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Sports Saturday

Aaron spoiling production

Packers QB Rodgers is a must-see NFL all-time great, but his anti-vax nonsense has been a real buzzkill.

Los Angeles Rams v Green Bay Packers
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers tried to fool everyone into thinking he had been vaccinated.
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

There have been five NFL players I always had to watch, going all the way back to when I was a kid.

Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus and Walter Payton were three.

And it wasn’t just because they were Bears, though that was a nice touch. It was because they were so riveting. (In Butkus’ case, watching his savagery was something akin to voyeurism.)

Another was Barry Sanders. The running back was like a BB on a paint shaker. No matter how terrible the Lions were, I had to watch the little guy.

And the fifth is Aaron Rodgers.

You’ve heard of him. Plays for the Packers. Quarterback.

What enthralls me about Rodgers is not just his mastery of the Bears (and most other teams, for that matter), but the way he instantly reads defenses, then flicks the ball to open receivers like a man playing darts or disposing of a cigarette butt in a distant beer can.

What goes on in that calculating brain, sifted through those cold gray eyes, simply mystifies me.

And because we instinctively ascribe heroic qualities to humans who are better at something than the rest of us, I find it disheartening that Rodgers hasn’t been quite the leader off the field, during these troubling times, that I’d hoped he would be.

When he fooled everyone into thinking he’d been vaccinated against the coronavirus by saying, sneakily, that he had been ‘‘immunized,’’ it did some real damage.

No matter how uncertain some people may be of the benefits to all from getting vaccinated against this mutating disease, the benefit to the herd is unequivocal, indisputable.

If you don’t buy science and logic, you must at least accept that getting the vaccine — along with wearing a mask and social-distancing when proper — is the best solution we humans have come up with in our fight against this viral attack.

A lot of people listened to Rodgers and his reasons, all dubious if not plain wrong, for avoiding the vaccine. Packers fans saluted him wildly when he returned from a stay on the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list.

Rodgers taking advice from a podcast host rather than the leader of the United States Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, only emboldened the anti-vaxxers with their propaganda that hollers, in essence, ‘‘Don’t tell us what to do — EVER!’’

I was fascinated when Rodgers took last summer off from regular football stuff and seemed to ponder his career, his role in Green Bay, his inner self. I saw him as a kind of modern seeker, his brain too fast and nimble to focus only on zone blitzes and fade routes.

He was on to ‘‘big stuff,’’ I felt, one step from being that monk in the mountain cave or a member of a future-world think tank. But, yeah, that was wishful thinking on my part. Who am I to project my hopes on anyone?

Still, the sense of loss I think many of us felt when he said that he was in the “crosshairs of the woke mob” because of his anti-vax stance — that was painful. Since when is it ‘‘woke’’ to trust science over hoodoo?

I’d hoped Rodgers, who always has seemed so independently thoughtful and uncaring about criticism from others, would be a public-relations point man in the race to beat this outbreak. People listen to sports stars. People listen to Aaron Rodgers.

New York City announced a vaccine mandate will go into effect Dec. 27 for all private-sector workers. It already requires hospital and nursing-home workers, teachers, firefighters, police officers and other city employees to be vaccinated. Is New York woke or reasonable? In this case, it’s pretty obvious.

The Canadian government just announced that unvaccinated NBA players won’t be allowed into that country to play games in Toronto starting Jan. 15. Or unvaccinated players can quarantine in Canada for 14 days before their game. Ha!

So how hard is it, really, men, to get a COVID shot?

In 2018, Rodgers threw 597 passes and only two interceptions. That’s roughly one pick every 300 attempts. That’s hard.

The last two years, he has thrown for a combined 7,177 yards and 71 touchdowns with only nine picks. That’s quite hard.

I’m still mesmerized by Rodgers, the player. But, for now anyway, with his resistant ideology, not so much the person.