FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — The word sounded a bit surprising — and frankly, fascinating — as soon as it passed Aaron Rodgers' lips.
“Yeah, I had some butterflies, for sure,” Rodgers said.
That from a guy entering his 19th NFL season who has been through everything you could imagine on a football field. He has won the league's MVP award four times, played in numerous big games and won a Super Bowl.
“First time I strap it on, it’s kind of the standard," Rodgers said, "whether I’m in Year One playing the San Diego Chargers or Year 19, pre-season (game) No. 4, there’s always some butterflies when you step out there for the first time.”
Even the game's greatest players have moments when they need to get their emotions in check.
It'll be the same for Rodgers on Monday night when the Jets open the regular season against the AFC East-rival Buffalo Bills at home with a primetime audience watching.
“A lot of tears, a lot of sobbing, probably,” Rodgers joked when asked what he thought he'll feel when he runs out of the MetLife Stadium tunnel. "No, I'm going to be good. I'm going to be excited to be out there with the crowd, see the crowd out there early, hopefully.
“Get all the jitters out of the way probably in pregame and just go out and try to execute.”
The 39-year-old Rodgers is facing the monumental task of trying to help lift a frustrated franchise back to respectability. And far beyond.
He mentioned during his introductory news conference in April after being acquired from Green Bay that the Jets' lone Super Bowl trophy from the 1968 season looks “lonely.” The Jets have missed the post-season 12 straight years, the longest active drought in the NFL.
Rodgers has talked about winning in the Big Apple, the new hometown he has fully embraced. And his presence has raised expectations — inside and outside the Jets' facility — enormously.
But Rodgers is well prepared to handle the pressure. Butterflies and all.
“We all have our routines, I think,” he said. "First, there’s the idea of a fear of failure and that being crippling to some people or a motivator to other people. I think the fear of failure is often related to a lack of preparation. I don’t feel that a lot. I feel a strong pride in the performance, which is kind of the positive spin on the fear of failure — that you have so much pride in how you play, that you will do anything in your power to have the balanced preparation you need to be able to go out and think clearly.
“But as we know, sometimes you can go out and and play a really clean game and not win. And so you have to have the proper perspective, I think, of what failure is and what success actually is.”
It's an approach that has made Rodgers appreciate the small details. And it's something he has passed on — and expects — from his teammates.
“I mean, it’s vital for him, you know, it’s everything, is being detailed,” said wide receiver Garrett Wilson, last season's AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. “Because there’s so many things he’s seeing that you’re supposed to be seeing it the same way. ...
“But it’s all for us. It’s all for the team.”
In the off-season, Rodgers decompresses with non-football activities, such as the darkness retreat in Oregon he used to do some self-reflection — and ultimately led him to the Jets. He also has openly spoken of his plant medicine journey and use of ayahuasca to better understand himself and learn more about self-love.
During the season, Rodgers has found ways to keep his mind at ease in the face of pressure and be more patient — but also sharp for the grind of the season.
“When it comes to dealing with like stress, I meditate a lot,” he said. "I think that’s really helped. I like to visualize. So I’ll take different times, I kind of separate the two — meditation being more just kind of getting into the kind of routine in practice, where visualization is more laying down and I picture myself in the game and doing certain things.
“So I play it in my mind first and it’s something I’ve done for 30 years almost.”
It's a technique Rodgers learned from an old basketball coach, who used it as a way to challenge his players.
“And then the outside stuff is the outside stuff,” Rodgers said. “It’s not for fear of understanding what’s going on or embracing it. I just don’t watch a lot of TV and I don’t read a lot of news about myself. I just don’t care.”
Rodgers acknowledged that was a process in itself, something he learned during his high school days in Northern California and then used at Butte Community College and Cal before being a first-round draft pick of the Packers in 2005 and sitting behind Brett Favre for three seasons before getting his opportunity to start.
He gradually learned to block out the negatives in his life and focused on being happy with himself.
“It’s a long process," Rodgers said. "A lot of therapy, a lot of meditation and a lot of plant medicine.”
The next step in that journey has brought him back into the familiar spotlight.
But in a place — with the Jets — that probably seemed so unlikely just a few months ago.
“There’ll be a lot of eyes on us,” Rodgers acknowledged. “That could be pressure to some people, could be expectation, could be excitement. I choose to look at it as excitement.
"There’s a lot of people going to be tuning in and a lot of people are going to be following along for our season and a lot of people are going to have a lot to cheer about.”
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl
Dennis Waszak Jr., The Associated Press