Green Bay mural captures Packers fans feelings after Aaron Rodgers trade – Sports Illustrated

How One Mural Captures the Complicated Feelings About Aaron Rodgers Leaving Green Bay

Another Hall of Fame quarterback may be gone, but the city’s passionate support of the Packers is not. Checking in with fans at an inflection point.

Sometimes words tell only part of the story. In this case, the essence of a story resides on an exterior rear brick wall of a bar at 301 South Broadway in Green Bay.

An hour after reports emerged that the Packers and Jets had agreed to an Aaron Rodgers trade, Beau Thomas went to Old School Bar and walked around back, armed with black paint and a roller. Within a few minutes, Thomas had erased his own monument to Rodgers entitled King of the North, one of his two-dozen downtown murals and the only one of a Packers player.

“I was ready for the mural to be gone a lot earlier than it was,” Thomas says. “It was a risky thing to do. I’ve seen a lot of hate for it online. Giving the guy a crown and calling him king in the first place, people can judge that and question the artist and the intent. I was ready to put that one behind me, honestly.”

For two years, Rodgers had been glorified in this cramped, quiet alleyway. Now his image was gone, just as the quarterback would be from the town that saw him turn from boy to man, from backup to champion.

For Green Bay, another winter had passed. The snow had melted, the leaves were green and on the sunny late-May Monday morning I arrived, the world was beginning once again for the NFL’s tiniest town.

The Packers were holding their first OTA of the season, and in Titletown, that’s the true New Year’s Day.

Driving to a SpringHill Suites evokes the memory of Packers luminaries. The GPS tells me to turn onto Lombardi Avenue. Along the right side of the street, Lambeau Field towers over the city. To the left, there are green and yellow fences separating lawn from road, celebrating the team that has made Wisconsin’s third-largest city so famous. Then it’s a right onto Holmgren Way before a left on Brett Favre Pass. Then, a quick right onto Tony Canadeo Run.

Welcome to Green Bay.

Inside the hotel, there’s the Packers’ home schedule on the front desk, printed out in color. Behind the clerk is an open door to the manager’s office. There’s a full-size Packers flag hanging on the wall.

The standard rate? It ranges, but rooms were just booked this morning for $109. This week, rooms are made available during the NFL season. Want to stay the night before or after a Packers home game? No problem. That’ll be $699, please.

The point of this trip is to find out a simple truth: How do Packers fans in Green Bay feel about everything they’ve endured this offseason? Turns out, the truth is far from simple.

“My feelings are hurt just a little bit because of the way it’s been handled,” says Lawanna Lambert, a lifelong Packers fan who moved to Green Bay two years ago. “I think Aaron deserves a lot more respect than he’s been given. Look what he’s given to not only himself but the community. He loves Green Bay. He’s never said anything negative about Green Bay. He loved it here and wanted to retire here. Some of the negativity that I feel is kind of rolling down from the top. I’m not wild about that.”

Lambert then mentions the mural of Rodgers being defaced and destroyed. And that’s where the story truly takes shape.

Old School is the type of place you must be looking for to find.

It has an exterior facing of tan brick and brown stucco, with the front door propped open by an empty stool at the entrance.

Inside, it’s the everyman’s haunt. The biggest frills are three old pool tables and an electronic dartboard. Against the back wall are slots, begging to take your money. It has enough neon-lighted beer signs to take down the national power grid.

It’s a place where men walk in twirling hammers, a disco ball collects dust above the bartender and a frosted Christmas tree is leaning against an empty corner in May, and nobody notices any of it.

It’s also where Rodgers’s presence was spiritually and figuratively removed.

For Thomas, the decision was easy. The trade had commenced, and Rodgers got his wish. Within an hour of the long-rumored deal finally coming to fruition on April 24, Thomas painted over the controversial mural, one which in August had been defaced by someone painting red lips on Rodgers with the words “Lil Bitch” added on the side.

After the wall was turned to black, Thomas returned days later to commission a new piece. The replacement featured a large skull with colorful flowers in the background, with the message rooted within.

“I did want to paint that design, separate from all this Aaron Rodgers news,” Thomas says. “It just fits with here being an open spot. We’re dealing with the loss of something and the whole theme of death and grieving. For Packers fans who need to grieve, that’s a mural they can look to and kind of see some new growth with those flowers.”

A quick walk to the stadium shows that while the Packers will look differently without Rodgers, the support for them will not.

While the team is loosening up on its secluded practice field outside the Don Hutson Center, a young couple is laying belly-down on the concrete sidewalk, trying to catch the smallest glimpse of their heroes under the view-blocking pads adorning the fence.

A few more steps and across Oneida Street is Lambeau Field, along with a few people waiting next to the fence separating public space from the players parking lot. One of these fans is a 55-year-old retiree named Sandy Gutting.

Gutting has been a fan since the late 1980s, spawned by her husband’s love of the Packers. She’s seen the Brett Favre glory days, its sour ending and now the same cycle with Rodgers.

“I know a lot of people are bitter against Aaron,” Gutting says. “I’m different. I look at this as it takes two to tango. There’s got to be fault on both sides. I kind of feel like the organization, he’s your franchise quarterback. He’s your man. Your MVP. Touch base with him, treat him with respect, put out more effort. You can fly out there and see him, so you know there’s a way to get hold of him. I know many people are really negative toward Aaron, but I don’t. I 100 percent love him. I wish we still had him.”

Her son, Philip, feels similarly. When the Gutting family moved to Green Bay a decade ago, his only request was to be within walking distance of the stadium. They ended up 0.7 miles away, giving the now 24-year-old his wish even during the harsh winters.

The Guttings are waiting for players to walk by, ranging from stars to the undrafted free agents. They hope to snag an autographed photo, and are willing to wait hours under the cloudless sky. All the while, Philip is still steamed with the organization, the one with its emblem tattooed on his right biceps.

“I think the Packers front office did a disservice to him,” Philip says. “His whole career, as far as I remember, we only had a top-10 defense one time. Considering we draft defense in the first round pretty much every season, I feel like … you can have a top-10 more than one time.”

Research shows Green Bay had four top-10 defenses over Rodgers’s tenure, but only twice since winning Super Bowl LV. Incredibly, the Packers fielded the league’s worst unit in 2011, when Rodgers led them to a 15–1 record while capturing the first of his four MVP honors, before being upset by the Giants in the divisional round.

Still, Philip’s point is a fair one. During Rodgers’s time as a starter, the Packers had 16 first-round picks, and spent 13 of them on defenders. The others were quarterback Jordan Love, and tackles Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod.

Over the past two years, general manager Brian Gutekunst has finally begun stocking up on young pass catchers. The Packers took receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs in the second and fourth rounds, respectively, in 2022, before nabbing tight ends Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft on Day 2 this April, along with wideouts Jayden Reed in the second round and Dontayvion Wicks in the fifth.

Still, with Love taking over as the starter in his fourth season, there’s an air of uncertainty.

“Normally when you buy tickets, you’re like, Oh God, this is going to be a great year, you know?” Sandy Gutting says. “It’s Aaron Rodgers; it’s going to be a great year. This year, I’m buying these tickets, and we could be going to games where we’re way out of it. But yet I still love the team and I support it. I wanted to get tickets for the season, no matter what. But it’s definitely like you’re going into it saying this could be bad.”

For 31 seasons, the Packers have been helmed by first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Now it’ll be Love, a 2020 first-round pick from Utah State who has thrown a grand total of 83 NFL passes, with one pro start to his name.

Green Bay is entering uncharted territory. Yet almost universally among the many fans Sports Illustrated spoke to for this story, there was a palpable sense of relief mixed with longing.

“Of course I wish Rodgers was still here,” Lambert says. “That’s a natural feeling for me. I support Jordan. Go get it; I hope he can do it. He has some big shoes to fill. Favre, then Rodgers—he’s got a lot he’s stepping into. I hope he’s the man who can take it because some people can’t handle that.”

“It’s really going to be tough, not watching him play for us every Sunday,” says Kirby Katers, a 24-year-old Packers fan with season tickets. “Obviously he’s still a great player, and I wish the best for him, but we’ve got to stick with what we have. We have to see what the Packers’ offense is going to look like. [Rodgers] called a lot of plays; he had a lot of pull in the offense. It’ll be nice to see what [Matt] LaFleur’s plan is.”

For the past three years, talk raged locally and nationally about Rodgers’s future. Now that’s over, for better or worse.

“It’s really hard,” Gutting says. “I understand it was coming when they drafted Jordan Love, and I’m all behind Jordan Love. I just kind of feel bad about it. I feel like it wasn’t handled in the greatest manner. I understand Aaron being upset, and it feels like we’ve been down this road before. It feels like the Brett Favre thing all over again. … I hope we do really well. I also hope Aaron Rodgers does really well because I 100 percent feel like he deserves to.

“I would have loved to keep him forever, in all honesty.” Love will finally get his chance to take over this season. He has big shoes to fill.

Of course, nothing lasts forever.

At 301 South Broadway, the murals brighten a dingy alley, but Rodgers’s face is no longer among them.

Like almost everyone else interviewed, Thomas is still rooting for Rodgers, even hoping he wins another title. He’s thankful for the 18 years, seasons he literally had a front-row seat to with his family’s tickets. Thomas wonders where it went wrong but is now more concerned about Love and the future, hoping more stable days are ahead.

For now, he and the rest of Green Bay can look at the skull and flowers where Rodgers once was and see what they’d like.

“There’s some strong emotion there with his image and identity with the city,” Thomas says. “I definitely still love Aaron Rodgers as a player. It just seemed like the right time.

“No time like the present to paint over that one.”

Source: Green Bay mural captures Packers fans feelings after Aaron Rodgers trade – Sports Illustrated

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