It might just be coincidence that when two-time Pro Bowler Greg Jennings, one of the leaders of last year's Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers, went down after being tackled in the team's 46-16 win over Oakland on Dec. 11, that the Pack would suffer their first defeat in 364 days the following week at Kansas City. But most observers felt that the offense was a little out of synch against the Chiefs, and the absence of No. 85 is likely the reason why.
And it's not just his three straight 1000-yard seasons (which would undoubtedly have been four without the injury) or the precision of his routes, or any other on-field Jennings superlative. Leadership is sometimes a somewhat undefinable quality, but with the Packers' player-voted captain there is little room for doubt.
Jennings, proclaiming himself ready for Green Bay's playoff opener on Jan. 15, took a few minutes to speak with Bleacher Report about the playoffs, being a leader, and his place in Frozen Tundra lore.
BR: First and foremost, how is the knee and will you be close to 100% for next Sunday?
GJ: The knee is doing great, it's made a tremendous amount of progress. I don't think at this point of the season it can ever be 100%, more like 90-95, but if it could be, it would be barking at the door. I've been rehabbing it and taking the necessary steps to be sure it's back at full strength.
BR: The play seemed like dozens of others, a catch, fall forward and tackled. How did it happen?
GJ: You're right, there are lots of plays like that, but it just so happened that the guy landed on my leg. I heard the pop, so I knew it was done from that point on. I definitely knew it was going to be an issue, not the typical "owie."
BR: From Don Hutson to James Lofton to Sterling Sharpe to Donald Driver, and a few more great ones in between, there have been some great WRs in Packer history. Where do you think you rank in that list?
GJ: I don't now, I have no idea. Wow, when you put the names out there like that, it's incredible. I never really looked at it, from that perspective. But I definitely know that the guys who came before me, including Donald Driver, they set that bar, they've done some phenomenal things, now what I try to do is to continue to keep that torch burning. So when 'Drives' moves on and I move on, that I set an example for the next guys that will see me on film, can see that I fit in with the group we had here. But by no means do I think I belong in that category.
BR: You mentioned Donald Driver. What has it meant to you to play with him, specifically?
GJ: It's meant a lot. It's funny how relationships are built over the course of years. You play with someone, see the way they go about their business, he's always on the field, he's been one of those I chose to watch closely when I first got here. I just sponged everything he was doing, whether watching film or at practice or in the game. That's how a real pro acts. He is the image of consistency and shows how to perform and sustain it over a decade. It's been great to have a guy like that in the locker room.
BR: You have caught passes for two of the best QBs in Packers history. What are the similarities and differences between Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers?
GJ: Let me start with the similarities. The dynamic that they both possess is the will to win, whether they're in the fourth quarter or the first, the playoffs or the preseason, they have the same edge. I will say Aaron probably kicks it up a little further in practice, that's what I've seen so much in four years. But both are die-hard film studiers, trying to perfect their craft. I'd say one difference is that Aaron's whole mindset is to be flawless -- he wants to be perfect, and that is exemplified when you see him step on the field Sunday to Sunday, he's not making those typical quarterback mental mistakes or errors, interceptions, because he's taught himself and watched enough film to play a perfect game, really. He believes that he can change the whole aura of QB rating and how to play a perfect ball game. It's definitely trickled down to our team, we've had a ton of success, especially in the most important category, takeaway-giveaway [ratio].
Who is the greatest wide receiver/end in Packers history
BR: And you practice every day with Matt Flynn - how does he compare?
GJ: He's a winner. He's proven it from college, then being an underdog -- he wasn't even the top quarterback we drafted that year, but that didn't deter him one bit. It almost ignited his fire even more, the fact that here he was the QB of the national champions and he felt he was overlooked. He studied everything, more every year, stayed in the film room, worked on his assets and his craft. It showed every offseason when he'd come back with his arm stronger, throwing further, accuracy improved, pocket presence better. He has all the intangibles a QB must have at this level.
BR: So how did the team react when he started last year at New England?
GJ: We were so confident in him, and it wasn't just because we knew he could do it -- we did -- but it was because of his mindset. His thought process is, 'no way am I going to be the weak link.' He has always worked hard for when his number was called, even though being behind durable guys like Aaron or Favre, there aren't many chances, so it would be easy to slack off, but he never did. His performance in that game validated for us, media and for himself that he knew he could play in this league.
BR: On this team, not just among the receivers, you are seen as a leader and "go-to" guy. How does it feel to be though of that way?
GJ: It's great. Anytime your peers look up to you in a positive light, it says a lot about your ability and character. That's one of the things I give credit to the organization for, they always bring in high-caliber character guys. I'm going to try to set the right example, not only in a vocal manner, but by my actions, a lot like what I said about Donald Driver earlier. Having the experience of being voted captain, that's the highest honor in this game, moreso than MVP or Pro Bowl and all that. When the team looks at you and says you are our leader, that's a strong statement.
BR: Tell us about your foundation and the "Be Great" campaign.
GJ: The Greg Jennings Foundation focuses on youth and education, trying to empower youth to use the tools they have. These are life-long skills, they can't be taken away in the way that material things can be taken away. Education and a wealth of knowledge last a lifetime. Kids can really be empowered by that. As far as "Be Great," we haven't tied it into the Foundation yet, but it's had a life of its own. Last year, in the Super Bowl post-game, I made a statement that 'today is a great day to be great.' I mean, we won the Super Bowl, brought the Lombardi Trophy home, so I thought of that day as a great day to be great. In all my speaking engagements and other opportunities, I stress that every day is a great day to be great, no matter what the situation. People go through trials and tribulations daily, but as long as you strive to overcome them, today is a great day to be great. If you put forth the effort and willing to work at it as a passion, you will be successful.
BR: What are some future plans for the foundation?
GJ: As we did this past year we focused on my hometown, Kalamazoo, Michigan, we try to look over the communities we reside in and try to assist youth an enhancing education, the level of empowerment, by utilizing the things that area around them, necessary resources. What we are doing is putting funds into communities towards things kids cant afford, maybe a backpack. We try to empower them and let them know someone has their best interests at heart.
BR: How was it to play college close to home, and did attending a MAC school, Western Michigan, rather than Big 10 or SEC make you a better pro?
GJ: It really did. I go back to when I first committed to Western, my older sister said that if I don't make it to the NFL, everything that my mom and dad had invested in me would be a waste. Looking back, that was the most constructive advice I ever had in my life. I used it to help me take ownership of my life from a football and personal standpoint. I wasn't going to let the perception of being from Western Michigan limit me. It definitely molded me into the young man and player that I am, allowing me to work harder and go above and beyond what the next guy would do.
BR: And when sports fans hear Kalamazoo, they also think Derek Jeter. Tell us about your relationship with him, and how often do you talk/text? Has he come to your games?
DJ: We are establishing a good relationship. There are some years between us (laughs) -- I'm not saying he's old, but he's a young older man than I am (laughs). We connected, and he has reached out to the foundation, and vice-versa. He asked me to be on his leadership panel, Jeter's Leaders. He's always set the bar high, a great model for youth. I've never been to a Yankees game, and it's hard to coordinate schedules sometimes, but it's something I want to do.
Jerry Milani is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.