ATLANTA -- The hug lasted a good 10 seconds, long enough for tears to flow.
Those around Aaron Rodgers and Alex Van Pelt let them have their moment on the sideline in Dallas last Sunday, when the Green Bay Packers quarterback and his position coach were locked in an air-tight embrace after Mason Crosby’s game-winning field goal put them into Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the Atlanta Falcons.
Among those who waited to jump in was offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett, who understood the meaning of that moment between a player and his coach -- and not just any player or any coach. The bond between Rodgers and Van Pelt is as strong as any inside 1265 Lombardi Ave.
“It’s huge,” Bennett said.
And he may have understated it.
Will Aaron Rodgers and Alex Van Pelt have another embrace after the NFC Championship Game like they did last Sunday in Dallas? pic.twitter.com/43sIvJ0bRZ— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) January 22, 2017
“It’s clearly one of the most important relationships in our football program,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, a former quarterbacks coach himself. “They spend a lot of time together, both on and off the field. It’s the meeting time, the film study, all the little things, the conversations at night. Because I mean, this doesn’t just stop at 5 o’clock.”
Rodgers’ first quarterbacks coach as a pro was Darrel Bevell in 2005, but he has always credited Tom Clements (his QB coach from 2006-11) as one of the most influential people in his development. However, he has grown closest to Van Pelt, who was promoted to the position in 2014 after Ben McAdoo left to join the New York Giants.
“I just have a lot of respect for him,” Rodgers said this week. “As a coach, as a person, as a confidant.”
Van Pelt was the first of Rodgers’ quarterbacks coaches who played the position at the highest level; he spent nine seasons with the Buffalo Bills, mostly as Jim Kelly’s backup.
The 46-year-old Van Pelt, who is sometimes confused with McCarthy because of their similar builds and beards, often comes across as self-deprecating about his playing career, which included just 11 starts. Earlier this season, when Rodgers was in the midst of a personal record streak of consecutive passes without an interception -- one that ended at 318 last Sunday against the Cowboys -- Van Pelt was asked about his longest stretch without an interception. He quipped: “Like five minutes probably.”
Nevertheless, Rodgers said earlier in his career that he would like a position coach who played in the league, and he finally got one in Van Pelt.
“He’s a great game-day manager, giving me exactly what I need and nothing more,” Rodgers said. “He cares about it. The guy puts a lot of work into it. He’s a great coach. There’s no reason why his name shouldn’t be out there for coordinator spots right now, but he’s done a great job for us. And he and I have become very close.”
Actually, there’s at least one reason his name hasn’t been out there: Van Pelt is under contract through next season, which means the Packers can block him from interviewing with teams interested in him as an offensive coordinator. Only assistants with expiring contracts can interview for such a job without their teams being able to block them. Most Packers assistants work under two-year rollover contracts, so Van Pelt would have to decline the rollover this offseason to essentially become a free agent after next season. It’s what McAdoo did, which allowed him to leave for the Giants' offensive coordinator job that he parlayed into the head-coaching job.
Rodgers’ counterpart on Sunday, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, understood the moment last Sunday in Dallas when he saw it captured on the Fox game broadcast. “The majority of your time spent in the building working is with your position coach,” Ryan said of his position coach, Matt LaFleur.
In Green Bay, that usually means at least 10 hours a day together at Lambeau Field. Packers quarterbacks report for their first meeting of the day at 7 a.m., and they usually end the day with Van Pelt after 5 p.m. The only break typically comes during the lunch hour.
“Sometimes we even eat lunch with him,” Packers backup quarterback Brett Hundley said. “We’re with him all day, every day.”
And that’s why Hundley said he wasn’t surprised by how Rodgers and Van Pelt reacted after Sunday’s win over the Cowboys or that he noticed some tears of joy.
“It’s an awesome relationship that they have,” Hundley said. “Great chemistry between them. They’re like best friends.”