Packers QB appears on a regional cover of this week’s SI
With fantasy football drafts around the corner, this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED previews the top fantasy football players at each position and also profiles some of the NFL’s star players, including SI’s No. 1-rated fantasy quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Senior writer Michael Rosenberg says that Rodgers, who appears on a regional SI cover of SI, has become the voice of Wisconsin because of his ability to combine stellar play on the field with genuine likeability off it.
Rodgers grew up in California and wasn’t initially happy when he was chosen by Green Bay with the 24th pick in the 2005 draft since he expected to be drafted higher and Brett Favre was still the starter (and a legend) in Green Bay. And yet Rodgers now says, “I’m a Wisconsin guy. I’m here nine months out of the year. This is home for me.” He adds, “People enjoy being able to see you at the Piggly Wiggly and say hello.” (PAGE 42)
It was just last year when Rodgers called PED allegations against his friend Ryan Braun “garbage” and even told a Twitter follower that he would bet his salary on his friend’s innocence. However when Braun, who co-owns the 8-12 MVP Bar & Grill with Rodgers in Brookfield, Wis., was busted for PEDs again a few weeks ago, Rodgers publicly expressed his disappointment on behalf of all Wisconsin fans and said it was O.K. to believe he was innocent at first. “Braun made Wisconsinites look foolish for their most admirable trait,” writes Rosenberg. “Rodgers legitimized their feelings: It was O.K. to believe Braun last time; it’s O.K. to be angry now.” (PAGE 44)
And thanks to Rodgers, who agreed last February to appear on stage with Favre at the NFL Honors award ceremony, the Packers and their fans can welcome Favre back when the Packers eventually retire his number in the near future. The organization and its fans turned on Favre after the unretirement saga in 2008 and his subsequent decision to join the rival Vikings. While Rodgers had his problems with Favre in the past, he would not let himself see a retired Favre as competition. “I thought about it for a day,” Rodgers says. “I didn’t contact the Packers or run it by anybody. I felt like it was the right thing to do. It was a good opportunity to start the healing process—him and I, the Packers and him, the fans and him.” (PAGE 45)
While Rodgers has already won a Super Bowl and his 104.0 career passer rating is by far the highest in NFL history, Rodgers cares more about how he is viewed by teammates when it comes to his legacy. “My legacy in this locker room is [more important]—how guys are going to remember me.” (PAGE 44) That’s why it was no surprise when Green Bay wide receiver James Jones spoke up in defense of Rodgers when former teammate Greg Jennings, who signed with the Vikings this off-season, took a shot at Rodgers’s ego in a recent interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune. True to form, Rodgers refused to fire back and turn Jennings’s comments into a two-man feud.
Still cool as ever nearly two decades after his last snap, the man who led the 49ers to four Super Bowl championships now keeps the NFL at an arm’s length—and senior writer Michael Rosenberg finds in this week’s SI Where Are They Now? issue that Montana is just fine with his legacy and passion for watching the NFL being what keeps him connected to the game.
Rosenberg writes, “What does Joe Montana mean to you? He quarterbacked the 49ers to four Super Bowl victories. He won three Super Bowl MVP awards. Then he retired and . . .well, he didn’t quite disappear, but he isn’t in your face, either.” (PAGE 55)
While other Hall of Fame quarterbacks such as Troy Aikman, Dan Marino and Steve Young have found success doing television, Montana couldn’t stand being a pundit. He tried TV for one year after he retired, but hated traveling away from his family and wasn’t comfortable criticizing other players and being a part of the embracing of debate on TV. “That’s the thing I didn’t like about the announcing part: They want you to be loud, argumentative and definitive,” says Montana. “You didn’t have to be right.” (PAGE 58)
Today, Montana is perfectly comfortable living with his wife Jennifer (they split time between their apartment in San Francisco and estate in Napa) and working the corporate circuit giving speeches to companies or trade associations for anywhere from $65,000 to $100,000 per appearance. He also dabbles in real estate ventures.
What has Montana done since retiring to keep up the fierce competitive drive he displayed on the football field? He looked everywhere. He got into flying planes (Jennifer made him give it up), scuba diving, playing golf, and even rode cutting horses. Yet, none of these hobbies replaced the rush from football.
“I don’t know,” Montana says. “It’s hard. I guess at some point you just give up trying to find it.” (PAGE 60)
Montana still keeps up with the game and marvels at the NFL’s top quarterbacks, many of whom are surpassing his stats in today’s pass-friendly game. He says, “I like watching a lot of the guys: Rodgers, Brees, Brady, Peyton, Eli. . . . It’s fun to watch because they’re all so different.” (PAGE 58)
The Tigers’ dynamic duo of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are baseball’s most fearsome power-hitting combo, but the scariest thing about the hitting savants is they’re both in the lineup grinding every day, says senior writer Michael Rosenberg in this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, on newsstands now. This is the second SI cover appearance for both Cabrera and Fielder. “Cabrera is the best hitter in baseball and Fielder is the game’s best sidekick,” says Rosenberg. “Years from now, we may look back and decide Cabrera is Mickey Mantle and Fielder is Roger Maris. Or Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews. Or Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.” (PAGE 32)
In an era that has witnessed a decline in power, the Tigers have two power hitters who never miss a game. Since 2006 Fielder has averaged 160 games per season, and through Sunday has played a league best 404 consecutive games and counting. Cabrera has averaged 158 games per year since 2004. “You write those two names down every night,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland says, “you feel pretty good.” (PAGE 32)
So why are they so driven to play every game at a high level, when most players are willing to skip games to get extra rest? “Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are very fond of Mr. Ilitch, they’re very respectful of what he’s done for the organization, and the amount of money he’s paid,” Leyland says. “They believe they have an obligation to him.” (PAGE 37) Teammate Ramon Santiago says of Cabrera, “It is no secret: He wants to win a championship.” Fielder says he is motivated partly by people who say he is too big: “If you can play every day, I don’t understand what’s wrong with my body type. It might be the way to go.” (PAGE 37)
The sluggers also routinely work on their craft. Fielder now takes as much batting practice against southpaws as any player in baseball in an effort to improve upon his .808 OPS against lefties last year (as of Sunday he has a 1.025 OPS vs. lefties). Cabrera is off to an even better start than his Triple Crown numbers from last season, as he has yet to endure a slump in 2013. This is by design because Cabrera says he addresses his swing flaws “before [they become] a slump.” (PAGE 34)
The teammates also help each other. Fielder says Cabrera has “helped me a lot going opposite field,” and he has talked to Cabrera about pulling the ball. Since Fielder joined the Tigers, Cabrera RBIs per game jumped from 0.73 to 0.94. “You can see a difference,” Cabrera says. “They pitch me more…I see a lot of good pitches.” (PAGES 34-35)
“The game is both challenging and therapeutic for them,” says Rosenberg. “They embrace the difficulty of beating the pitcher, and the grind of doing it again the next day.” (PAGE 37)
Pittsburgh Penguins’ star Sidney Crosby continues to amaze by coming back from injury better than when he left, writes Michael Rosenberg in this week’s Sports Illustrated. Since returning from a 13 game absence with a broken jaw, Crosby, who makes his fifth appearance on the SI cover, has scored two goals and assisted on three more, including the game-winner in Sunday’s come-from-behind overtime win over the Islanders.
Despite missing 25% of the lockout shortened season, Crosby still finished third in the NHL with 56 points. Rosenberg finds that Crosby, still just 25 years old, uses his time off from injury to study the strengths and weaknesses of himself, his teammates and the rest of the league. “If this is how you succeed at work, we should all call in sick,” says Rosenberg (Page 38).
After missing 11 months with a concussion in 2011 and another nine months in 2012 due to the NHL lockout, Rosenberg writes that Crosby returned each time with an increased level of passion and improved stats. “I’ve always loved hockey, but I realized how much I really do love it,” says Crosby about his time away from the game. (PAGE 40)
Crosby’s work ethic while off the ice has turned him into the best all-around player in the NHL, according to Rosenberg. His teammates agree. “How complete he is, that is what separates him,” says teammate Matt Niskanen. “That and his drive. Lots of guys work hard, but he works harder. Lots of guys can skate fast, and lots of guys can stickhandle really well. He can do both at the same time and at a very high level.” (PAGE 38)
However, to many hockey fans—especially American ones, Crosby is unworthy of his seat atop the NHL best player throne once occupied by Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Crosby hears the boos and worse in every road arena. Rosenberg concludes that “Crosby is playing at such a high level now that his game should have the same effect on critics that LeBron James’s peaking game did the last two years, forcing them to applaud against their will.” (PAGE 42)
Tiger Woods Might be Back; Thinks he Can Win 20 Majors
After six wins in his last 20 events and a return to the No. 1 world ranking, Tiger Woods is the clear favorite to win next week’s Masters for the first time in five years. In this week’s Sports Illustrated, senior writer Michael Rosenberg uncovers the numerous life changes that have helped Woods find inner peace and bring his game back to an elite level. Woods appears on a regional cover of this week’s SI, his 23rd all-time cover. Rosenberg writes that since 2010:
“Woods has revamped his swing yet again; been divorced; hired a new instructor; switched caddies; changed putters; recovered from knee and Achilles-tendon injuries; moved from inland Orlando to the coastal Florida town of Jupiter, where he and Elin share custody of their five-year-old daughter, Sam, and four-year-old son, Charlie; switched home courses; started dating Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn; and returned to No. 1 in the World Ranking.” (PAGE 62)
After interviewing Woods’s friends, fellow PGA players, former instructors, his coach and caddie, Rosenberg finds that all of these life changes have Woods now at peace with his worldwide attention and have him set on making history. It has always been speculated that Woods was hunting Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors. Notah Begay, former PGA Tour player and one of Woods’s best friends since childhood says: “He is focused on 20. That may be a little hard to believe, considering what’s transpired in the last three years, but that’s where his focus is. He thinks he is capable of winning 20 majors. (PAGE 62)
Tiger’s quest for greatness started when he was a child prodigy. Rosenberg finds that the numerous stories suggesting Tiger’s father Earl strategically planned his son’s destiny are false. Says Tiger’s first coach, Rudy Duran: “Earl was way less pushy, was less trying to groom a touring pro than most of the parents.” Rosenberg notes that Earl actually had to push Tiger away from the course toward school at times. He writes “the father was not obsessed. The child was.” (PAGE 62)
Tiger’s obsession with greatness had him working very closely with his coach and caddie early in his career. Tiger’s former coach Hank Haney was known to overload him with information, while his former caddie Steve Williams infamously would stand up against photographers, spectators and fellow golfers. Rosenberg writes that Woods now relies on coach Sean Foley to just coach and caddie Joe LaCava to just caddie, as they help him prepare using a simpler, more hands off approach. Rosenberg writes: “He (Foley) wants Woods’s swing to hold up under pressure. He gives detailed answers to Woods’s questions but doesn’t micromanage his swing thoughts.” (PAGE 64)
Woods used to snap at his former caddie and coach, but LaCava says Woods has not blamed him once for a bad club choice or read on the green and that after his Torrey Pines victory, he told LaCava: “We won this F—— tournament!” (PAGE 64)
Woods is treating everyone better these days and working hard at it. His friend Steve Stricker tells Rosenberg: “I think he learned a lot from a couple of years ago: Be more cordial to everybody, respect other people. He is happier with himself. You can see it. Just the way he is treating people is better. It looks like he is working hard it.” (PAGE 65)
Fellow golfers are noticing the change in Woods as well. While they hadn’t spoken in years, Casey Martin was pleasantly surprised to see this tweet from @TigerWoods after Martin qualified for the U.S. Open last spring: “Simply incredible. Ability, attitude and guts. See you at Olympic Casey.” (PAGE 66)
Woods is now a member at the Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Fla., where you’ll find him working on his game, playing Rory McIlory or Bubba Watson in a 36-hole duel or perhaps the biggest change—calling staffers by their first names and chatting with them before heading to the first tee. He still has the same competitive drive he has always had since he was a child prodigy, but Rosenberg says the 37-year old now simply “looks happy.” (PAGE 66)