A half-century of Cal quarterbacks will be cheering for one of their own Sunday when Aaron Rodgers leads the Green Bay Packers against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.
"All Cal people, no question, are proud of him," Joe Kapp said.
None more so than Kapp, Craig Morton, Steve Bartkowski, Troy Taylor and Mike Pawlawski, who achieved quarterbacking excellence at Cal from the 1950s through the '90s.
They virtually swoon at Rodgers' accomplishments in his first three seasons as the starter in Green Bay: 86 touchdowns, more than 12,000 passing yards and a career passer rating of 98.4 that ranks No. 1 all-time in the NFL.
Rodgers has been better still in this postseason, completing nearly 71 percent of his attempts for 790 yards and six TDs in three road victories.
Bartkowski, the first overall pick in the 1975 NFL draft, believes Rodgers, at 27, has emerged as the game's best.
"Nobody can compare with the track record of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but this guy is right there at the same level," said Bartkowski, a two-time Pro Bowl pick for the Atlanta Falcons. "He makes throws I don't think anyone else can make. If they were all in the same age class, I wouldn't trade Aaron Rodgers for either one of those guys."
Morton, an All-American at Cal in 1964 who went on to play 18 NFL seasons, is not surprised by anything Rodgers has done. Morton attended Rodgers' pro day for NFL scouts six years ago and said, "It
Taylor, who played two seasons with the New York Jets after setting Cal's career passing record in 1989, said it may not be fair, but quarterbacks are judged by championships.
"If he wins this game," Taylor said, "he will be compared to those guys."
If he wins this game, he'll be the first Cal quarterback to emerge victorious from a Super Bowl.
Morton had two chances, first with the Dallas Cowboys against the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V, then with the Denver Broncos against the Cowboys in Super Bowl XII. He lost both.
"Everybody handles it different," Morton said of the pressure that comes with America's biggest sporting event. "The first one, you're nervous as hell. The second one, you're nervous as hell.
"I'm very happy I got to play in a couple of them, but the losses are not real pleasant. If you don't win the Super Bowl, it's like you haven't won a game the entire year."
Kapp quarterbacked Cal to its most recent Rose Bowl appearance in 1959, then honed his game for eight years in the Canadian Football League before returning home. In his third NFL season, he led the Minnesota Vikings to Super Bowl IV, where they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs.
"My advice to him?" Kapp said. "Saddle up and set the tempo. You're as prepared as you're ever going to be."
Rodgers' predecessors at Cal are split on whether Rodgers is better prepared because he spent three seasons as Brett Favre's understudy.
Morton, who didn't start until his fifth NFL season, said he benefited from observing the late Don Meredith. Taylor argued the speed of the pro game is too much for most quarterbacks directly out of college.
Pawlawski, who led Cal to back-to-back bowl games in 1990 and '91, knows Rodgers suffered when he slipped from the top of the 2005 NFL draft all the way to No. 24. Later, he told Rodgers it could turn out to be the best thing for him.
"It gave him time to learn. He understands the game, which makes it easier to get outside the game when things break down," Pawlawski said. "That's when he makes huge plays."
Kapp scoffs at the theory, suggesting the only thing that prepared Rodgers for Green Bay was growing up in Chico.
"He's a player. He doesn't belong on the bench with that kind of talent," Kapp said.
Bartkowski, who started 11 games for the Falcons as a rookie, agrees. "I think he could have been ready much earlier than he was," he said. "He's a very cerebral guy, a quick learner."
Rodgers is there now, and Pawlawski said it's up to the Packers to make sure he has the help to stay at the top.
"Joe Montana isn't Joe Montana without the team around him," Pawlawski said. "That's the key."
Bartkowski predicts a high-scoring Super Bowl.
"The Steelers defense is fantastic," he said, "but I don't think you can throw (Rodgers) a curveball he hasn't seen."
For Kapp, who played the game with equal parts grit and emotion, the intangibles he sees in Rodgers are as important as his physical gifts.
"With hi-def (TV), you can see right in the players' eyes. You can see into their soul," Kapp said. "It's in his eyes. He's a killer. He's all you want. There's nothing negative.
"I think Pittsburgh's in trouble."
Ex-Cal linebacker Desmond Bishop takes advantage of
his opportunity with the Packers. Page 5
A look at Aaron Rodgers' roots in Chico. Hear from those who knew him when he grew up there