They say it takes 10 years to become a real New Yorker, but Aaron Rodgers seemed to earn his bona fides in just one summer. In March, after solemn contemplation at what he called a “darkness retreat” in Oregon, the 39-year-old announced, with pomp befitting his superlative N.F.L. résumé, his intentions to continue his career with the New York Jets, a young and hungry team whose otherwise first-rate roster happened to be missing a serviceable quarterback. The move took Rodgers from the league’s smallest market, in Green Bay, to its largest, and he leveled up accordingly, refashioning himself as a city boy. He purchased a $9.5 million home in the New Jersey suburbs, naturally, but treated a young teammate to dinner at Carbone in Greenwich Village. He sat courtside at Knicks games, next to Jessica Alba, and shopped downtown at Rag & Bone. He went to MetLife Stadium for Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour and later visited the Gershwin Theater to see “Wicked.” And the Jets, newly hyped as Super Bowl contenders, were selected to be featured on the 18th season of the all-access series “Hard Knocks,” ensuring that HBO cameras would be on site to document the early days of his tenure in the Meadowlands.
Indeed, to have watched Rodgers storm out of the tunnel on Sept. 11 at the team’s season opener, brandishing an American flag like the Marines at Iwo Jima, was to understand something of what was expected of him. But as is often the case in the N.F.L., fortunes changed abruptly: On just his fourth snap as a Jet, as Rodgers scrambled to avoid being sacked by the 240-pound Leonard Floyd, he ruptured his Achilles’ tendon. “I’m completely heartbroken and moving through all of the emotions,” he wrote on Instagram, the day he underwent what was most likely a season-ending surgery.
I am not a Jets fan myself, but I happened to be watching with several of them — friends for whom Rodgers’s arrival in New York promised nothing short of deliverance from the hapless quarterbacking of Zach Wilson and a lifetime’s worth of general disillusionment. (It has been 54 years since the team last won, or even appeared in, the Super Bowl.) This, of course, is one of the principal joys of fandom: to play general manager, to mythologize the only human, to imagine your team is just a single player away from glory, even if that player is pushing 40 in a physically debilitating sport, treats a Covid infection with ivermectin and sometimes alludes to the potentially curative benefits of ayahuasca and the sounds of dolphins making love.
This is not to suggest that Rodgers’s embrace of unconventional science or even his age rendered him particularly liable to injury. Only that fandom, like hallucinogens, impels a sort of magical thinking, one in which the cruel and random nature of sport is bypassed in favor of more attractive notions of destiny and redemption. That the protagonist of Frederick Exley’s 1968 book “A Fan’s Notes” — a hard-drinking New York Giants die-hard — spends his time in and out of mental hospitals is an amusing, if dark, metaphor for the experience of loving a team unconditionally. If I admitted how much time I spend looking at the Baltimore Ravens injury report, trying to determine the difference between a high- and low-ankle sprain, you might suggest I be institutionalized, too. But for the fan, powerless to affect the outcome of the game itself, the difference is endowed with particular narrative urgency. And it is in narrative, as much as anywhere else, that the fan stakes his claim.