Back in November, with Aaron Rodgers just beginning a supernatural stretch of quarterback play that has the Green Bay Packers one victory away from the Super Bowl, he said something insightful during a conference call with media members who cover the Eagles.
Someone asked Rodgers about Carson Wentz's ability to change his arm angle to throw the ball accurately and with above-average velocity. It's a skill that Rodgers, arguably the most physically gifted quarterback in NFL history, had mastered long ago. It has been on full display during the Packers' eight-game winning streak, which started with a 27-13 victory over the Eagles on Nov. 28. And it was never more apparent than on that inconceivable 36-yard completion in the closing minutes of Green Bay's 34-31 win Sunday over the Cowboys, a play on which Rodgers rolled left and unleashed a perfect throw to tight end Jared Cook to set up the winning field goal.
"Part of it is natural," Rodgers said on that conference call. "But the other part is I would guess [Wentz] was a multisport athlete, just based on his athleticism and footwork and stuff."
He was right. Like Rodgers, Wentz had played basketball and baseball in high school, and you can see the residue of those sports' fundamentals and demands in the ways that Rodgers and Wentz play quarterback. Watch a replay of that pass to Cook. In the sequence, Rodgers resembled a shortstop who had flagged down an up-the-middle grounder and had to throw across his body to get the runner at first.
"With the different arm angles, that's baseball," said Rodgers, who over his last nine games has completed 68 percent of his passes and thrown 24 touchdowns _ and just one interception.
"I can see basketball helps with your footwork in the pocket and your movement and your base."
Rodgers' broader point was clear: At a time when more boys and girls are specializing in just one sport _ maybe out of pure enjoyment, maybe in the hopes of earning college scholarships or forging professional careers _ a diverse athletic background was still serving the NFL's best quarterback well. In fact, it was a primary reason he was now the standard-setter at his position, and it put the lie to the notion, common among so many parents with outsized ambitions for their children, that focusing on a single sport is the best path to becoming a pro.
The challenge for any young athlete, let alone one of Rodgers' talent, is to find the time to strike a balance among multiple sports. The professionalization of youth sports has become an accepted part of our culture, and the commitment required to pursue even one sport nowadays is often so expensive and time-consuming that it's difficult, if not impossible, to pursue more than one.
Nevertheless, the numbers are what they are. A Division I college football player has a 1.6% chance of having an NFL team draft him, according to the NCAA. A high school football player has a 0.09% chance of being drafted. Of course hard work and desire play a huge role in any athlete's success, but those who make it to a particular sport's highest level are so rare, so gifted, that there's no other conclusion to draw: You have it, or you don't. Either way, playing more than one sport, if possible, will be only a benefit.
"It definitely helped me because I learned different skills in different sports," Rodgers said, "and there are competitive things that run through all the sports. I was always drawn to being in positions where I had an impact on the game: point guard in basketball, pitcher in baseball, goalie or forward in soccer. I wanted to be in those premiere positions where you're having a direct impact on the game, and you learn a lot of skills along the way to take advantage of little nuances in the game. It helps.
"I think kids can get burnt out playing AAU basketball the entire year or traveling baseball the entire year. Football, we don't really have a ton of that, with the entire-year stuff. But I think it's going to be important for kids to not be as one-sport-centered as we move forward. ... You want to see guys who are playing multiple sports and have that competitiveness because a well-rounded athlete, I think, is going to be better with adversity. There's different adversity in every sport you're playing, and the more you're competing in different sports, the more you learn about yourself."