GREEN BAY – Listening to Aaron Rodgers reminisce, in condensed form, at his locker Wednesday about 13 seasons with Mike McCarthy as his head coach brought full circle the "attitude of gratitude" the Packers quarterback has espoused the past couple of years.
Whether he was referencing how they bonded over years and years of Thursday post-practice meetings …
"Those could go 30 minutes or four hours," he said. "You'd start getting to story time."
… or how he appreciated McCarthy's fundamental-focused QB school in his early offseasons that played such a big part in his development …
"That helped me become a better player," he said. "I'll always be really thankful for that time."
… or how heartfelt Christmas Day in 2013 was, when he went over to the coach's house and discussed, over some Iron City beer from McCarthy's hometown of Pittsburgh, coming back from his broken collarbone to play in the regular-season finale at Chicago with a playoff spot on the line …
"That time and that conversation is always one that stands out to me," he said.
… or how truly memorable it was for McCarthy, the night before Super Bowl XLV, to have the boldness to size up the players for their championship rings, plus the wherewithal to delay the final team meeting when an impromptu piano playing/sing-along broke out at the team hotel …
"You just kind of felt that moment was special," Rodgers said. "I appreciated his delaying things and allowing that moment to exist. And getting sized for your ring, just the confidence we had."
… Rodgers' gratitude shone through, and he seemingly could have kept going until Sunday afternoon when McCarthy makes his return to Lambeau Field as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
The accomplishments of the two in Green Bay are forever linked, even as Rodgers has won two more NFL MVP awards since McCarthy's departure (he was fired after a loss on Rodgers' birthday in 2018, of all days), and as McCarthy got Dallas back to the postseason last year and appears to have another playoff team in 2022.
Both indicated this week they've been communicating a bit more over the past year, and they're sure to share a hug and yet another conversation during the early pre-game moments Sunday.
"I'm thankful for the incredible moments, the highs we had, and there were many of them, and even for the low moments too because it gives you perspective on life," Rodgers said. "Life is not all about the beautiful ups. It's the downs that you learn the most lessons in."
That's unfortunately where the Packers find themselves now, trying to end a five-game losing streak against their Super Bowl-winning coach. Rodgers once again missed practice Wednesday in order to rehab his injured thumb, with the plan to return to the practice field Thursday.
The ongoing work in progress that is Green Bay's offense reached a new level of frustration last week in Detroit, when 389 total yards and seven possessions inside the Lions' 40-yard line resulted in just nine points.
Rodgers took his share of the blame for "a couple bad throws" that resulted in early end-zone interceptions, turnovers that proved devastating in a six-point loss. He also once again referenced the "details" of the offense needing to be shored up by everyone across the board to find success.
In trying to right the ship, the Packers enter Sunday's game still banged up at receiver – with Romeo Doubs and Sammy Watkins both missing practice and Randall Cobb still on injured reserve – and now dealing with more injuries on defense (Rashan Gary and Eric Stokes joining De'Vondre Campbell as practice DNPs) as well.
On Green Bay's side, it's not how anyone envisioned the prelude to McCarthy's return shaping up. But whatever unfolds and no matter the outcome, the occasion is sure to find its place in Rodgers' memory bank alongside so many other stories.
"I think as time goes by, the gratitude for that time as you look back on the journey of your career goes up a little bit," Rodgers said. "I appreciate the little things a little bit more because really this game and life is about the journey.
"I'll always be tied with him because of the connection that we had and the years we spent together. Obviously my longest-tenured coach, my longest-tenured play caller. I'm thankful for those years and thankful maybe a little bit more now as the years go by."