FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Aaron Rodgers‘ new teammates on the New York Jets have spent a week getting to know him — on and off the field — and they don’t mind admitting they’re awed by his presence.
Linebacker Quincy Williams, 26, said he was “starstruck” upon seeing his new quarterback for the first time on the practice field.
Wide receiver Garrett Wilson, 22, did a double take when he saw the four-time MVP in the weight room, saying, “This is something 20 years from now, 30 years from now, I’ll tell my kids: ‘I played with Aaron Rodgers.'”
Guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, 23, said the sight of Rodgers in the huddle created “a surreal feeling.”
Cornerback Sauce Gardner, 22, sat next to Rodgers on celebrity row at the New York Knicks‘ playoff game Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, rubbing elbows with Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan and Dave Chappelle.
“Everybody knew who he was,” Gardner said of Rodgers, sharing the moment with reporters Wednesday on a Zoom call. “I was able to be in his shadow a little bit. It was a great feeling.”
These are some of the brightest young stars on the Jets, yet they seemed a bit overwhelmed by Rodgers’ arrival in New York.
Rodgers, whose trade to the Jets became official last Wednesday, has remained in New Jersey instead of returning home to California. He didn’t participate in voluntary workouts in recent years with the Green Bay Packers, but he’s breaking from his norm as he tries to get acclimated with his new team.
He has raised the energy level — and expectation level — around the Jets, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2010, the NFL’s longest active postseason drought.
“We expect to compete with everyone in the league, beat everyone in the league, be one of the better teams in the league,” said Wilson, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. “We expect to do that. I’d be lying if I said we have someone of Aaron Rodgers’ pedigree and the expectation doesn’t go up a little bit.
“We know what comes with it. We know, all of a sudden, eyes are on us, and we have to back it up every time we take the field, practice or game. We’re excited to prove that every week. With what we know we have, we’re excited to prove that to the world every week.”
The Jets haven’t had a true star quarterback since 2008, when Brett Favre — Rodgers’ predecessor in Green Bay — started for one season, then bolted.
Rodgers is soaking up his New York arrival, having attended three sporting events at the Garden and getting plenty of face time on the giant video screen. He has received a rousing ovation each time. The New York Mets have asked him to throw out the first pitch in a game, he said Tuesday on “The Pat McAfee Show.”
Gardner and Rodgers dined in Manhattan before the Knicks game — Rodgers picked up the check — and sat among the stars courtside. Gardner said Rodgers, 39, teased him about his age throughout the game.
“He was picking on me for being young,” said the 22-year-old Gardner, the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. “We were getting seated, and he was like, ‘We’re about to sit by Jessica Alba.’ I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know who that is.’ He looked at me like I’m crazy.”
On the practice field, Gardner can’t help but stare at his new quarterback.
“I always catch myself watching him, watching how smooth he looks and how it makes it look effortless,” Gardner said.
When he looked over and saw Rodgers, Williams took a second to digest the moment. “I ain’t gonna lie to you: I was starstruck a little bit,'” Williams said. “I was like, ‘Hold on, Coach, let me just take a little minute to just take this in,’ just to watch a few throws and seeing him in the green.”