Aaron Rodgers must have felt like a mischievous Mark Twain protagonist, hiding in the rafters to watch his own funeral. He saw the world bury his Packers and his perceived broken body. Friends welled up and true rivals reveled in the delight of personal gain.
In the end, it wasn’t he who was buried. He did the burying, in the form of a miraculous and unforgettable comeback on one leg. It was a virtuoso performance, the type everyone watching recognizes as transcendent as it’s happening. Nothing needs to be said. It’s a feeling, an undeniable feeling that permeates every cell.
It is why we watch sports.
In the afterglow, the content machine necessitates discussing whether Rodgers is the greatest quarterback of all-time. If he’s on par with Tom Brady. If he’s better than Favre. If Green Bay won or the Bears choked. Same stuff, different day.
And you know what? A subjective, unproductive, and divisive exercise is a messed-up way to savor the finest moments in sports. It’s unhealthy and antithetical to the goal. Sports are meant to be enjoyed, to touch a nerve, and inspire a feeling of unpredictable bliss. The plot twists and turns with no Calvinist determination.
The feeling Rodgers gave to all watching Sunday night is the true G.O.A.T. There is nothing better than to be a passenger on these rides, to go down uncertain waters of timeless memory in real time. We are the kids in the candy factory and the perfect drama is a mercurial Willy Wonka.
We don’t unbutton our pants after a delicious meal and litigate which chef is the most accomplished. We don’t stop after every song in a concert to argue over which musical artist sits atop the throne. We don’t analyze friendships at the expense of actual friendship.
Why then do we treat sports differently? Why are we so hung up on big-picture arguments with nebulous answers? Why do so many fail to realize that the G.O.A.T. of sports is what happens when we’re making other plans and creating other takes?
The sports G.O.A.T. is not there when the Michael Jordan-LeBron James debate happens. It’s there when the Bulls’ great hits six first-half three-pointers in the NBA Finals and the Cavaliers’ hometown hero completes a chase-down block. It’s not there when Cy Young credentials are placed on a split screen for pundits to weigh. It is there, though, when the Cubs and Indians go into extra inning in a World Series Game 7.
As far as quarterbacking goes, it’s not entirely important to decide right now (with so many data points yet to come) if Rodgers is the greatest. We can, however, agree to agree that the feeling and communal experience he created last night was as great as it gets. That feeling — the special feeling known to all by its radiating brilliance — is what we’re all chasing.
When it’s delivered, why not open it up and just enjoy what’s inside?