Jordan Love? Matt LaFleur? Who’s the face of Packers in post-Aaron Rodgers era?

GREEN BAY, Wis. — The new face of the Green Bay Packers in the post-Aaron Rodgers era is right there in plain view for everyone who pulls out of the east parking lots of Lambeau Field, even if no one quite knows it.

“You’re f—in’ looking at him,” Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari joked recently.

Well, maybe not his face, but …

There is a billboard attached to the team’s practice facility that shows part of a Packers’ player.

“When you leave today and you see that … that’s David’s ass and hamstring,” Bakhtiari said. “Don’t you ever forget that. On that billboard up there, that is the face [of the franchise]. On the Hutson Center, when you drive away, that is my hamstring and part of my ass.

“Aaron [Rodgers has] been all over the place. Now it’s my turn. I told them, ‘Don’t even put my face, just put my ass.'”

Maybe Bakhtiari hasn’t traveled to Green Bay on Interstate 41 from Milwaukee and points South. If he had, he would have noticed that the first sign that this is a new era for the Packers is, in fact, a sign.

Actually, two of them.

On the East side of the highway are a pair of billboards for Bergstrom Automotive, a car dealership conglomerate that bills itself as Wisconsin’s largest.

One has quarterback Jordan Love‘s face on it.

The other has coach Matt LaFleur’s.

For years, those billboards featured one face: Aaron Rodgers.

In fact, not long ago, there was a series of them along the side of the highway, one after another, all with the quarterback prominently displayed. For years, that short stretch of highway less than an hour from Lambeau Field told passersby who the face of the franchise was.

When the Packers traded Rodgers to the Jets this summer, their identity went with him.

THREE GAMES INTO a new era, Love has shown signs both on and off the field that he could take over the role. But if the new starting quarterback isn’t the face of the franchise now, then it’s possible this team doesn’t have one.

That’s one way to look at things now that Rodgers is gone.

“It is an interesting Packers season with all the new faces,” said Brian Lammi, president and CEO of the Milwaukee-based sports marketing agency Team Lammi. “I feel like that hasn’t been the case for a while.”

Having a face of the franchise is important in some places, Lammi said, where selling season tickets and moving merchandise isn’t a sure thing. But with 100,000-plus fans on the waiting list for season tickets and lines out the door at the team’s pro shop, more than 100 years of Packers’ history may be enough on its own.

“A lot of fans from afar do still appreciate the story of the Green Bay Packers because it’s so unique, in such a small community and not having an owner,” Lammi said. “I think a lot of fans around the country, around the world even, would count Green Bay as one of their top three or four teams. I think there’s an appreciation for the Packers in a lot of places because it’s such a unique market.”

Tim Bergstrom, president and CEO of the car dealership that bears his last name, said the company didn’t hesitate to go into business with Love. After all, they’ve had relationships with every coach and every quarterback dating to at least the early 1990s with Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre.

“We’ve gone through a lot more coaches than quarterbacks,” Bergstrom said.

But company executives didn’t know exactly how to proceed with Love because they weren’t sure if he was recognizable yet for a massive billboard.

Then they saw how Love signs autographs, with the heart symbol instead of his last name, and they were sold.

“We literally had to put his signature up next to him to make sure people knew who he was when we first put the billboard up because we did some tests and asked, ‘Who is this?'” Bergstrom said. “I think the world was so focused on our previous quarterback that he never had much airtime.”

LOVE MOSTLY STAYED in the background for the three years since the Packers picked him in the first round (No. 26 overall) of the 2020 draft out of Utah State. But the moment the Packers traded Rodgers, Love’s face started showing up all over the place.

“There’s a lot more opportunities that pop up and things like that,” Love said. “I try to keep the main thing the main thing, and I let people know I’m trying to focus on football right now. Obviously, there’s a lot going on in my life. I want to focus on football going into this first year of being a starter and locking in on that.”

If the 24-year-old Love has the potential to be a big personality like Rodgers and Favre were before him, he hasn’t shown it yet.

“The best thing I ever heard anybody say, and [former NFL QB] Matt Ryan told me that somebody told him, ‘Be one of the guys,'” LaFleur said. “And Jordan’s one of the guys.

“He doesn’t try to put on this false persona. He is true to him. He’s a really good dude that guys want to be around. He’s got more of an even-keel disposition, but I think that helps him, too, because I see the same thing in the game. Now will it change? I’m sure it’s going to change as he gets more and more experienced. We all change as we get older. He’s a young man.”

The longer Love is on the job, the more he could become the person most associated with the Packers. Leading the Packers to an 18-point, fourth-quarter comeback win over the Saints on Sunday was a start. Heading into Thursday night’s game against the Detroit Lions (8:15 p.m. ET, Prime Video), he has thrown seven touchdowns and one interception, while adding a rushing score, in three games.

“Unless somebody absolutely explodes as a rookie, I think the marketability may trail the on-field accomplishments by close to a year,” Lammi said. “That might not necessarily be true for Jordan Love, but it takes your typical fan throughout the country a while to know that this Green Bay Packer is now one of the stars. I don’t think that happens after three games or six games or nine games.”

Like Love, Rodgers spent three years as a backup before he got his chance. It took time for Rodgers’ personality to come through — and for fans to accept that he was not the beloved Favre. In fact, Rodgers might not have been fully accepted as the face of the franchise until the 2010 season, his third as the starter. By then, Favre was winding down with the Minnesota Vikings and Rodgers was on his way to the Super Bowl.

However, it was evident early in Rodgers’ first season as the starter that he was there to stay. Seven games into that 2008 campaign, the Packers gave him a $65 million contract extension that at the time made him the fourth-highest paid quarterback behind Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger.

IF A QUARTERBACK isn’t the face of a franchise, then who is?

For all the Pro Football Hall of Fame players who came from the 1960s teams in Green Bay — like Bart Starr and Ray Nitschke — those teams are known as the Vince Lombardi-era Packers.

There are other examples of coaches as the face of a franchise, like John Madden with the Oakland Raiders and Bill Parcells with the New York Giants, among others. In more recent times, the face of the New England Patriots after quarterback Tom Brady left has unquestionably been coach Bill Belichick.

“When I first started this business 22 years ago, I only had clients in Tampa, Florida, and [quarterback] Brad Johnson was one of them,” Lammi said. “And [coach] Jon Gruden was more popular than Brad Johnson. But by and large, I think the players are going to end up being more popular.”

Mike Holmgren and Mike McCarthy were larger-than-life figures during their tenures as head coach in Green Bay, but they were always overshadowed by their quarterbacks.

Same with LaFleur, until now.

In a commercial that ran locally during the last Super Bowl, LaFleur acted as a teenage kid who plays video games, shoots a can of silly string at the camera and is learning to drive — all to advertise a new program designed for teenagers at Bellin Health, a healthcare system in Northeast Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

“I couldn’t have done that a few years ago,” LaFleur said. “I’ve gotten a lot more, I don’t want to say ‘secure in myself’ because I’ve felt like I’ve always been true to myself, but just, I guess, more comfortable saying screw it.”

LaFleur’s youthful appearance also makes him popular.

“I’ve heard people call coach LaFleur dreamy,” Lammi said. “He’s absolutely marketable, but I don’t know if that would stay ahead of the quarterback.”

Some front offices might not want their coach in the spotlight so much.

One high-ranking NFL executive said he sometimes becomes concerned when their head coach starts to become more popular than his players because of how it might play in the locker room.

IN GREEN BAY’S locker room, others have etched themselves into the Packers’ persona — running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon chief among them.

Jones is not only one of the longest-tenured current Packers but also has publicly shared his upbringing and family’s story to the point that when his father died in 2021, it was as if all of Packers nation grieved with him.

If Jones’ face doesn’t represent the franchise, then perhaps another part of his body does. This offseason, he went so far as to have the Packers’ trademark G tattooed on his leg.

“I’d take honor in that,” Jones said when asked about being the face of the Packers in the post-Rodgers era. “The G means a lot to me. And what we tell all these guys is you carry the G with you when you walk outside of here. I love what the G stands for: Greatness. There’s a lot of responsibility that goes into it, I know that and I’m ready for it.”

No one has integrated themselves into the fabric of Wisconsin as much as Dillon. He married a local and was named the unofficial mayor of Door County — a nearby popular tourist destination — because of how often he posted pictures of himself from there.

The problem for both Jones and Dillon is they may not be around long enough to carry the torch. Running backs don’t often play into their 30s like quarterbacks. Jones is 28, and while Dillon is only 25, he is in the final year of his contract.

So as it pertains to finding the Packers’ new identity, Rodgers may prove to be tougher to replace off the field than on it.

“I know the National Football League is a big business and they’re going to try to take that stuff and prop those stars up,” Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said. “But to me it’s always been about the team.”

Source link