To be one of the 32 best men at their jobs on the planet, quarterbacks are infamous in their pursuit of any edge they can find. When 11 players are standing across from you, combining brute and preparation in an attempt to knock your head off, it's easy to understand why. Aaron Rodgers is no exception to this rule despite being one of the most naturally gifted quarterbacks of all-time.
It's where Rodgers looks for advantages that will surprise you. The Green Bay quarterback's proficiency on Hail Mary throws is nearly unmatched; he has completed several high-profile prayers over the last few years, including one to close the first half in last week's playoff game against the New York Giants:
You could say plays like that come down to luck, but a recent story in Sports Illustrated revealed a fascinating anecdote about Rodgers' Hail Mary success. As it turns out, he sought advice from an astronaut he met on Celebrity Jeopardy!:
Where other quarterbacks might practice long throws, or possess similar arm strength, it’s doubtful anyone else asked a real-life astronaut about the physics involved with a Hail Mary. Rodgers did exactly that with Mark Kelly, one of his Celebrity Jeopardy! opponents. Kelly says—and Rodgers confirms—that they discussed height and trajectory and factors such as wind and cold. This was heavy conversation for a round of golf. "His Hail Mary passes are like a spaceship reentering orbit," Kelly says. "We should start calling it the Hail Rodgers."
Kelly continues: "Timing is everything and fortunately it is so cold in Green Bay there isn’t significant re-entry heating." He’s referring to the extreme heat spaceships encounter as they plummet toward earth, but adds, "I’m kidding, of course."
What’s true, though, is that what differentiates a Hail Rodgers from a typical Hail Mary is not the length of the throw but the height. "I’ve never seen a quarterback throw the ball that high," Rodgers the tight end says. The oversized, umbrella-like arc, Rodgers the quarterback says, is "by design."
Fortunate though he may be, Rodgers has put a lot of thought into what seems like an insignificant part of his job. The Hail Mary is only utilized in rare instances, but it hasn't stopped Rodgers from trying to get a leg-up on his competition.
Rodgers' peers are just as obsessive. If Deflategate wasn't proof of how far Tom Brady will go to find an advantage, his diet will blow you away with its specificity. Brady's chef claims he consumes no caffeine or dairy, he only cooks with coconut oil (other oils are too fatty), and he estimates Brady eats tomatoes just once a month.
Peyton Manning, on the other hand, did everything he could to handicap his competition. During his freshman year at the University of Tennessee, he once locked the team's other quarterback out of a meeting in order to make himself look better. Not exactly a stand-up move as a teammate, but you have to respect the ingenuity.
Talking to an astronaut seems like the least Rodgers can do to stay at the top of his field. If he doesn't mind, I might try to talk to Kelly myself and see if he can figure out why my jumpshot is so terrible.
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