GLENDALE, Ariz. — This one, so exciting and moving, will eventually fade for most people because the NFL perpetually offers a fresher moment to replace the memory of every great game that is won or lost as hearts skip a beat.
The NFL has always served up that next classic in a string of seasons that seemingly run together endlessly.
But for the Green Bay Packers, this 24-21 victory over the previously undefeated Arizona Cardinals is going to endure.
Aaron Rodgers made certain of that late Thursday.
Because after the Packers carried their victory celebration from the field into a raucous locker room, where cheering and hollering could be heard through locked doors and thick concrete walls, coach Matt LeFleur asked Rodgers to talk to the team.
The young coach asked his most experienced player to give this victory meaning.
“I told them in the locker room after the game just to savor these moments because these are the kind of things you think about and talk about 20 years from now — the special locker room celebration, the sideline after a big play that seals the game,” Rodgers said.
“There’s nothing like this game. It’s a special game that gives you so many lifelong memories and friendships and I’m so thankful to be playing and be playing at a high level in Year 17. And every year is so different, too.
“You never know how the team is going to come together and the chemistry and the relationships, guys stepping up and dealing with injuries and all the adversity. But we have a good group of guys.
“There’s a different feeling to this team than even the last couple of years. I’m not sure how it’s going to finish up, but I like the energy we have in the locker room.”
Rodgers is 37 years old, and gray is starting to pepper his beard. So he understands now better than ever that a win such as this, followed by three days off afterward, is a grand opportunity for him to rest his bones and brain.
And it’s a grand opportunity for his younger teammates to find every party in sight.
So now that he grabbed everyone’s attention, Rodgers wanted to touch everyone’s conscience.
“I don’t know why Matt keeps calling on me, but I do enjoy it,” Rodgers admitted. “It’s a special opportunity to speak to these guys, give them a little perspective, a little wisdom.
”The one thing I’ll share that I said was, and I thought about this, a guy who’s worked at the stadium a long time and I had a conversation years and years ago: The G that’s on our helmet and on our jersey travels with you.
“I just reminded the guys, because a lot of guys will be leaving town, maybe for a couple of days, kind of getting away. And I just reminded the guys how special it is to wear that G and when you leave you take that G with you. It doesn’t just stay in Green Bay, it travels with you, so represent the team the right way.”
This is the new Aaron Rodgers.
He’s still the face of the franchise and one of the best at his position ever to play the game. He’s still his team’s heart and soul.
But now he’s also a team spokesman. And father figure. And, yes, its willing leader.
So it was Rodgers who set the mood Thursday for the Packers when the news coming from the teams was mostly bad. That news blared that Davante Adams, Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, the team’s top three receivers, weren’t playing.
Oh, and offensive tackle David Bakhtiari wasn’t coming off the physically unable to perform list in time to play either. And defensive coordinator Joe Barry was going to miss the game because he tested positive for COVID-19.
Pretty rough, were it not for Green Bay’s mood setter.
“I was texting with some friends today and I said, ‘I love when the odds are stacked against us. It takes all the pressure off,’ and we just relaxed and played really loose,” Rodgers said.
And where does such trust that others will step in and step up come from?
“Leadership, I think,” Rodgers said. “The team takes on the attitude and the energy of the leaders of the football team. I think personally and the guys we have leading us, we know how to deal with adversity. We’ve been in pressure situations before and we know how to handle that pressure the right way.”
So no defensive coordinator to call the plays? Jerry Gray, the team’s defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator, did it.
”The way he called the game without Joe Barry here,” Rodgers said, “I think it was fantastic.”
It really was. This game alone may be enough to get Gray, a former NFL defensive back, some defensive coordinator interviews after the season. Because not only did the Packers limit Arizona to nearly 10 fewer points than its scoring average, but one of Gray’s newest players, Rasul Douglas, intercepted a Kyler Murray pass in the end zone with 15 seconds to seal Green Bay’s victory and send Arizona tumbling to its first defeat in eight outings.
Douglas, you should know, is on his sixth team with the Packers. Green Bay signed him off the Arizona practice squad only three weeks ago after he was released by the Raiders and Texans in August and September.
“How special is this game?” Rodgers marveled. “Guy’s on the street, comes in, starts for us, finishes the game out for us. Amazing.”
This is the part where I tell you Rodgers didn’t really win this game for his team. Yes, he completed 22 of 37 passes for 184 yards and threw 2 TDs.
Those are modest numbers for Rodgers.
But that 91-yard drive and the execution of a game plan filled with screens and underneath throws to inexperienced players was masterclass work by the quarterback.
And rather than adding the result to his collection of comebacks and classics as if they were pelts on a wall, Rodgers instead was transparent about what made this one special and why he’s able to see it that way now.
“I enjoy the hell out of them, I really do,” Rodgers said. “I adjusted my perspective last year and did some things off the field that put me in a really good headspace. And I’ve just been really enjoying life and football at a whole new level. I just have a new appreciation for moments like this and great connectedness to my teammates.
“Life, and growing up, and dealing with all the emotions life sends your way — great happiness and great sadness as well, I think, gives you the perspective to cherish the little things and live with a little more gratitude.
“You think more about the things you do have and not worry so much about the things you maybe wish you had. That slight adjustment for me has allowed me to live with so much more joy.”
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero