It’s Jordan Love Time as a New Era Begins in Green Bay

Based on faith, practice and precious little actual evidence, the Packers believe Jordan Love is ready to step out of an enormous shadow, lead a young team and, hopefully, repeat history.   

Jordan Love pondered the request. He hadn’t exactly been inundated by autograph hounds during his fledgling NFL career, having spent virtually all of it in the very long shadow cast by one of the greatest players in the history of the game.  

And this inquiry was, well … unexpected.  

Especially, Love thought, given the aggressively proactive approach the signature-seeker was taking – inviting himself over to Love’s house, insisting he wasn’t looking to make a quick buck on eBay, swearing he was instead a HUUUUUGE fan of the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback of the future.   

“It was just so funny,” the collector, AJ Dillon, recalls now. Dillon, when he isn’t hoarding Love cards, plays running back for the Packers – and has been a close friend of Love’s since the two worked out together while preparing for the 2020 NFL Draft. Dillon arrived, stack of 25 or so cards in hand, Sharpie at the ready.    

Photo by Matt Ludtke


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“I think he was laughing, ‘Bro, this is soooo weird,’” Dillon says, now laughing himself. “I’m like, ‘No, bro. I’m not selling them. Maybe in the future, but I’m holding onto these.’ It was probably like I was some old quirky dude.”  

Or, perhaps, a visionary. Because now, as Love embarks on his first year as the Packers’ starting quarterback, having patiently endured a three-year apprenticeship behind Aaron Rodgers, Dillon will be ahead of the curve if Love turns out to be as good as general manager Brian Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur are hoping he is. “I always tell him, ‘I have no problem with you going out there and winning a couple MVPs and some Super Bowls. Go ahead, dude. Do what you need to do,’” Dillon says with a wink. “It’ll help me out, too.”  

Love smiles at the suggestion that his friend has a financial stake in his success. “Whenever he sells them,” Love says, “that money, I want a piece of that.”  

Truth be told, it’s impossible to predict how Love will fare as he attempts to follow in the mammoth footsteps of Brett Favre and Rodgers, who have seven NFL MVPs and two Super Bowl wins between them in 30 years leading the franchise.   

Love, inexperienced but keenly self-aware, understands what he’s up against. “We all know that it’s ups and downs in sport. It’s not easy in this league,” Love says. “I know it’s not going to be easy this year. But one thing I do is, I tell myself every day that I’m good enough.”  

But is he? We’re all about to find out.  

Love chats with backup QBs Sean Clifford (left) and Danny Etling; Photo by Matt Ludtke

Gutekunst and LaFleur have touted the 24-year-old Love’s in-practice improvement in recent years, including extensive first-team work when Rodgers missed practice time due to injuries in 2021 and 2022. But that was just practice. Love has played only 157 regular-season snaps in three years and will have made only one NFL start before the 2023 season begins on Sept. 10 against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.  

The Packers’ belief in Love is based far more on faith than facts, but fans have seen this before. In 2008, Rodgers ascended to the starting job and Favre was traded to the New York Jets – the same team Rodgers was sent to in the April trade that ended Rodgers’ 18-year run in Titletown.   

If Love ever grew impatient while carrying a clipboard behind Rodgers, he never once let it show. While he almost surely would have sought a trade had Rodgers returned to the Packers in 2023, Love never publicly complained about anything.  

“The even-keeled demeanor, certainly he’s had that since the time we met him,” says Gutekunst, who traded up in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft to pick Love at No. 26 overall. That move angered Rodgers, who got no advance warning of the selection and was hoping for a draft crop loaded with pass catchers, not his replacement. “Jordan’s been put in some tough situations, just like Aaron was way back in his time,” Gutekunst says. “I think it’s really a credit to Jordan how he’s handled that and how professional he’s been through this. He’s been in our system for three years, he’s comfortable with the players around him. This is a hard league. It’s tough to be successful. But at the same time, I know he’s put in the work.   

“There’s going to be adversity – it doesn’t matter who you are. So, how do you respond to that? How do you overcome it? That will be a big factor for him during this learning phase – those scars, if you will, so he can be successful moving forward.”  

All About Love  

Jordan Alexander Love
Age: 24   

219 pounds
10½-inch hands (among the largest of NFL QBs)  

Bakersfield, California; Liberty HS class of 2016  

Utah State  
Drafted in 2020  
1st round  
No. 26 overall   

Career stats  
50-83 (60.2% complete)  
3 TD  
3 INT  
79.7 QB rating  

THERE’S NO DENYING the parallels between Favre’s 2008 departure and Rodgers’ exit 15 years later. Both were replaced by a first-round pick who waited his turn for three years, learning from one of the all-time greats both what to do and what not to do. Both were shipped to New York, with the Jets pinning their championship hopes on their new quarterback still being plenty good enough, even if his best days were behind him.  

Can Love come anywhere close to approximating Rodgers’ success? In the short term, it would seem that the team Rodgers took over in 2008 had a better chance of succeeding – and that outfit finished a disappointing 6-10 and missed the playoffs.  

That 2008 team was coming off a 13-3 regular season and a berth in the NFC Championship Game. Rodgers’ first unit had a bevy of veteran would-be pass catchers with vastly more experience than Love’s group has: franchise all-time leading receiver Donald Driver, entering his 10th year in the NFL; ascending star Greg Jennings, who was going into his third year; and James Jones, who’d caught 47 passes as a rookie third-round draft choice in 2007, and sixth-year tight end Donald Lee, an unflashy veteran who nevertheless knew where to go on the field.  

Compare that experienced group to Love’s crew: three 2022 draft picks at wide receiver (second-rounder Christian Watson, fourth-rounder Romeo Doubs and seventh-rounder Samori Touré) have now been joined by three more rookies (second-rounder Jayden Reed, fifth-rounder Dontayvion Wicks and seventh-rounder Grant DuBose). The Packers are counting on two rookie tight ends (second-rounder Luke Musgrave and third-rounder Tucker Kraft) to play at a high level immediately at one of the game’s most difficult positions.  

Even with the potential Watson and Doubs showed as rookies, neither of them played even half of the Packers’ offensive snaps last season, and both dealt with injuries that shelved them for extended periods – meaning they still have plenty to prove themselves.   

After the draft, Gutekunst said that adding those eight pass-catching targets over a two-draft span was by design, so Love and his skill-position players could grow side-by-side. But with growth comes growing pains, which even LaFleur admits will be unavoidable.  

“I love seeing guys develop, mature over time, and that’s part of it each and every year,” LaFleur says. “But it’s going to be a process. I realize that.”  

Back in 2008, the Packers also had at least slightly more in-game evidence that their new young quarterback could play at a high level, thanks to Rodgers’ impressive relief appearance at Dallas in the middle of the previous season. After Favre suffered an elbow injury, the 23-year-old Rodgers entered that game early in the second quarter down 27-10. In 40 snaps, he engineered two touchdown drives, bringing the Packers within a field goal at the start of the fourth quarter before losing 37-27. He completed 18 of 26 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown, a prime-time performance that showed the public what those inside 1265 Lombardi Ave. already knew: Rodgers was ready.  

In contrast, Love’s most impressive performance gives this administration an undeniably smaller sample size: A 10-snap, nine-pass cameo in a loss at Philadelphia last November, when he completed 6 of 9 for 113 yards and a touchdown when he replaced an injured Rodgers in a 40-33 loss to the Eagles.  

Packers quarterbacks coach Tom Clements was both in Dallas for Rodgers’ coming-out party and in Philadelphia when Love had his breakthrough moment. And while Clements expresses the same optimism and hope about Love as he did about Rodgers a decade and a half prior, he readily admits that there’s no way to know what lies ahead.  

“I don’t think you can put a time frame on it,” Clements says when asked how long it will take before he knows for certain that Love is up to the task. “I’ve said it before: We saw Aaron in practice, and he did well. And when we went down to Dallas and Brett got hurt, and Aaron came in and played well extensively, it kind of confirmed what we thought – that he had good ability and he was going to be a good QB. We didn’t know he was going to be a Hall of Famer and have the career he had, but we knew he was good.   

“[This is] the same thing. We’ve watched Jordan in the preseason, in practices, and then he got an opportunity to have a little extended playing time against Philadelphia and he did some very good things. I’m sure that helped his confidence, helps the confidence of the guys around him. He just needs to build on that.”  

Photo by Matt Ludtke

THE LAW OF AVERAGES will tell you that expecting the Packers to have a third consecutive Hall of Fame quarterback is foolish. After three decades of Favre and Rodgers, some fans may feel great quarterbacking is their birthright, but surely they have a Bears fan friend or two who can set them straight. From Cade McNown to Rex Grossman to Jay Cutler to Mitch Trubisky to current quarterback Justin Fields, Chicagoans have had plenty of this-is-the-guy moments while coping with their envy of their northerly neighbors.  

“Jordan Love is probably not going to be the next Aaron Rodgers. The odds are not in his favor,” says former Packers linebacker Brady Poppinga, who was in Rodgers’ draft class and played with Favre and Rodgers during his six seasons (2005-10) in Green Bay. “Guys like Brett and Aaron – you don’t call 1-800-QUARTERBACK and say, ‘I’d like a quarterback.’”  

If it were that easy, the desperate Jets would have dialed that hotline long ago. Instead, general manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh staked their futures on acquiring Rodgers. They gave up a second-round pick in last April’s draft, flip-flopped first-round choices to allow the Packers to move up two spots and will owe the Packers their 2024 first-round pick if Rodgers plays 65% of their snaps this season. And owner Woody Johnson took on the entirety of Rodgers’ onerous contract, which was to pay him roughly $50 million per year. (Packers fans cast a side-eye east in July when Rodgers took a $33 million pay cut to keep the team competitive.)   

As exasperated as Packers Nation might be that the team has now gone 12 years since the win in Super Bowl XLV, the Jets are the league’s only team that didn’t make the playoffs in that stretch. During that time, the Jets started 14 quarterbacks, including three different guys last year.   

In the Packers’ two seasons immediately following the Love pick, Rodgers played immaculately, winning back-to-back NFL MVPs while completing 69.8% of his passes for 8,414 yards with 85 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. And even as the 2022 team hit its bye week with a losing record and struggling to find its offensive identity, Gutekunst insisted that neither Rodgers’ struggles – surely caused in part by the broken thumb on his throwing hand – nor his rub-some-people-the-wrong-way outspokenness were making him eager to push Rodgers out the door. Gutekunst even harkened back to something he’d learned early in his career in Green Bay, saying, “As I’ve been taught from the time I walked into this building, ‘Whatever comes with having great quarterbacks, it’s worth it.’”  

That clearly changed after the Packers finished 8-9 and lost at home to Detroit in a regular-season finale in which a victory would have clinched a playoff berth. Rodgers’ stats last season were un-Rodgers-like: He never threw for 300 yards in a game and finished with the worst passer rating (91.1) of his 15 years as a starter. Asked on the day of the trade why he decided Rodgers was no longer worth putting up with, Gutekunst responded, “There’s always issues with players that you go through. As you’re going through some of those [issues] and you’re 13-3 or 13-4 … we’re trying to win a Super Bowl, right? (So) you’ll put up with a lot to try to chase that.”  

Lacking wins, it was time for a reset. “I just think as we move forward, we’re really excited where Jordan could go,” Gutekunst says. “He needs to play, and having him sit another year, I think, would have really delayed where we were going and what we’re trying to build.”  

The operative word, of course, is could. But neither of Gutekunst’s predecessors knew whether their hand-picked quarterback would be up to the task, either – not Hall of Fame GM Ron Wolf, who traded for Favre in 1992, and not Ted Thompson, who snagged Rodgers after he fell from potentially being his draft’s No. 1 overall pick to the Packers at No. 24.  

Like them, Love must now forge his own path, and do it his own way.  

“You can’t be somebody else. Your teammates will see right through that,” says ex-Packers quarterback Don Majkowski, who started five games as an unheralded rookie in 1987 and subsequently lost the starting job in 1992 when an injury opened the door to Favre. “[Love’s] just got to be himself, study as hard as he can, know the offense as best he can. He’s got some huge shoes to fill. The last 30 years, with Brett and Aaron, I mean, that was some of the best quarterback play – ever, in football’s history.   

“Packers fans have been extremely spoiled and probably took it for granted a little bit that the quarterback was always going to be playing at such a high level. He’s got a lot to live up to. I hope he just plays within himself, doesn’t try too hard and tries to win the fans over with what he does and who he is.”  

30 Years of Greatness   

Brett Favre
In 16 seasons with Green Bay 
160-93 record as starter (1992-2007)  

Average season  
3,853 Passing Yards  
27.6 TD  
17.9 INT   

Biggest Games 
Super Bowl XXXI champion  
4 NFC Championship Games (2-2)  

1995, 1996, 1997   

Brett Favre; Photo by Al Messerschmidt via Associated Press
Aaron Rodgers; Photo by Matt Ludtke via Associated Press

Aaron Rodgers
In 18 seasons with Green Bay  
147-75-1 record as starter (2008-2022)  

Average Season  
3,915 yards   
31.6 TD  
6.9 INT   

Biggest games 
Super Bowl XLV champion,  
5 NFC Championship Games (1-4)  

2011, 2014, 2020, 2021  

WHILE THERE’S NO TELLING how good Love will ultimately be, there is one stark contrast with his predecessor that quickly became evident during the offseason: His leadership style.  

Rodgers irritated some fans with his sometimes confrontational on-field approach, flailing his arms in irritation, barking at teammates over mistakes, projecting annoyed body language toward the sideline. Behind closed doors, though, Rodgers seemed to have a keen understanding of what each player most needed from him to be successful. For the vast majority of his career, he appeared especially adept at identifying which players needed an arm-around-the-shoulder approach and which ones could hack getting chewed out.   

But last season, Rodgers decided against attending the voluntary portions of the team’s offseason program, despite the team drafting three wide receivers who might’ve benefited from extra time together – time that might’ve helped demystify the superstar and allowed Rodgers to get a better feel for how to treat each of them.  

It was noteworthy that the soft-spoken, unassuming Doubs, who caught 42 passes for 425 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie with Rodgers, said during the offseason program that Rodgers “taught me a lot” while “barely speaking to me.” Doubs immediately tried to recast the connotation of those last four words, but he had revealed an uncomfortable truth – and how it compared to his view of Love’s approach.  

“With Jordan, everything is pretty good. I know this is Jordan’s first year, [but] I’m glad I have Jordan,” Doubs says. “He’s got a very unique skillset. I believe in Jordan. I have extreme confidence in him. And I truthfully believe he can get it done.”  

Love, meanwhile, contrasts his interactive style and Rodgers’ – whether intentionally or not – when discussing his personal leadership philosophy. “I like to talk to guys after every play. If it’s a good play, bad play, I want to go talk to them, see what they saw, just get on the same page with them,” Love says. “But I think it just comes down to building that connection.   

“We’re all learning together. I never want to go at a player and attack them for maybe messing up, especially the young guys right now. We all know there’s going to be mistakes; it’s not going to be perfect. But the more we can mesh and come together and build that chemistry together, we’ll be good.” 

Love acknowledges that there will be times when he must take a harsher, more critical tack with players – like Rodgers often did – and insists he’s up for that challenge. “That’s not how I’ve been in the past,” Love says. “But I think there’s a lot of great things [that come from when] you see how much he’s demanding of people and the urgency he expects things to be on. Because we’ve got to build this thing fast.   

“I just [have to] build that in the way I lead. It’s not always been my leadership way, but if you’re not feeling that urgency from guys, you’ve kind of got to demand that.” 

The real challenge for Love, of course, will be to navigate the ultra-important role of being a team leader and the face of one of professional sports’ most iconic franchises while also trying to figure out how to play the most challenging position in the game with the kind of high-level consistency his predecessors did.  

“He’s going to continue to evolve, but it is hard to lead when you’re not the guy. And he knows he’s the guy now,” LaFleur says. “I think it just instills confidence in him. And I think he’s first of all earned the respect by his actions, the way he works, from all his teammates. I’m excited for him. It’s going to be a process, but one that I know that he can handle.”  

Jordan Love and AJ Dillon dual rookie card

FOR DILLON, of all the Love cards he has collected, there is one he says is priceless to him. It’s a 2020 Panini Elite Pen Pals dual rookie card that both of them signed.   

For Dillon, the card illustrates the we’re-all-in-this-together ethos that is prevalent in the Packers’ locker room as the season begins. It’s not just up to Love to carry the team; it’s a shared endeavor in which the perennially underachieving defense must rise to the occasion, the experienced offensive line must give Love the protection he needs to succeed, Dillon and fellow running back Aaron Jones must shoulder the offensive load with an ultra-productive ground game, and the unproven pass-catchers must play to a level beyond their relative inexperience.   

“We all love Jordan here, and he has everyone’s full respect. We’re all going to go lay it out on the line for him,” says Jones, who traveled to California early in the offseason – before Rodgers had even been traded – to spend time with Love. “Things may happen that might not go his way. Letting him know, ‘Hey, you have guys in your corner that no matter what happens, we’re going to play for you’ – I think if he knows that, it’s just going to help him that much more.”  

Perhaps there are those who privately have their doubts about Love. But even veteran left tackle David Bakhtiari, one of Rodgers’ best friends and the one person willing to use the dreaded R-word – “rebuilding” – when describing the Packers’ prospects this season, has been complimentary. Asked what advice he’s given Love so far, Bakhtiari replies, “I don’t need you to be anything different than what you are. There’s no need to be Aaron. Whatever’s comfortable for you, let’s do that.”  

But Love has no bigger supporter than Dillon, who insists his confidence in Love goes far beyond their friendship.  

“As a friend, I’m rooting for him, obviously. It’s really cool to see him have this opportunity. But the sky’s the limit for him,” Dillon says. “I want him to be great. I want him to go out there and do everything he’s ever dreamt of – and he can.”  

And now, it’s time to find out if Dillon is right. “I’ve always been a big believer in myself,” Love says. “I have confidence in myself, I have confidence in the team, and we’re just going to take it day-by-day. I mean, I can’t say what might happen this year, what might happen next year. I mean, who knows?”   

Jason Wilde has covered the Packers for over 25 years and profiled Aaron Rodgers in our October 2012 issue. 


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s September issue.

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