GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers was nowhere near Honolulu, Hawaii the week of the Pro Bowl in February 2008. Then the Green Bay Packers' backup quarterback -- with all of seven games of reserve duty to his credit -- he was still a relative unknown.
At least he was to those who had not seen him practice every day.
But it was during the week leading up to the NFL's annual all-star game that the Packers coaching staff -- assigned to lead the NFC squad by virtue of their loss to the New York Giants in the conference championship game -- that Mike McCarthy and his then-offensive coordinator Joe Philbin began to realize fully what they had in Rodgers.
As they watched the Pro Bowl quarterbacks -- Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys, Matt Hasselbeck then of the Seattle Seahawks and Jeff Garica then of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Brett Favre passed on his invitation) were on the NFC squad, while Peyton Manning then of the Indianapolis Colts, Ben Roethelisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Derek Anderson then of the Cleveland Browns were on the AFC side -- their feelings about Rodgers were reinforced.
"I remember the Pro Bowl, before Aaron ever started a game, and watching guys throwing the ball," Philbin recalled Wednesday during a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field. "And [I remember] just thinking to myself, 'Geez, we've got a guy that hasn't really played, but it certainly looks like he can throw the ball like some of these guys' that were there."
Ninety-two game appearances later, Philbin's impression of Rodgers has been proven correct time and again. As Rodgers prepares for his 100th career NFL game on Sunday, it will come against Philbin, the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
And in preparing to face his old quarterback, Philbin sees many of the same attributes in Rodgers that he saw when he was his offensive coordinator in Green Bay from 2007-11.
"When he started playing, I think the big thing about him that from Day 1 is he's a professional and he knows what he's doing," Philbin said. "He takes the time to prepare extremely well. Those things, aside from the obvious physical skills that he has, I think that's what's really separated him and helped him develop into the player that he's become."
In Rodgers’ 99th game Thursday against the Minnesota Vikings, he reached 200 touchdowns for his career. Only one player, former Dolphins great Dan Marino, needed fewer games to hit that mark (Marino did it in 88). And no one in NFL history had fewer interceptions at the time they reached 200 touchdown passes than Rodgers, who had just 53.
Lest you think Philbin was exaggerating the conversation he and the Packers' coaches had at that Pro Bowl, McCarthy corroborated the story.
"That's really what happens to you when you go to the Pro Bowl," McCarthy said. "My first year in the league was 1993, and I can remember [then Chiefs coach] Marty Schottenheimer distinctly telling me, 'Hey kid, make sure you pay attention to these players when you're over here this week because these are the best of the best,' and to see what a top-flight tight end or linebacker and so forth [looks like].
"And we were talking about that, Joe [and I] were comparing our players to the other players at the Pro Bowl, and obviously Aaron’s name came up and we felt very confident about him."