Packers vs. Giants: Aaron Rodgers Prepares Green Bay for Repeat Super Bowl Run while Team Mourns Tragedy Beset upon Joe Philbin’s Family

January 12, 2012 – 9:45 am by Chris Fedor

A season ago the Green Bay Packers seemed to come together in the face of adversity during their run to the Super Bowl. They had numerous players on Injured Reserve and the hurdles they had to clear were numerous. Through it all, the Packers persevered and still won the Championship.

Adversity has hit Green Bay again right as they’re preparing for their first playoff game of the season. This goes beyond injuries though. This runs much deeper. The Packers are filled with heavy hearts after Michael Philbin, the 21-year-old son of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin was found dead earlier this week.

While everyone is trying to handle things the best way possible and trying to stay focused on Sunday’s game, Aaron Rodgers definitely sounds solemn about the tragedy the Packers are dealing with. On one hand, this could prove to be too much of a distraction going up against a streaking Giants team; on other hand, as Rodgers says, the team’s been dealing with personal matters all season long, so who’s to say this won’t just be another rallying cry for the team as they try to defend their title.

Rodgers joined ESPN Radio in Milwaukee to talk about the tragic passing of Michael Philbin, the 21-year old son of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, the importance of Philbin to the Packers success offensively, the respect and love the team has for their offensive coordinator, staying focused on preparing for the Giants during this kind of tough week, doing things the way Philbin would want them to as the best way to honor their offensive coordinator and his family this coming weekend against the Giants, all sorts of thoughts about his most recent commercial for State Farm which was shot during their bye last week and aired during Wild Card Weekend, being compared to Peyton Manning in terms of his marketability potential, enjoying working with talented people on things like commercials but not having enough time to be anything but very selective about aligning himself with products and companies that he’s very comfortable lending his name to, and his new thoughts on the New York Giants as he and the Packers prepare for their Divisional Round matchup this weekend having just played them recently late in the 2011 regular season.

On the tragedy in the family of offensive coordinator Philbin:

“It’s been tough, it’s been tough. It’s like a family, our team, coaching staff, support staff. It’s hard to try and describe the feelings. We came in here on Monday and found out that things weren’t looking good. I think everybody was nervous about it. We heard the news Monday afternoon. It’s been tough. We all love Joe, me probably as much or more than anybody in here just because of how much he’s meant to me and my development. Just how important it is, the time we get to spend each week, how he gets us prepared and just his presence around here, it’s just tough to see him and Diane and the family dealing with this. We’ve all just been really upset. There’s been a lot of it this year actually with T.J.’s father passing on Thursday and other offensive linemen dealing with family stuff. It’s been tough. It always kind of gives you perspective on…as much fun as we have playing ball, there are some bigger issues that we deal with each day.”

On the importance of Philbin to the Packers and the impact of him not being around the fold this week:

“Joe’s very important to our success. The day to day stuff — all the coaching responsibilities he has, installing plays and explaining plays, his role in those meetings, the way that he helps get practice run the right way. He does a ton for us. As players we probably don’t even see half the stuff he does to get us ready during the week so we’re going to miss him, we really are. I think as a player you love to play, you love the games, you love the preparation, but the thing that’s going to stick with you long after you’re done playing is the guys, the relationships. That’s player to player, player to coach, player to support staff, player to personnel staff, player to fan obviously. But the player to coach relationship is very special, to me it always has been. Joe has been a large part of my success as a player and growth as a person. I really enjoy our conversations together, make sure we spend some time every Friday catching up, talking about things. It’s just really hard to see a good friend like that going through this. Obviously I  got to know his wife a little bit and met most of the kids on different occasions. It’s a difficult time.”

On the Packers playing this weekend’s game for their offensive coordinator:

“I think just conducting ourselves the way we always have. Joe is a professional in every sense of the word, as a coach he’s a great human being, a man of integrity and high character and high moral standard. Just honoring him and the family by preparing the way we’re supposed to prepare, doing the things that he stresses each week when he talks to us on Monday about the previous game, and talks to us on Wednesday about our game objectives. Just doing those things that he’s always preaching and talking about is the best way to honor his memory.”

On how difficult it is dealing with distracting thoughts about his friend and coach and the loss he’s grieving while also trying to prepare for a football game:

“We’re all professionals and you have to be able to separate the off the field from the on field stuff and make sure when you’re at work it’s your main focus, but we’re human as well. The human element in this is that it’s on your mind, you’re thinking about it, you’re thinking about Joe, you’re going to miss Joe. If he’s not in this week, which nobody is expecting him to be in here, we want to make sure him and his wife and the family can have their time to go through their mourning and dealing with this knowing that we’re supporting him, praying for him and there. A lot of people have gone to see him over there. I’ve talked to him. What do you say to someone that lost their son in a tragic way like this? At 21, there are no words that I can say to comfort him. (I) just wanted him to know how much I care about him and Diane and the family and that I’m praying for him.

On the decision process that goes into deciding which products and companies to align himself with, and how it’s too time consuming to take on too many of these types of partnerships:

“I like to be selective. My time is important to me. These are fun to do, but it is like a work day — you’re going over lines, you’re changing outfits, you’re rehearsing with the crew. It’s not like you’re just hanging with the crew; you want it to be good. I want it to be good, I want it to be funny and to make sure that I’m representing myself well and the company that we’re working with. I want it to be good. But being compared to Peyton, that’s a high compliment because I think he’s hilarious, and I think his ads have been incredible. You know Saturday Night Live — which has shown some interest in me doing it — his performance was incredible on Saturday Night Live. Tough to match.”

Does anything change with their preparations for the Giants this time around after playing them not long ago late in the regular season:

“I think you want to keep it as normal as possible. So I’m in to my normal preparation for a Tuesday. I’ve watched plenty of film, and have had meetings with the coaches to talk about what we want to do. So I’m well into my preparation. We played them a few weeks ago, and they’re not doing a whole lot of stuff differently. They’re playing better. They’re playing better I’d say as a whole. The shut down the Falcons, took away the stuff they wanted to do, eliminated the big plays, did a great job on 3rd and 4th down — you know, some of those short plays they were able to stop them…big, momentum changing plays, so they’re playing well. They have a great group of guys that play well together and are very well-coached. I think they have the personnel they want, they’re executing the way they want to, they have a lot of guys that can rush the passer — Jason Pierre-Paul is one of the premier guys in the league, Just Tuck, Osi, Dave Tollefson, Canty, Kiwanuka — there’s a lot of guys that can get after the passer. The linebackers are playing well, the back end is playing well. I’m not sure what the status of Aaron Ross is with the concussion, but Corey Webster is one of the top corners in the league. They’ve got three safeties that they use in Phillips, Grant and Antrel Rolle. Antrel is a very versatile guy that can play up high, or he can play down in the slot in more of a corner position. So it’s going to be a tough test for us.”

Listen to Aaron Rodgers with Homer and Thunder on ESPN Radio Milwaukee

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