Accepting the Most Valuable Player award in a virtual appearance at the Feb. 6 NFL Honors the night before Tom Brady's Buccaneers bested Patrick Mahomes' Chiefs, the Packers quarterback made an announcement that garnered more hype than Brady's seventh ring, The Weeknd's bandaged dancers and even Michael B. Jordan's steamy Alexa commercial.
Describing 2020 as "a crazy year filled with lots of change, growth, some amazing, memorable moments," the league's three-time honoree slipped his big news in between chatter about how COVID had impacted the season. "One hundred-eighty straight days of having my nose hair scraped," he detailed, "a plan for very little fans or no stands the entire season, I got engaged, and I played some of the best football of my career."
Right, right, what now?!? and, all right, 4,299 passing yards is certainly nothing to sneeze at.
Rodgers' bombshell of an announcement was more shocking than any of the Hail Mary touchdowns he'd hurled in his 16 seasons with Green Bay. And not just because he's made it a point not to discuss the x's and o's of his private life, telling ESPN the Magazine in 2017, "When you are living out a relationship in the public eye, it's definitely...it's difficult."
Even some of his most dedicated fans didn't realize the veteran quarterback had gotten back into the dating game following his summer split with retired race car driver Danica Patrick. And now here he was going all...the...way with a surprise teammate.
Yet for those close to the athlete and his bride-to-be Shailene Woodley, an engagement seemed like the only logical play after months of dating. Instantly smitten, "they had a very intense connection from the beginning," an insider noted to E! News. "It's a quick engagement, but for those that know them, it didn't come as a surprise."
Something of a serial monogamist, the native of Chico, Calif., a city some three hours north of San Francisco, spent three years with actress Olivia Munn before taking his two-year romance with Patrick for a spin. And by all accounts (even Rodgers', the athlete sharing the occasional quote about his partners, calling Munn a "person who is in my corner always" and Patrick "this Beautiful, intelligent, strong, driven, bad ass woman that I get to stand beside in this life"), both relationships had the potential to go the distance.
But it wasn't until Rodgers connected with Woodley that he truly felt ready to take a knee.
Introduced over the summer, "they both knew early on that it was something special and different from what they had experienced in other relationships," the insider said of Rodgers and the Big Little Lies star.
He initially told pals they were just feeling each other out, a source close to the athlete told People, but it was clear they were progressing at a brisk clip. "It was so fast that at first, we thought she was just a rebound," admitted the source. "Everyone thought it was a casual thing because that's what he was telling everyone, even when it was clearly not a casual thing."
By the time he confessed to pals that he'd actually proposed to the Los Angeles-bred actress, few were left stunned. As one source put it to People, "When you know, you know, right?"
Certainly all of the pieces seemed to fit together.
Like Rodgers, Woodley is someone who loves love, confessing to InStyle in 2016, "I fall in love constantly!" However, the 29-year-old continued, "finding someone to share my life with—it's more difficult to fill those shoes. I'm very curious to see where my life ends up when it comes to partnership."
Having scored her breakout role at the age of 16, when she nabbed the lead role on ABC Family's The Secret Life of the American Teenager, "I always think of my life as a pie," said the actress, whose roster of films includes The Descendants, The Fault in Our Stars and the Divergent trilogy. "My pie is f--king fine. I've got the best pie! It's so delicious. If you want to add some ice cream and s--t on top, you are welcome to join the party, but you don't get to take a slice of my pie."
And who better to bring that proverbial ice cream than a 37-year-old career quarterback literally at the top of his game?
A multimillionaire since he signed his five-year, $7.65 million rookie contract with Green Bay in 2005, the 2010 Super Bowl champ has all of his slices intact. And he's proven to be a supportive enough boyfriend to figure out a way to make their divergent schedules work even as Woodley was filming her latest project, thriller Misanthrope, in Montreal, and he was acquiescing to the aforementioned nasal swabs to take the field in Minneapolis, New Orleans, Houston, Detroit and his base in Wisconsin.
"They have spent the entire fall together and lived together throughout," the insider told E! News, adding that Woodley has made herself at home in the Midwest. "She is very supportive of his career and embraced his life in Green Bay. Even though she has her own career and life, she wanted to be there with him."
With his season wrapped, he has returned the favor, spending the past couple weeks in Canada so that he could celebrate Valentine's Day with his fiancée. "He was quarantined at her place, but they spent time together when she wasn't on set," a source shared. And with temps hovering in the teens, "They had no problem staying in, ordering food and not going anywhere."
That laid-back vibe and continued stay-at-home orders are the reason the two were able to keep their romance under wraps for so long. But now that it's out there, Woodley could become subject to chatter of the so-called girlfriend curse, in which a woman is blamed when her grown man of a partner fails to perform up to fans' exacting standards.
Fortunately, she's made it clear she doesn't give AF what strangers might have to say. "I've come to realize it's really none of our business what other people think about us," she explained to InStyle, "and the more time and energy we spend obsessing about that, the more we're trying to be a certain way for other people instead of ourselves."
It's the reason she's unbothered by her so-called crunchy reputation, born from her revelations that she makes her own cheese, toothpaste and medicines, eats insects and clay and refuses to rely on technology such as cell phones and microwaves.
"If I spent any of my life energy being annoyed by what people I don't know say about me, that's a miserable life," she told Vogue in 2019. "When it first started happening when I was younger, I was very much in my early 20s and I was like, f--k that, who cares. This is what I believe in. This is what I want to say. And I think that's a rite of passage. But I wouldn't change anything. I think it's important for us to be ourselves. And I'm weird. And I'm also really boring. I think that's why people kind of clamor onto sound bites because I'm not at a lot of parties and I'm not doing a lot of Hollywood-type things. I don't care about the noise."
Rodgers, meanwhile, seems to be doing his part to preemptively silence any haters, making it clear that finding a strong teammate in his personal life has only benefitted his on-the-field stats.
While he never overtly referred to a new romance in a September appearance on The Pat McAfee Show, he spoke obliquely about his "new and increased love of life." As he explained to the former NFL punter, "I've made decisions and changes and habits that put me in a lot better headspace and there's just a lot of things that have come together in my life over the last few months that have really been enjoyable. That's why I'm having so much fun and it starts with love. And then surrounding yourself with people that you really enjoy."
Woodley seems to have come to a similar realization about the importance of the right partner, her engagement coming less than a year after she confessed to Bustle last April that she'd ended her romance with rugby player Ben Volavola because she didn't quite see herself settling down.
"We were very much on the road to marriage and children," she explained. But as she filmed Endings Beginnings about a woman who'd just ended a relationship, "I realized I was still at an age where I wasn't able to fully commit. I couldn't be available to him in the way that I wanted to be. I didn't fully love myself."
Quarantining alone in a cabin forced her to put the work in on that particular relationship. Having improvised much of the 2020 romance she was forced "to be truthful in a way that even in your own life you're not truthful," she noted to Bustle. "Because of that raw, vulnerable state we submitted to while performing these characters, I learned a lot about what was and wasn't working in my personal life."
She realized, she continued, that she "was trying to use relationships to distract me from getting to know myself." But in the period of isolation that followed she couldn't run from herself, she said. "I can try, but my house is not that big."
So she learned to paint, got really intimate with her own thoughts and spent more than a few days crying on the floor. Basically she read a lot of books, did a lot of meditating and brought a bit of positivity into her life, the exact advice Rodgers gave to fans while collecting his MVP trophy earlier this month, when he told them to "speak things to life, manifest the desires of your heart, question everything and spread love and positivity."
That is now, of course, a joint goal as the couple works out how they can best swing a forever commitment in his off-season, making the most of her breaks between filming. "They can't wait to get married," the insider told E! News, "and they want it to happen soon."
Sounds like a bit of manifesting—and perhaps a good wedding planner—is in order.