LOS ANGELES (AP) — Aaron Rodgers is a major figure in Jared Goff’s earliest football memories.
While Goff was a little kid growing up in Marin County, his father took him to games at Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium, where he watched Rodgers’ collegiate brilliance for California.
That kid also got one of his first lessons in professional sports heartbreak when his favorite NFL team — the San Francisco 49ers — used the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft on Alex Smith instead of Rodgers.
“Yeah, 10-year-old Jared was very upset when he found out they didn’t take Aaron,” Goff said.
Once he grew up and filled out, Goff followed Rodgers’ path to Berkeley. And 3½ years after Goff became the No. 1 pick that Rodgers never was, they’ll face each other for the first time when Goff’s unbeaten Los Angeles Rams (7-0) host Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers (3-2-1) on Sunday.
A significant NFC showdown between the NFL’s last unbeaten team and a perennial power is also a meeting of a rising quarterback star and one of his heroes, still in his prime. Both Golden Bears are excited by the opportunity.
“I’ve followed his whole career,” Goff said. “Big fan of his. There are times where we’re watching him play against the defense (the Rams are supposed to be scouting), and you get stuck on watching him. He’s a great player. I’ve got a lot of respect for him, and it’ll be fun to get a chance to go against him.”
The feeling is mutual for the 34-year-old Rodgers as he leads the Packers back to the venerable Coliseum, where their storied franchise won the first Super Bowl in 1967.
“I’ve gotten to know Jared a little bit over the last couple years, and being a Cal guy, obviously I’m pulling for him,” Rodgers said.
“And he’s played really well. They’ve put a lot on his plate with (checkdowns) and stuff at the line of scrimmage, and he does a good job with that. He’s an accurate passer. He’s making good throws. He’s got some weapons to throw to, but he’s been extremely accurate and efficient with the ball. That’s what you need with the quarterback.”
Rodgers already has his own Coliseum memories: He tied an NCAA record by completing his first 23 passes for Cal against USC in their famous meeting in 2004, but the Trojans hung on for a 23-17 victory.
More things to watch in the Packers’ first appearance at the Coliseum since before the NFL left LA in 1994:
The Packers are coming off their bye week, but they opened as 8½-point underdogs for this matchup against the powerhouse Rams, who are 18-5 in the regular season since coach Sean McVay took over.
That’s the biggest betting disadvantage of Rodgers’ career as Green Bay’s starter, but nobody doubts Rodgers’ ability to overcome it — including the Rams.
“He’s got the ball placement, he’s got the arm, he’s got the competitive (attitude), he’s got the heart,” said Rams cornerback Marcus Peters, who also grew up in the Bay Area watching Rodgers at Cal. “Every time (Rodgers is) on that field for the Packers, they’ve got a good chance to win it.”
START ME UP
The Rams are off to their first 7-0 start since 1985. The franchise hasn’t started 8-0 since 1969, when NFL MVP Roman Gabriel led Los Angeles to an 11-0 start followed by four straight losses.
Packers linebacker Clay Matthews grew up in the Los Angeles suburbs, and he walked on at USC before becoming a star and a first-round NFL pick in 2009. He is playing at the venerable Coliseum for the first time since college.
So is Nick Perry, who played at USC from 2009-11. “It’ll be cool to go back out there, obviously,” Matthews said. “It will be different being in the opposing locker room.”
Goff aside, Green Bay’s defense must figure out how to slow running back Todd Gurley, who is putting up even more impressive numbers than he managed as the AP’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2017. Gurley leads the league with 88 points, 686 yards rushing, 144 carries and 956 yards from scrimmage. The Packers’ run defense is ranked 22nd in the league, giving up a hefty 4.5 yards per carry.
Cornerback Sam Shields made the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2010, and he was a steady defensive contributor until he incurred his fourth concussion in the 2016 season opener.
After nearly two years out of football, he joined the Rams this season . Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams says he consulted with Shields regularly about his health during his absence.
“At one point I was on the bandwagon with him, like, ‘Man, you need to call it quits,’” Williams said. “And on the other side, after he had some time off, his mind is cleared and he’s back mentally ready to go.”