Growing up in the Bay Area as a San Francisco 49ers fan, a young Jared Goff eagerly anticipated the 2005 NFL draft.
The 49ers had the first pick, and California quarterback Aaron Rodgers was regarded as one of the top prospects.
But the 49ers chose Utah quarterback Alex Smith.
“Ten-year-old Jared was very upset when he found out they didn’t take Aaron,” Goff joked this week.
Rodgers slid to the Green Bay Packers at No. 24.
After a few years as Hall of Famer Brett Favre’s understudy, Rodgers began building his own Hall of Fame resume. Meanwhile, Goff matured and later starred at Cal before the Rams selected him with the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft.
On Sunday at the Coliseum, Goff and Rodgers will be on the field together for the first time when the unbeaten Rams play the Packers in what is regarded as an NFC barometer game.
It’s the Rams’ first home game since Sept. 27, when they defeated the Minnesota Vikings in another matchup against an NFC North team.
They have since defeated the Seattle Seahawks, the Denver Broncos and the 49ers to solidify their standing as a Super Bowl favorite.
“We're excited to be back,” Goff said. “It feels like we've been gone forever."
With an influx of thousands of Packers fans, the Coliseum is expected to have a playoff atmosphere.
Rodgers, a Super Bowl champion and two-time NFL MVP, is making his first appearance at the stadium since he completed a then-NCAA record 23 consecutive passes for Cal in a 2004 game against USC.
Rodgers has been nursing a knee injury since Week 1. But the Packers had an open date last week, giving him time to mend enough to possibly play without a knee brace.
Regardless, the Rams are preparing for vintage Rodgers, who has passed for 12 touchdowns, with only one interception.
“He's one of the best, if not the best, maybe of all time – moving around and throwing,” Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “He's thrown Hail Marys for touchdowns. He's thrown every scramble pass you can think of for big plays.”
The Packers defeated the 49ers two weeks ago with – what else? – a last-minute field-goal drive engineered by Rodgers. They are 3-2-1 as they begin a stretch that includes today’s game against the NFL’s only unbeaten team, a game next week at New England, a home game against the Miami Dolphins, and then road games at Seattle and Minnesota.
Rams running back Todd Gurley, the NFL leader with 14 touchdowns, described Rodgers as the ultimate equalizer.
“It doesn't matter what type of team they are, they always have a chance with Aaron Rodgers,” he said. “You don't give them any hope. You've got to go in there, play hard all four quarters because you know he's a Hail Mary god and he does fantastic stuff on the field.”
The Rams are aiming to continue the pass rush that produced seven sacks in last week’s 39-10 victory over the 49ers.
Tackle Aaron Donald had a career-best four sacks, six tackles for losses and also forced and recovered a fumble.
Rodgers is well aware of Donald.
“He’s a menace inside,” Rodgers told reporters in Green Bay this week. “You’ve got to find a way to try to get bodies on him. Slow him down and get him some different looks.”
The Rams must pressure, hit and take Rodgers to the ground, Donald said.
“If you let him sit back there comfortable…standing straight up and he don’t feel the pressure,” Donald said, “it will be a long day for us.”
The Packers, however, could have a difficult time keeping pace with a Rams offense that features Goff and Gurley, both in the early conversation for NFL MVP.
Just as Goff has tracked Rodgers’ career, Rodgers has tracked Goff, who has passed for 14 touchdowns, with five interceptions.
“Being a Cal guy, obviously I’m pulling for him,” Rodgers said, adding, “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.