’s not been shy about pursuing outside interests, from hosting “Jeopardy!” to drinking ayahuasca tea, it’s impossible to rule out Rodgers moving onto his next chapter, even with the guaranteed money awaiting him.
If so, Bears fans wouldn’t be sorry to see him go. But it’d be a shame.
Sports are better when athletes embody greatness — and Rodgers has done that, beating the Bears in 24 of 29 tries and 11 out of 14 at Soldier Field. When he told Bears fans he owned them last year, he wasn’t wrong.
Sports are better, too, when fans have someone to root against. Rodgers, who grew up watching WGN, knows that the Cubs are only elevated by their rivalry with the Cardinals — and vice versa. The Bears, in a strange way, are made more relevant by their duels with Rodgers, even if they end up scraped off the bottom of his cleat.
Rodgers, who turned 39 on Friday, spent the last few seasons outrunning Father Time by a few furlongs. He was the NFL MVP in 2020 and 2021, He made the Pro Bowl seven times in his 30s.
“Year-in and year-out, he kind of changed his way,” said Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, Rodgers’ former coach who remains his friend. “He used to be a heavier guy — now he’s not a heavy guy anymore. Just things like that.
“He’s always been naturally gifted, so the throwing part of it has always been something that he’s always been really good at. That hasn’t changed.”
This season, though, has made Rodgers mortal. Slowed by injuries, he ranks 13th with a 93.5 passer rating, 19th with a 64.8 completion percentage and 22nd with 6.8 yards per pass. He’s thrown as many interceptions in 12 games this season as he did in his previous two years combined.
He’s not alone. Tom Brady won a Super Bowl in 2020 and finished second in MVP voting last year but has been surprisingly average in his age 45 season. Matt Ryan, the third-oldest starter in the NFL, was benched earlier this season by the Colts, only to return.
Matthew Stafford, the sixth-oldest NFL starter, is having the worst season of his career just months after leading the Rams to the Super Bowl. Russell Wilson, also 34, has been one of the league’s most terrible quarterbacks since being traded to the Broncos.
The Packers’ dropoff is just as surprising. Rodgers has been their starter since 2008; their next loss will cement only their third losing season when he hasn’t missed more than half his games due to injury.
Father Time is catching up to Rodgers. Perhaps he’ll retire before it gets any closer.
Or maybe he’ll do what he’s done in so many games against the Bears before: rise from almost certain defeat to torture them even more.
Either way, Bears fans would be wise to take a long look at him Sunday.