Putting the photographic memory of Packers QB Aaron Rodgers to the test

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(After his team's thrilling divisional playoff win last Sunday in Dallas, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was asked an obvious question. Was his 35-yard pass to tight end Jared Cook -- the stunning, across-his-body sideline rope that put the Packers in position for the winning field goal -- the best throw of his career? "No," Rodgers said immediately, shaking his head. "I've made better ones." This was not a moment of reflexive humility. Rodgers has a photographic memory, as we first wrote about in September, and has undoubtedly stored away a visual catalog of what he considers his best throws. As the Packers prepare for the NFC Championship Game, it's worth recalling one of Rodgers' many unique attributes.) -- Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- They're all in there, tucked neatly away, deep inside Aaron Rodgers' brain. The Green Bay Packers quarterback -- the NFL's best QB, in my view -- doesn't simply produce elite-level plays on a weekly basis. He remembers them. All of them. Down to their finest details.

Amid a sea of well-known attributes -- intelligence, mobility and a precision arm among them -- Rodgers' most underappreciated trait might be a photographic memory. He can recount the circumstances, decisions and sequences of events for virtually every significant football play of his life.

Rodgers has put this recall on display in other arenas, most notably by winning a celebrity version of the television game show "Jeopardy." In a recent interview, he admitted he occasionally has baffled childhood friends by producing play-by-play of their middle school basketball games.

His football memory, however, is perhaps the most organic illustration of the way he sees the field and of the organized manner by which he processes the information. Retired quarterback Kurt Warner, whom Rodgers might one day follow into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, considers it a byproduct of the way all high-level quarterbacks play the game.

"There are only a handful of guys that have played the position at that kind of level," Warner said. "The great ones have the ability to focus and tune everything else out and see more than the others. Average quarterbacks have tunnel vision. They see what's in front of them. The better you get, the more that tunnel expands and the more guys on the field you see. Guys like Aaron, they see it all in a methodical way, and it's almost as if it happens so slowly that it has time to get etched in their brains."

Rodgers said the skill is about nothing more than remembering "the things that are most important to you" and considers it a function of his perfectionist nature.

"You want to be perfect," he said, "and a lot of those moments are either close to perfect or they're pretty far away."

I was intrigued enough this summer to put together a list of plays from Rodgers' football life, dating back to his high school years. After a late-August training camp practice, he set aside 15 minutes to run through as many of them as we could. I gave him as little information as possible and asked few follow-up questions to demonstrate what Rodgers saw and still remembers from these moments.

What follows are the best seven answers he gave.

Rodgers debated the year of one play I mentioned and was fuzzy on the pre-snap formation of another, but otherwise provided extraordinary and accurate details from long-ago events.

Come take a look inside the mind of Aaron Rodgers:

30-yard TD run in Lions All-Star Game (Northern California)

Date: Aug. 3, 2002 | Site: Shasta College Memorial Stadium, Redding, California

Of note: Rodgers' eyes lit up at the first mention of a play that took place more than 14 years ago, a couple of months after he graduated from high school. You'll see why.

Prompt: You had a long run in a high school all-star game (58 seconds into the video above) ...

Rodgers: It was a third-and-10, and they brought six [rushers]. They brought both [outside] guys. We had four receivers, so we didn't have it picked up. I just kind of dropped back. Since they brought six, it was man-to-man on the outside. The middle came open. I dashed up the middle, cut to my left, made a guy miss, got a couple blocks and ended up scoring in the left end zone.

The reason that play is so meaningful to me is that it was the first game that I played in two years without a knee brace on. I hurt my knee in high school, and I wanted to take off my brace to see if I'd built up my knee enough to protect my ACL that I had hurt in my sophomore year in high school. That play meant a lot to me.

22-yard TD pass to Butte College TE Garrett Cross

Date: Oct. 12, 2002 | Site: Shasta College Memorial Stadium, Redding, California

Of note: A three-star recruit in high school, Rodgers received no FBS scholarship offers, so he went to Butte College, a community college in Northern California, for one year. In a 48-21 Butte victory over Shasta, Rodgers threw six touchdown passes. After taking a moment, he listed all six in the correct order. Local newspaper reports of the game corroborate his account.

Prompt: You threw a touchdown pass against Shasta where you rolled out and your knees started to buckle ...

Rodgers: Oh, yeah. I remember my legs buckling on that one, but I hit Garrett for a touchdown. Shasta was our main rival, and they talked a lot of trash that week in the paper, so we came out and threw six touchdowns against them. I think that one to Garrett was the first one. Then I hit Bobby Bernal. Then I hit Garrett again. Then I hit Bobby on "Syracuse" and then Garrett again on "Oregon," which was a backside corner route. Then I hit Leyland Henry, he was No. 6, on a little fly pattern out of the backfield.

61-yard TD pass to Butte College WR Mark Onibokun

Date: Dec. 7, 2002 | Site: Butte College, Oroville, California

Of note: This play, in the 2002 Holiday Bowl against San Joaquin Delta College, came in Rodgers' final junior college game before he transferred to California.

Prompt: You threw a long touchdown down the middle for Butte to No. 6 at around the time you announced a transfer to Cal ...

Rodgers: That was called "44 Drop Pass" with a deep cross, a shallow cross and Mark in the post. You just kind of read it high to low there. I stood in there and got hit right after I threw it. That was a fun one, because it was against Delta in the bowl game. We got screwed out of going to the North State All-Star game, because no one liked us up in Butte, because we beat everybody's asses.

31-yard pass to Packers WR Greg Jennings in Super Bowl XLV

Date: Feb. 6, 2011 | Site: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Of note: Rodgers delivered the ball through the tiniest of windows for a third-down conversion late in the fourth quarter that allowed the Packers to run more time off the clock.

Prompt: The third-down pass to Greg in the Super Bowl ...

Rodgers: I knew that was an important drive for us. And [coach] Mike [McCarthy], on that third-and-10, called a base pass we've run a hundred times: "27 Tampa" with Greg down the middle. The No. 2 [receiver] is running a basic cross. The No. 1 is outside running a shallow cross. We actually hit that in practice during the week. I didn't expect [Steelers cornerback] Ike Taylor to be in there on that play. And he had excellent coverage.

He actually partially tipped the ball, but not enough to alter its trajectory. I came up in rhythm and threw a ball I had thrown 100 times before in practice and in drill work. So that's the beauty of football sometimes. Mike and I talk about it. The simplest plays are the best ones. That's one that goes in on install Day 1 for us, and we run it with pretty good efficiency for the most part. Greg did a nice job on that route, and I put the ball exactly where we needed it. Ike literally got the end of his finger on it. Greg would have scored if he didn't. That would have been sweet.

Interception by New York Giants LB Chase Blackburn

Date: Dec. 4, 2011 | Site: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey

Of note: As the Giants' middle linebacker, Blackburn was assigned to cover the deep middle. In this instance, he covered the wrong receiver -- who happened to be Rodgers' read based on play design and the coverage -- and intercepted the pass. Rodgers has the lowest interception percentage (1.6) among qualified quarterbacks in NFL history.

Prompt: The time Chase Blackburn covered the wrong guy ...

Rodgers: [Backup QB] Matt Flynn used to always tease me about Chase being my nemesis. That week, they signed him off the street and he picked me off on "Fox 2 Knife." I think that's what the play was. There was Randall [Cobb] running down the middle and then Greg running kind of a cross route behind him. I threw it to Greg, and Chase just fell right into it. It looked like I threw it right to him.

It definitely worked out for him. They were playing Tampa 2, and Chase was playing really low. We had a guy down the middle who I probably should have hit on the play, but Chase robbed the shorter route and picked it off.

39-yard TD pass to Packers WR Randall Cobb

Date: Oct. 21, 2012 | Site: Edward Jones Stadium, St. Louis

Of note: This play was an illustration of creativity and spontaneity that most viewers wouldn't recognize, one of the best examples of Rodgers' ability to turn free plays, when the defense has been called for a penalty, into big plays.

Prompt: A play in St. Louis where you rolled to your left and threw deep to Randall for a touchdown ...

Rodgers: That was a great one. The beauty in that one was that there was no playcall. I think I was going to call a timeout. I was letting the play clock wind down. We had no play on, basically. We're trying to get to the line of scrimmage, and I know I'm just going to call a timeout, because the headset kind of went down.

And I did a bunch of leg kicks to Jeff Saturday, who was at center at the time, to try to get [the Rams] to jump. I saw Chris Long actually jump. Robert Quinn kind of rushed inside on the left side. I rolled out. I looked outside. I think Donald Driver might have been outside to the left. I got my feet set at the last minute. And then I threw it inside to Randall, who made a great catch. That put us up 14 at the time. It was a big play for us. That was a fun one. There was no playcall on that one, which made it fun.

Editor's note: The game's official box score listed defensive lineman Kendall Langford as the offending player, but a film review of the play revealed that Long jumped as well.

34-yard TD pass to Packers WR Davante Adams
(nullified by a penalty)

Date: Sept. 28. 2014 | Site: Soldier Field, Chicago

Of note: A top 10 in NFL history of plays that didn't count.

Prompt: A play two years ago when you threw a touchdown pass to Davante just before you got crushed, and then it got called back ...

Rodgers: I still give [center] Corey [Linsley] a hard time about it, because one of the best plays in my entire career is wiped away because he is so damn strong. He got his grips on a guy, and the guy just fell down. The play was basically a scramble-adjust. It was one of those escapes in the pocket where I stepped up, went right, left, up, and then just got it off as I got my legs taken out from underneath me. Davante was running a post on the backside, and he just adjusted to the corner, and I saw him and was able to get just enough on it. I got up off the ground and was so pumped. I couldn't believe what just happened. The ball was just floating in the air, and then it ends up in Te's hands.

Then I saw the flag. I was just hoping it was hands to the face or something. So I still give Corey a hard time about that.