SANTA CLARA, California. – Aaron Rodgers is playing for a franchise at 1265 Lombardi Drive to bring back a trophy named after legendary Packers coach Lombardi to an enchanting green and gold place they proudly call Titletown USA.
That is the motivation that everyone needs. Of course, the prospect of a second Super Bowl championship is in sight for him and a fifth for the Packers in Sunday's NFC championship game.
But what if hell has no anger like a young man who is despised, a man who now has a chance to stop the 49ers from joining the esteemed company of the Patriots and Steelers with a sixth Super Bowl at the same time?
From the time Rodgers was a 3 year old in Chico, California, he wanted to be Joe Montana. And he would have lived his dream if the 49ers had hit him with the first choice of the 2005 design. Instead, they took Alex Smith with him, making Rodgers squirm in the green room for an apparent eternity before the Packers saved him with the 24th pick.
The 49ers haven't won a Super Bowl since the 1994 season and now Rodgers has an unprecedented opportunity to remind the old Montana team of what could have been and what they missed.
This is the fourth time Rodgers was 60 minutes from the Super Bowl, but the first time he came across the 49ers standing between him and Lombardi 60 minutes.
This is also a legacy game before a legacy game for Rodgers. A second ring nine years after his first ring would tie him to Bart Starr and put him on Brett Favre, earning him the title of Greatest Packers Quarterback of the Modern Era, if not forever.
It's far from the night they booed Rodgers in Green Bay after favre trading for the jets in the summer of 2008 after waiting three long years for their turn.
Rodgers has stopped looking like the best quarterback on the planet, never before when the 49ers narrowed him to 104 yards and the Packers fled on November 24th.
But nobody in Levi's stadium on either side expects anything other than the legendary shooter who followed the legendary gunslinger and can still fill the air with magic bullets. Rodgers is 10-7 in the playoffs. It was in hand when a clutch against the Seahawks was needed last week. It is still dangerous.
"When I was 5 years old and saw Joe Montana standing on the field against the Bengals, John Taylor pitched in to win," said Rodgers on Danica Patrick's podcast. Then quickly forward to 14 and I watch MJ, Michael Jordan, the last game with the bulls and he comes over [Bryon] Russell hits the foul line and takes a shot from the center, and I always said, "I want to do that." I want the ball in the clutch moments. "
He is now 36 and knows that you will make better use of the moment when it looks you in the face because you are never promised another.
He won't forget quickly how the Packers had the ball and a 12 point lead over the Seahawks while the 2014 NFC championship game was five minutes away. And lost in overtime.
"It will be a missed opportunity to think about the rest of my career," said Rodgers afterwards.
A nightmare of 44:21 followed in the 2016 playoffs against the Falcons when Niners coach Kyle Shanahan was the Atlanta offensive coordinator.
"It was spectacular for us to come back to the top after the 4-6 win, but it's only about championships if you play in Titletown. Expectations are high and we are disappointed that we didn't make it. " Rodgers said afterwards.
Favre has the Favre Pass in Green Bay, and whether Rodgers ends the pass or not, one day he will have a street named after him, as well as a gold jacket and a Canton bust. The Packers brought him a defense and a new head coach three years older than Mike McCarthy, and the new head coach ran Aaron Jones back to help him and Davante Adams. Nobody knew for sure how the marriage between Matt LaFleur and Rodgers would work. It worked just fine.
Rodgers threw 26 touchdowns against four interceptions during a regular season when he wasn't Lamar Jackson or Patrick Mahomes and often won ugly. The Packers didn't need him to be their double MVP league.
Against this enemy, against this wild pass rush, against Richard Sherman, they will. If he can remember being Hall of Fame Aaron Rodgers, if he's significantly better than Jimmy Garoppolo, the Packers have a chance. Titletown will watch and cheer on the child for only whistling once because it was not a favre.
"I felt like I had been waiting for something for three years," said a young Rodgers once. "
On the day his painful wait was finally over, Rodgers was asked, "How disappointed are you that you won't be a 49er?"
And Rodgers said, "Not as disappointed as the 49ers for not drawing me."
If you couldn't join them, hit them and then try to bring this Lombardi trophy home.