Mutual respect, common goal have bonded Aaron Rodgers and Marcedes Lewis

Steady veteran presence has contributed to Packers’ ability to bounce back the past two seasons

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TE Marcedes Lewis and QB Aaron Rodgers

GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers always knew of Marcedes Lewis. He just didn't know the Pro Bowl tight end personally.

From afar, however, the Packers' quarterback recognized the two had a great deal in common – both native Californians who played in the Pac-12 (Lewis at UCLA and Rodgers at Cal-Berkeley) en route to becoming first-round picks in the NFL.

So when Green Bay signed Lewis as a free agent in March 2018, Rodgers made it a point to connect with his new tight end. In the span of a single conversation, the two formed a fast friendship.

"I think the first time I actually met him was in our locker room and was excited, could tell right away that he had a lot of charisma and presence," said Rodgers after practice Wednesday.

Now in his 15th NFL season, the 6-foot-6, 267-pound Lewis is one of only a handful active players remaining from the 2006 NFL Draft. A renowned blocker even at 36, Lewis considers himself the last of a dying breed as a gritty, old-school tight end willing to do the dirty work in the trenches.

In nearly 2½ seasons in Green Bay, Lewis also has developed a knack for knowing what to say and when to say it during moments of adversity. Rodgers commended him again this week for the words he imparted to the locker room in the aftermath of Green Bay's 38-10 loss in Tampa Bay on Sunday.

Lewis follows in a recent line of veterans who have connected with the Packers' locker room on a deeper level. Off the top of his head, Rodgers rattled off Charles Woodson, T.J. Lang and Julius Peppers as guys who "when they start talking everyone shuts up and listens."

Peppers, voted a defensive captain in each three of his seasons in Green Bay, is probably the truest example of all. On a few occasions, the future Hall of Fame pass rusher broke from his quiet demeanor to deliver impassioned speeches.

Rodgers sees a lot of those same qualities in how Lewis leads.

"It's been a lot of fun getting know him on a more personal level and become really good friends with him," Rodgers said. "He's a really interesting guy. He has a lot of wisdom and insight. He's just definitely one of my favorite teammates that we've ever had around here. He's a fantastic leader."

Lewis has talked several times about how he had to think long and hard about whether to retire following his 12th and final season in Jacksonville in 2017 and a difficult maiden voyage with the Packers in 2018.

Among the multitude of reasons Lewis cites for his desire to press on have been his growing friendship with Rodgers, strong ties to the Packers' locker room and an insatiable desire to win a Super Bowl ring.

Last year, he came within inches of that goal on a Packers team that advanced to the NFC Championship Game for the third time in six years. For Lewis, it was just his third NFL playoff appearance in 14 seasons.

"To the core, he's one of the most genuine people I've ever met," three-time Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams said. "We just had a conversation the other day on Monday talking about how long he's been in it. His rookie year, I was in seventh grade. Just hearing that or knowing that and then getting in a position where now we're really, really good friends just says a lot about his character, says how versatile he is as a human."

The same versatility and authenticity is what Lewis values most in Rodgers. While the image of leadership is often painted around u-rah-rah guys with boisterous personalities, the real test of character comes when adversity hits.

How players respond in those moments has a lasting effect on a team's season. In 2019, for example, the Packers didn't lose consecutive games all season. As disappointing as the result was in Tampa, Lewis' message entering this week's matchup with Houston has centered on unity and purpose.

"It's hard to win in this league. I've learned that firsthand," said Lewis, laughing. "Our attitude, our morale is up. That locker room is as vibrational as it can be. And we got started off on the right foot (Wednesday), we've got to continue the preparation, and lead us right into Sunday."

That steadiness is part of why Lewis remains bullish about the upside of this year's team, especially with the Rodgers at the center of the huddle.

Having combined for more than 400 NFL regular-season games played, Rodgers and Lewis are two of only four players on the Packers' active roster older than 30.

And both have the same goal in mind – a return trip to Tampa this year, the site of Super Bowl LV.

"If you meet somebody that has respect and a genuine appreciation for somebody that's doing it the right way … it really wasn't hard. I think that's what drew us together in that same way," said Lewis of Rodgers.

"I think the world of him. I think arguably, the best to ever play the game. I want to see him continue to win and I want to be there to help him win another championship."

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