FLORHAM PARK, NJ – Nathaniel Hackett walked into the Jets team auditorium and took one of the first seats he could find in the front row. He looked at the stage in front of him, lined with bushes, a lectern and a table with three microphones. Upstairs, there was a projector showing Aaron Rodgers’ career highlights, some of his best throws during his long tenure with the Packers.
Hackett shook his head and smiled. Minutes later, Rodgers walked into the room, coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas sang “Something Just Like This” as Coldplay and the Chainsmokers played over the speakers.
Chorus: I want something like this.
The Jets dreamed of doing for them what Rodgers did for the Packers. They wanted matter, for the first time ever. That’s what Rodgers wants. When he walked through the main lobby of the Jets facility for the first time Wednesday, two days after the Packers agreed to trade him, he noticed a shiny object sitting alone on a trophy from Super Bowl III. The last time the Jets won it all was in 1969. Most of the last 54 years have been struggling to reach that standard, to reach relevance.
Wednesday was the first step back in that direction. The Jets dreamed big — and their dreams came true.
“That Super Bowl III trophy is a little lonely,” Rodgers said with a smile, playing Jets polo.
After his news conference, Rodgers wore a Jets jersey, no. 8, kept his name behind.
Yes, this is true.
“I love daydreams and nightmares,” Rodgers told reporters after his news conference. “It’s fun to take your mind to that place. That’s what I’m here for. I’m not here to have a hiatus and a normal season. I want the whole thing. There are some iconic owners in the league, a lot of great owners, but only a few are iconic. This is one of them. It’s because of players like Joe Willie Namath. … It’s time to get this team back to where it should be, which is competing for championships.
Rodgers was a spiritual person. He believes in following where the wind blows. He lets the universe tell him what to do, where to go, and how to be. He went on a four-day dark retreat earlier this year, cut off from the world and 90 percent sure he wanted to retire with the Bakers after 18 years. When he realized that Green Bay no longer wanted him, his mind wandered. How about wearing another uniform? The Jets hired Hackett, his close friend and former Packers coach, as offensive coordinator, which impressed him. Later, Saleh, Hackett, Douglas and owner Woody Johnson flew to California to meet with Rodgers. They talked for five hours, and then Rodgers clarified.
This is what he wanted – the New York Jets. Imagine that.
“Everything fell into place, and it was the Jets, and only the Jets, for me,” Rodgers said. “At that moment, I felt like this was where I was meant to be. I was really trying to listen to the signs and synchronicities that the universe was putting in our faces every day, and this was the direction everything was pointing in. There are a lot of reasons for that, but it’s exciting that it’s actually a reality now.”
In between, there was a negotiation that dragged on for longer than either side — the Packers or the Jets — expected, with a trade never completed more than a month after Rodgers publicly announced his desire to play for the Jets. No one on either side — Rodgers or the Jets — has wavered on a plan to acquire him. It never was No is going to happen.
“It was clear where we were going and what we needed to do, and we did it,” Johnson said.
Even when rumors of the 49ers’ involvement began to circulate, Saleh said he never feared it would fall through. When Rodgers first walked through the Jets’ doors, Saleh stopped himHe smiled as if he had won the lottery.
“When I saw him walk through the building, I was like: Wow, he’s here,” Saleh said, then pointed out how far the Jets have come since he was hired in January 2021.
“Two years ago if someone had asked if Aaron Rodgers could be your quarterback, I would have laughed in their face,” Saleh said. “We’ve come a long way. Now it’s up to us what we do with it.
Rodgers quickly made himself comfortable, entering a crowd and “walking barefoot,” Saleh said. Rodgers intends to participate in voluntary offseason workouts in the coming days and weeks, a sure sign that he is committed to his new team.
Maybe not just this year, as many have speculated. And the door is open.
“I think so, I really do,” Rodgers said. “They’ve definitely left some choices for me to be here, so it’s nothing in my mind. It’s a commitment. But it only starts this season. I want to be in the present, not talking about future things.
That would affect the cap in both 2023 and 2024 — another sign he might stick around.
Rosenblatt: The Jets got Aaron Rodgers, and the cost doesn’t really matter
The offense is built around his image – a true collaboration between Rodgers and Hackett. Rodgers called Hackett “one of my favorite offensive people”. And Hackett said, “We’re already close and we talk about football all the time … there’s a lot about the game that we love and we look at it through the same lens.”
Rodgers will have his fingerprints on the Jets’ new offense, what they do and how they perform. He jealously guards Zach Wilson and plans to take him under his wing. He’ll make sure the wide receivers and tight ends and running backs do what they do. Rodgers, he insists, isn’t just here to cash a paycheck and retire.
“He’s a player and he’s really a coach,” Johnson said. “He knows what he wants.”
Rodgers is all-in.
“I want to let the guys know what the offense, the locker room and the expectations are going to be,” Rodgers said. “It’s time we all set the right expectations about this team. Like I said last year after we played (the Jets): They’re not the ‘same old Jets.’
“This is a team that has a legitimate chance to do something great this year. Therefore, let us express our words with the desire of our hearts and the power to see each other. I’ll start doing that this week. I believe we have something special and now we all have to believe it. This is the first step to achieving your goals – you must first believe deeply in what you are doing and believe in the possibility.
Possibilities. Rodgers was excited about the opportunity, his first in the NFL outside of Wisconsin. He grew up in a small town in Northern California and lived in Green Bay for 18 years, wondering what it would be like to live in a big city. He recalls moving to Berkeley, Calif., for college in 2003, living in a dirty frat house. Even then, he had a sense of “a new chapter, a new adventure”. “Like the deep sigh you take when all is right with the world, adventure and travel are so unknown and mysterious. That’s the beauty in life because you never know what’s going to happen in the future.”
After arriving at his hotel in New Jersey on Tuesday night, he undressed, lay down and tried to sleep, distracted by “how special this new opportunity is, to enjoy it.”
If Rodgers could bottle what he felt, he would. Before he left the news conference room, he recited a line from his favorite show, “The Office.”
I wish they told you that you were in the good old days before you actually left them.
“There’s a lot of wisdom to it and enjoying how special this moment is today and what this journey is going to be like,” Rodgers said.
The Jets feel it too.
(Photo: Elsa/Getty Images)