Rodgers should play

Column: RICK SOLEM
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Aaron Rodgers won’t play Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. Tuesday, tests revealed he hadn’t healed enough from his broken clavicle and the team doctors ruled him out.

The “team doctors,” which kind of makes you wonder. Rodgers, of course, says he wants to play. Of course he wants to play. So do I. I'd like to play. It's easy to just say the right thing.

“I desperately want to be back on the field, and that’s been my stance from the beginning,” Rodgers, 30, said on his weekly radio show. “If I’m healthy, I want to be on the field. Would hate to be in a situation where we’re out of it, but this is my team. I’m the leader of this team, and I want to be out there.” 

He also said, "When I'm ready to play, and everyone is on board, then I'm going to play."

The last part of that sentence is interesting. 

Green Bay is 0-4-1 without Rodgers. Speculation, now, is he won’t play again this year, especially if they lose Sunday. I think that’s a mistake on so many levels.

One would argue that, barring how the standings play out, there’s no point in Rodgers coming back to the Green Bay Packers this year, risking further injury and jeopardizing his long-term future with no playoff hopes in sight.

I have a few problems with this. 

One, fans have already paid to see Rodgers. They can’t return their tickets for a refund.

If he’s healthy, he should play. He’s a professional. And, his $22 million salary is the highest in the NFL. He has an obligation to the fans, who have paid to sit miserably at Lambeau Field to watch. (It’s going to be 10 degrees and snowing, while sitting on an aluminum bench, people. Sounds awesome. Feels miserable. Unless you’re drinking, I suppose. You know, hot chocolate.).

But if he’s healthy yet not going to play, give the fans their money back and slash ticket prices.

Aside from fandom and money, the other reason is a little more complicated, and based on the fact that there are no guarantees in life.

NO GUARANTEES

However the standings play out this week, there will still be a chance the Packers make the playoffs.

But I’m not going to try and speculate who is going to win and lose Sunday, or who the Lions and Bears – and the rest of the wildcard teams - play the rest of the way in gauging the Packers chances, because it’s the NFL and nobody knows anything about who’s going to win – even in Week 14.

He should play, because there’s a chance and he may never get that chance again.

Sound silly, the Packers not vying for a playoff position again next year?

Ask Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, 28, if that’s a silly assumption. Or, better yet, 37-year-old tight end Tony Gonzalez, who had retired after Atlanta was oh so close to the Super Bowl last year, but came back to make one last run.

The Falcons were a favorite to win it all this season. Instead, they’re 3-9.

Why are any of the starters playing for the Falcons? Why risk injury?

Here are a few more examples. 

DERRICK ROSE – Chicago Bulls

It’s May 6, 2013 and the Chicago Bulls just beat the Miami Heat in the first game of the second round of playoffs without star point guard Derrick Rose. 

Rose tore his left ACL on April 28, 2012 – 18 months before the series with the Heat.

Up to that point, Rose had been practicing in full with the team for two and a half months and was cleared by doctors to play. Some reports said he was dominating in practice, even.

But Rose never did suit up for the 2013 playoffs, and the Bulls lost the next four games to the Heat in a very competitive series. Two games were blowout Heat wins. The other two were 104-94 and 94-91 wins.

What if Derrick Rose, 25, had suited up?

But he didn’t. He wanted to be 100 percent ready to go for this season.

And, what happens to the all-star point guard, back, fully healthy and ready to dominate the NBA in 2013-14? He tears the meniscus in his right knee – not his left - a couple games into this season (Nov. 22), simply making a cut.

He’s, again, out for the season.

Rose may never be the same player that dominated the NBA. He may never lead a team into the playoffs again. He may never even make the playoffs again.

What was the point of practicing with his team for two and a half months last season, then watching them almost upset the Heat, while sitting healthy and idle on the sidelines?

STEPHEN STRASBURG – Washington Nationals

The Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg is one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball.

He lived up to the hype his rookie year (2010) with 92 strikeouts in just 68 innings before tearing the UCL in his right elbow.

The injury forced him to miss the rest of his rookie year and almost all of the 2011 season. When he came back at the end of 2011, he was, again, dominant, with 24 strikeouts in 24 innings and a ridiculous 1.50 ERA in five games.

In 2012, the Nationals were dominating. They had the best record (98-64) in all of baseball and were the favorites to win the World Series with a loaded pitching staff led by Strasburg.

Through 28 games, Strasburg had 197 strikeouts in just 159.1 innings and a 3.16 ERA. He was the team’s ace heading into the matchup with St. Louis.

He didn’t pitch.

The Nationals stuck with their plan to cap his innings that season and shut him down, despite his perfect health and their chances of winning it all.

Washington went on to lose 3-2 to St. Louis in the playoffs. The San Francisco Giants then needed all seven games to beat St. Louis, before sweeping the World Series over Detroit.

Starsburg, 25, came back the next season and pitched well again, but the Nationals were somewhat terrible.

Despite a 3.00 ERA and 191 strikeouts in 183 innings, Strasburg was just 8-9 and the Nationals were 10 games behind Atlanta in the division and missed the wild card – with the new format - by four games.

TAKE NOTHING FOR GRANTED

What is the point of sports, if not to win a championship?

If the two players could go back in time and play in the playoffs, I have no doubt they would. 

It appeared to be Rose’s choice to sit out the 2012 playoffs, but who knows.

It wasn’t Strasburg’s choice to be shut down. It’s very odd the Nationals didn’t make an exception, considering that was the first time they made the playoffs since 1981. What’s one more year after a 31-year drought?

Oh, there’s no guarantee you make the playoffs each year? Perhaps, they didn’t know, despite their putrid history.

There’s also no guarantee the player stays healthy, as is the case with Rose and could easily be the case with Strasburg and Rodgers at any point in time.

There are always injury risks, but there aren’t always playoff chances.

And, most importantly, there are always fans, who go out of their way, spending time and a lot of money to watch these professionals … pros that are paid quite ridiculously to put on a show.

So they should do it, put on a show and play the game.

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