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Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers smiles as he leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 3, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis.Mike Roemer/The Associated Press

After the Dallas Cowboys lost last weekend, the home fans went a little feral.

A few started chucking things as the teams came off the field. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott – whose terrible decision to run down the middle with the clock nearing zero cost his team any shot at winning – was asked about it. “That’s sad,” Prescott said.

I think they were throwing junk at the referees and not you, someone else said.

Prescott quickly adjusted his throwing-things-at-strangers stance: “Credit to them then.”

Is that bad? By NFL standards, it’s a soft caress across the cheek. It’s not even worth calling that a shot.

But inside a couple of days, Prescott had taken it all back. This suggests a(nother) serious flaw in Prescott’s game. He doesn’t yet understand that while football fans like their heroes, they love their villains. If you’re not willing to occasionally go low, you risk irrelevance.

For a long time, Tom Brady stood at the top of the league’s ease-of-hateability standings. The smug smile; the list of things he never eats; the fact that, while a Catholic, he keeps a Menorah in the house because “we’re into everything.” The urge to slap this guy is only kept in check by the fact that he’d slap you back, a lot harder.

But this year, there’s a new super-annoying heat-seeker headed to the top of the charts – Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers has spent most of his career as Brady’s slightly undercooked doppelganger. Same sort of backstory. Same up-by-your-bootstraps journey as a pro. Same ‘I am also old and good’ thing going on.

Rodgers has a ring, a bunch of records and has made a ton of money. It’s not a bad career outing. But his defining feature as an athlete who’d reached wide recognition was his lack of a personality. Rodgers wasn’t a good guy or a bad guy. He just was.

Outside football, he was best known for a long-running series of State Farm ads. The scenarios change, but the upshot of all of them is ‘Here is Aaron Rodgers being funny by not being funny.’

If Rodgers was in on the joke, you didn’t get that impression from him. Which is why the spots worked. He was either eerily self-aware or all that was happening up there was a monkey banging on miniature cymbals. Who knew?

Now we do.

Aged 38, in his 17th season as an NFLer, Rodgers decided to pull a heel turn. Aside from his dating life, it’s the first interesting thing he’s ever done.

Nobody goes rogue entirely by accident, and especially not on the topic of vaccines. That is a very conscious choice undertaken to prove your outsider bona fides.

The fulcrum may be vaccines, but the lever is being great at football. Football fans want their heroes to be naughty. Rodgers finally decided to give them what they want.

Now that Rodgers has started talking, he can’t seem to stop. All that talking has begun to flesh out his personality type – the stump.

The stump feels no need to advertise his beliefs, but no amount of good sense can dissuade him from them. The stump is pretty sure he knows better than other people. Extreme stumps draw their power from the disapproval of others. Rodgers appears to be a super-stump.

As you might imagine, stumps do well in a sports context. You know who don’t make good pro athletes? Unusually thoughtful, open-minded people who are interested in everything. They make good high-school teachers.

Brady is also a stump, but the years have loosened him up. Along with his robotic focus on football excellence, he would also like to be thought of as fashionable, interested in religion and philosophy, and a bit of an East Coast hipster when the mood strikes. Brady wants to eat soy, kick ass and go to the Met Gala.

That slight loss of intensity has allowed Rodgers to slip into his spot on top of the player-I-really-don’t-like-but-must-respect rankings.

Nowadays, Rodgers doesn’t do anything but play football and take shots at his critics. Having poked a hole in it, his emotional dam appears in danger of bursting.

His biggest cocked-eyebrow moment of the season came in a game against the Bears. After running in a score, hot mics caught Rodgers ranting profanely at the Chicago crowd: “I own you! I’ve always owned you!”

That’s strange. Is this theatre? Provocation? Using the fans as a proxy for the media? It’s an odd fight to pick. Unless there is no more to it than the sudden enjoyment in picking fights.

To his credit, Rodgers didn’t walk it back later. Stumplike, he shrugged away all half-hearted suggestions that he be nicer.

This new Rodgers may not be a better version of the guy who won a championship more than 10 years ago, but he sure looks like a truer version. A more compelling version. Certainly, a more watchable version.

Saturday’s highlight game features Rodgers’s Green Bay Packers vs. the unlikely San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, is Rodgers as he used to be – an inoffensive, blandly attractive, clearly talented, would-be malcontent who can’t quite get himself there. Maybe a good spanking by the master will push Garoppolo to embrace his inner darkness.

Assuming all goes as it should, that sets up the playoffs’ real daily double – Rodgers vs. Brady in the NFC championship game.

That’s happened before, but it’s never happened like this. All of a sudden, Rodgers isn’t just playing to win, he’s playing to be right. Because however you feel about it, if Rodgers takes the Super Bowl this year, he will be vindicated. It doesn’t make any sense, but that’s how this works. Whatever stupid thing you said or did is forgiven, forgotten or embraced if you win.

So who do you not want to win the Super Bowl? Rodgers, probably.

And who do you want to see playing in the Super Bowl? Rodgers, definitely.