Return of fans, opportunity afoot get Aaron Rodgers 'a little emotional'

Next week is the chance Packers QB has been waiting for

QB Aaron Rodgers

GREEN BAY – They were chanting "M-V-P!" late in the fourth quarter.

They were banging their signs on Lambeau Field's metal bleachers.

They were making all the noise they could, and loving every minute of it.

"It felt like 50,000 when we ran out of the tunnel. It really did," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of the first actual crowd at Lambeau Field this season, officially listed as 7,439 paying customers who witnessed Saturday's 32-18 victory over the Rams in the NFC Divisional playoff.

"It was such a special moment. I forgot how much you truly, truly miss having a crowd there."

Every player who spoke to the media afterward voiced his appreciation, and concurred with Rodgers' estimate that the crowd sounded much larger than it really was.

Perspective is everything, one must suppose, after half a regular season with no fans at Lambeau and then a second half with a smattering of a few hundred each game.

The fans Saturday were dispersed throughout the stadium bowl, all the way around without any empty sections. Some were scattered in the upper reaches of the south end zone, too.

"That definitely made a big difference," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said of what amounted to roughly 10% of Lambeau's normal capacity. "I think our guys really fed off their energy."

The best part is they get to come back and see this special Packers team one more time, in next Sunday's NFC title game against either the Buccaneers or Saints.

For that matchup, slated to kick off at 2:05 p.m. CT, it will likely be colder than Saturday's 35 degrees, rather temperate for mid-January in Green Bay.

But the Packers will take whatever Mother Nature has in store for their first NFC Championship Game at home in 13 years. It'll be Rodgers' first as the starting QB after four such contests on the road.

He was victorious in his first, at Chicago 10 years ago, but the Packers have lost three straight since – at Seattle, Atlanta and then San Francisco last year.

Next week, Rodgers will be playing the highest-stakes home game of his career against another future Hall of Fame QB, either Tampa Bay's Tom Brady or New Orleans' Drew Brees.

He promised to talk more about the pending showdown in the coming week. But after Saturday's triumph, the soon-to-be three-time MVP, who has made a point to cherish various steps along this unusual 2020 journey, preferred to relish for a moment the win that's setting up the opportunity he's always wanted.

Lambeau Field hosted an NFC Divisional playoff matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021.

"Definitely a little emotional, just thinking about what we went through," Rodgers said, referring to pandemic season. "It got me emotional with the crowd out there today. I'm just really happy about everything that happened today."

He has every right to be. The Packers pounded and passed the ball with impressive efficiency against the best defense in the league.

They ran for 188 yards, threw for 296, didn't get sacked or turn it over, and executed situationally like they have all season, converting two-thirds of their third downs (8-for-12) and three-quarters of their red-zone chances until the final kneel-downs near the LA 10-yard line after the two-minute warning made them officially 3-for-5.

That's when Rodgers was serenaded with the MVP chants, and he quietly soaked them in as yet another piece of this strange, standout season to treasure.

"It's hard to really put into words how special that feeling is," Rodgers said. "But you can feel it. It's so palpable. You can feel that energy in the stadium. It's just different. It's different playing in front of a crowd. It is."

There'll be another one next Sunday to watch Rodgers play for a Super Bowl berth at Lambeau Field. He's been waiting, patiently, for this chance.

"It will be exciting to enjoy this tonight, to celebrate and then to watch the game tomorrow," he said, "and to know that whoever wins is coming to our place."