Dec. 29—In the final minute of the first half on Thursday Night Football on Nov. 29, 2007, Green Bay receiver Greg Jennings caught the first NFL touchdown pass from a backup quarterback. It didn’t look like much back then since the 11-yard score simply cut the deficit to 27-17 in a game the Packers would lose 37-27 to Dallas at Texas Stadium.
But it looks significant now.
That backup quarterback was Aaron Rodgers, who was then in his third season with the Packers and saw his first significant action in that game when iron-man starter Brett Favre was knocked out early in the second quarter with an arm injury. All Rodgers has done since then was add 444 more touchdown passes to get to 445. And when he threw his 443rd in last Saturday’s 24-22 victory over Cleveland, he broke Favre’s team record of 442.
“It’s definitely a trivia question,” Jennings said of catching Rodgers’ first touchdown pass. “It was a big deal for him but it wasn’t a big deal for me then because all of that season I had big touchdown catches from Brett Favre. So, when it was Aaron’s first, shoot, we’re losing. It never dawned on me like, ‘Shoot, that was his first touchdown pass.’ “
Jennings played in the NFL from 2006-15, including with the Packers from 2006-12 and with the Vikings from 2013-14. He was watching with interest from his Edina home when Rodgers broke Favre’s mark.
“I thought it was just a special moment,” Jennings said. “It was sign of his durability, his consistency and just pure elitism. I was reminded of all he’s been through, from taking over from Brett and the first time he stepped on the field at our Family Night, our first scrimmage at Lambeau Field in training camp (in 2008), he was greeted by a barrage of boos. And to see him turn into what he has is just a true testament to his ability to stick to a plan and be great.”
After Favre started 253 consecutive games for the Packers, retired (very) briefly, then moved on to the New York Jets in 2008 and the Vikings in 2009 and 2010. Rodgers made his first career start in the opening game of the 2008 season, when he led the Packers to a 24-19 win over the Vikings at Lambeau Field.
On Sunday night at Lambeau Field, Rodgers, 38, will make his 205th career start — and his 26th against the Vikings. Jennings is amazed at how far he has come.
“It’s cool to see what his career has turned into, obviously a first-ballot hall of famer, and for me to have jump-started his touchdown-throwing barrage, it’s something that my kids enjoy,” said Jennings, who has four children, ranging in age from 9 to 14. “They love it.”
Jennings is also the answer to another trivia question involving Rodgers. He caught his first career playoff touchdown pass, a 6-yard grab in a 51-45 overtime loss at Arizona on Jan. 10, 2010. And he caught two touchdown passes from Rodgers in Super Bowl XLV, a 31-25 Packers win over Pittsburgh on Feb. 6, 2011.
These days, Jennings no longer has a good relationship with Rodgers. In 2013, after he signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract with the Vikings as a free agent, Jennings made some negative comments about Rodgers, and the quarterback seemingly hasn’t forgotten.
“We don’t text, we don’t communicate like that,” Jennings said. “We haven’t had an official sit down, like bring it all in for a hug, since I left Green Bay. .. We had a great relationship (in Green Bay)… Our relationship now has been non-existent. I tried to reach out to refurbish it but haven’t had any success. The acceptance from his side has just not been there.”
Jennings was critical in 2013 of Rodgers’ leadership, saying he sought the spotlight and wasn’t an ideal team player. He said he was upset at the time because he believed the quarterback was not “in my corner” about wanting him to remain with the Packers. In response, Rodgers told Sports Illustrated in 2013 that “people taking shots at me who aren’t relevant to this team and to this locker room doesn’t mean a whole lot to me.”
“When we played them going back to Lambeau and (at Minnesota), we talked and I apologized,” Jennings said of his playing days with the Vikings. “Those were my feelings (at the time), but there was no need for me to say those things. It was done out of frustration, anger, because I wanted my career to remain and be knotted up like a nice little bow in Green Bay.”
Jennings is now an NFL studio analyst for Fox, and last year was an analyst for some games. He called two Packers games in 2020, their 43-34 win over the Vikings to open the season at U.S. Bank Stadium and their second game, a 42-21 win over Detroit at Lambeau Field. Jennings said he dealt with Rodgers before those games in pregame discussions with other members on the Fox crew, and he was cordial but that it was business-like.
Jennings would welcome one day again having a personal relationship with Rodgers since his four children are big Green Bay fans.
“My kids would love to meet him and be able to say, ‘Hey, you played with my dad,’ ” Jennings said. “Their favorite team is the Packers, so he’s talked about well often in my house. … But all things heal in time.”
As for all the controversy surrounding Rodgers this year, Jennings said he had no problem with him holding out in spring drills before finally reporting for training camp. But he did have an issue with Rodgers saying he was “immunized” when it turned out he was not vaccinated and he had to miss Green Bay’s 13-7 loss at Kansas City on Nov. 7 while on the COVID-19 reserve list.
“When it came to the whole vaccination, immunization deal, that was just blatantly wrong,” Jennings said. “I thought that was completely misleading, but again, I’m not one to hold anyone to what they did yesterday, so for me you live and you learn.”
Jennings made his only two Pro Bowls playing with Rodgers and the Packers, in 2010 and 2011. Of his 64 career touchdown catches, 53 were with Green Bay — 38 from Rodgers and 14 from Favre.
So, in Jennings’ opinion, who does he consider the better of the two Packers signal callers?
“If I were playing in the game, I would say Brett because Aaron was so perfect with his accuracy, he eliminated the ability to up and actually make a play,” Jennings said. “Brett was more of, ‘I’m going to throw it up and go make a play.’ But if I’m a head coach or a general manger, I’m taking Aaron. I’m not taking Brett because I know what I’m going to get from Aaron. Brett’s going to take more risks. Uncalculated risks. Aaron’s going to take calculated risks.”