REEN BAY, Wis – The new face of the Green Bay Packers in the post-Aaron Rodgers era is right there in the east parking lots of Lambeau Field for everyone to see, even if no one knows it.
“You’re f—in’ looking at him,” Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari recently jokingly said.
Perhaps not his face, but…
A billboard depicting a Packers player is affixed to the team’s practice facility.
“When you leave today and you see that … that’s David’s ass and hamstring,” Bakhtiari said. “Never, ever forget that.” That is the face of the franchise on that billboard up there. When you drive away from the Hutson Center, it is my hamstring and half of my ass.
“Aaron [Rodgers] has been everywhere. It’s now my time. “I told them, ‘Don’t even put my face in there, just my ass.”
Perhaps Bakhtiari hasn’t taken Interstate 41 from Milwaukee and locations south to Green Bay. If he had, he would have observed that the first evidence that the Packers are entering a new era is, in fact, a sign.
Actually, there are two of them.
A pair of billboards promoting Bergstrom Automotive, Wisconsin’s biggest auto dealership conglomerate, can be seen on the east side of the highway.
One of them features quarterback Jordan Love’s face.
For years, the billboards only showed one person: Aaron Rodgers.
Not long ago, there was a line of them by the side of the road, one after the other, all with the quarterback clearly displayed. For years, that tiny stretch of roadway less than an hour from Lambeau Field signaled to onlookers who the franchise’s face was.
When the Packers traded Rodgers to the Jets this summer, they lost their identity.
THREE ACTIVITIES INTO A NEW ERA, Love has showed indicators on and off the field that he may succeed. But if the new starting quarterback isn’t the franchise’s face right now, it’s feasible that this club doesn’t have one.
That’s one way to look at the situation now that Rodgers has left.
“With all the new faces, it’s going to be an interesting Packers season,” said Brian Lammi, president and CEO of Milwaukee-based sports marketing firm Team Lammi. “I feel like that hasn’t been the case for a while.”
Having a franchise face is vital in certain regions, Lammi said, where selling season tickets and goods isn’t guaranteed. With over 100,000 fans on the waiting list for season tickets and queues out the door at the team’s pro shop, more than 100 years of Packers tradition may not be enough.
“A lot of fans from afar do still appreciate the story of the Green Bay Packers because it’s so unique, in such a small community and not having an owner,” Lammi said. “I believe many fans across the country, if not the world, would rank Green Bay as one of their top three or four teams.” “I think there’s a lot of love for the Packers because it’s such a unique market.”
Tim Bergstrom, president and CEO of his last name’s vehicle dealership, claimed the firm didn’t hesitate to do business with Love. After all, it has had connections with every coach and quarterback since at least the early 1990s, when Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre were involved.
“We’ve gone through a lot more coaches than quarterbacks,” said Bergstrom.
However, firm management were unsure how to go with Love since they weren’t sure whether he was famous enough for a large billboard.
They were convinced when they saw how Love writes autographs with the love symbol instead of his last name.
“We literally had to put his signature up next to him to make sure people knew who he was when we first put the billboard up because we did some tests and asked, ‘Who is this?'” Bergstrom explained. “I think the world was so focused on our previous quarterback that he never had much airtime.”
LOVE HAS MOSTLY STAYED IN THE BACKGROUND IN THE THREE YEARS SINCE THE GREEN BAY PACKERS SELECTED HIM IN THE FIRST ROUND (No. 26 OVERALL) OF THE 2020 DRAW. But as soon as the Packers traded Rodgers, Love’s face began to appear everywhere.
“There’s a lot more opportunities that pop up and things like that,” Love said. “I try to keep the main thing the main thing, and I let people know that right now I’m trying to focus on football.” Clearly, I have a lot going on in my life. “I want to focus on football as I enter my first year as a starter and lock in on that.”
If Love, 24, has the potential to be a huge personality like Rodgers and Favre before him, he hasn’t shown it yet.
“The best thing I ever heard anybody say, and [former NFL QB] Matt Ryan told me that somebody told him, ‘Be one of the guys,'” said LaFleur. “And Jordan is one of them.
“He doesn’t pretend to be someone else. He is loyal to him. He’s an extremely kind person that all the guys love to be around. He has a more level temperament, which I believe benefits him since I see the same thing in the game. Will it now change? I’m sure that will change as he gains more experience. As we become older, we all change. He’s still a young guy.”
The longer Love stays on the job, the more he may become synonymous with the Packers. It was a start to lead the Packers to an 18-point fourth-quarter comeback victory against the Saints on Sunday. He has thrown seven touchdown passes and one interception in three games, including a running touchdown against the Detroit Lions (8:15 p.m. ET, Prime Video).
“Unless somebody absolutely explodes as a rookie, I think the marketability may trail the on-field accomplishments by close to a year,” Lammi said. “That may not be true for Jordan Love, but it takes a while for the average fan across the country to realize that this Green Bay Packer is now one of the stars.” That doesn’t happen after three, six, or nine games, in my opinion.”
Rodgers, like Love, spent three years as a backup before getting his moment. It took time for Rodgers’ personality to shine through, and for fans to understand that he was not Favre. Rodgers may not have been completely embraced as the franchise’s face until the 2010 season, his third as a starter. Favre was nearing the end of his career with the Minnesota Vikings at the time, while Rodgers was on his way to the Super Bowl.
However, it was clear from the outset of Rodgers’ first season as starter that he was here to stay. The Packers granted him a $65 million contract extension seven games into the 2008 season, making him the fourth-highest-paid quarterback after Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, and Ben Roethlisberger at the time.
Who is the face of a franchise if not a QUARTERBACK?
The Vince Lombardi-era Packers refer to all of the Pro Football Hall of Fame players who came from Green Bay teams in the 1960s, such as Bart Starr and Ray Nitschke.
Other instances of coaches serving as the face of a team include, among others, John Madden with the Oakland Raiders and Bill Parcells with the New York Giants. Coach Bill Belichick has definitely become the face of the New England Patriots since quarterback Tom Brady’s departure.
“When I first started this business 22 years ago, I only had clients in Tampa, Florida, and [quarterback] Brad Johnson was one of them,” Lammi said. “And [coach] Jon Gruden had a bigger following than Brad Johnson.” But, on the whole, I believe the players will be more popular.”
During their tenures as head coaches in Green Bay, Mike Holmgren and Mike McCarthy were larger-than-life characters, yet they were always eclipsed by their quarterbacks.
Until now, LaFleur has been the same.
LaFleur appeared in a local Super Bowl commercial as a teen who plays video games, shoots a can of silly string at the camera, and is learning to drive, all to promote a new teen program at Bellin Health, a healthcare system in Northeast Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
And the award for best acting by an NFL head coach in a Super Bowl commercial goes to …
“I couldn’t have done that a few years ago,” said LaFleur. “I’ve gotten a lot more, I don’t want to say ‘secure in myself’ because I’ve felt like I’ve always been true to myself, but just, I guess, more comfortable saying screw it.”
LaFleur’s young visage contributes to his popularity.
“I’ve heard people call Coach LaFleur dreamy,” added Lammi. “He’s absolutely marketable, but I don’t know if that would stay ahead of the quarterback.”
Some front offices may not want their coach to be in the limelight.
One high-ranking NFL official expressed worry when his head coach begins to be more popular than his players, citing the potential impact on the locker room.
Others have engraved themselves into the Packers’ identity in Green Bay’s locker room, most notably running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon.
Jones is not only one of the Packers’ longest-tenured players, but he has also openly exposed his background and family’s narrative to the point that when his father died in 2021, it was as if the whole Packers Nation mourned with him.
If Jones’ face does not symbolize the franchise, another portion of his body may. He even had the Packers’ iconic G tattooed on one of his legs this summer.
“I’d take honor in that,” Jones said when asked about becoming the Packers’ post-Rodgers face. “The G is really important to me. And we tell all of these people that you have to carry the G with you when you leave here. I like what the G represents: magnificence. I realize there’s a lot of responsibility involved, and I’m prepared for it.”
No one has been more ingrained in the fabric of Wisconsin than Dillon. He married a local and was dubbed the unofficial mayor of Door County, a renowned tourist attraction nearby, due to the many photos he uploads of himself when travelling there.
The issue for Jones and Dillon is that they may not live long enough to carry the flame. Running backs, unlike quarterbacks, seldom play into their 30s. Jones is 28 years old, while Dillon, who is just 25, is in the last year of his contract.
As for the Packers’ new identity, Rodgers may be more difficult to replicate off the field than on it.
“I know the National Football League is a big business, and they’re going to try to take that stuff and prop those stars up,” said Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst. “But to me it’s always been about the team.”