The anxiety-filled green room and draft day seem so long ago now to Aaron Rodgers.
Still, on this weekend, any lingering feelings of frustration about how far he dropped will be directed right at the team that passed him up with the No. 1 pick nearly eight years ago.
Rodgers brings the high-scoring Green Bay Packers (12-5) to Candlestick Park on Saturday to face No. 2 seed San Francisco (11-4-1) in prime time for a place in the NFC Championship game. He'll take the field in the very venue where he became a regular fan as a boy rooting for Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Steve Young.
Rodgers, who appeared in a preseason game at Candlestick in 2008, will play his first meaningful game at the stadium at last, as an eighth-year pro. He will look to avenge a 30-22 season-opening home loss to the 49ers.
‘‘It will be fun. I went to a few baseball games there growing up, and saw a game there when I was in college,’’ Rodgers said.
He returns to Northern California, where he became a college star for California across San Francisco Bay in Berkeley, with a healthy cast of receivers and the swagger of a Super Bowl champion.
When Rodgers dropped to No. 24 in the 2005 draft after Alex Smith went No. 1, he was asked about his disappointment. He so matter-of-factly said, ‘‘not as disappointed as the 49ers will be that they didn’t draft me.’’
Now, everybody in the Bay Area and beyond will be watching his every move again.
Last season’s chance at a repeat championship came to a screeching halt at the hands of the Giants in this very round at Lambeau Field.
The Giants went to San Francisco the next week and won the NFC title game, 20-17, in overtime.
Just as the Niners moved on from that heartbreaking loss and used it as a motivational push each day this season, the same goes for Rodgers after being slighted by his beloved San Francisco on draft day.
‘‘It’s been a long time since the green room,’’ Rodgers said. ‘‘I have a lot of good memories growing up watching Steve Young and Joe Montana on TV and the Super Bowl wins and being a 49ers fan. That was a team I enjoyed watching and dreamt about playing for. I'm eight years removed here, and obviously I'm really happy with the situation I'm in.’’
A lot has changed in that time for San Francisco, too.
The QB the 49ers picked ahead of Rodgers — Smith — spent the season’s second half on the bench as coach Jim Harbaugh promoted second-year pro Colin Kaepernick. He will make his playoff debut Saturday.
In an odd twist, Kaepernick was born in Milwaukee and adopted before moving to California at age 4. Yes, he began as a toddler Cheesehead, then changed allegiances ‘‘when I got drafted,’’ Kaepernick said.
He has never met Rodgers. He still knows plenty.
Even San Francisco’s opportunistic, ball-hawking defense realizes just how hard it will be to rattle Rodgers or get him off his game. He hasn’t thrown an interception in five straight games and 177 passes. His receiving corps is intact again at last, each of the big four of Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones capable of game-breaking catches and career performances.
Jennings has 19 receptions for 226 yards and three touchdowns over the last three games.
The 49ers will need big performances from Aldon Smith and Justin Smith, the defensive pass-rushing menace expected back after he missed the past two games with a partially torn left triceps. Not to mention their talented secondary.
Poll the players and coaches around the 49ers and everybody believes Kaepernick is perfectly ready for his biggest game yet.
This was the matchup people expected in last year’s NFC Championship game until the Giants came along. Now, San Francisco wants to make sure it is still standing next week.
‘‘We still feel we’re just as good as we were last year,’’ linebacker Patrick Willis said. ‘‘Hopefully this is a new season.’’