Green Bay Packers: John Kuhn Goes From Forgotten to Folk Hero

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Green Bay Packers: John Kuhn Goes From Forgotten to Folk Hero
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If you weren't a dedicated Green Bay Packer fan, watching a game played this season could be a confusing affair.

Why are they booing that poor No. 30?

For the thousands of fans inside Lambeau Field, watching on television or listening on the radio, that rumble is far from a boo.

In fact, the "Kuuuuuuuuuuuhn" chant heard every time the Packers' John Kuhn touches the ball has helped turn the once-obscure fullback into a folk hero around Wisconsin and throughout the Packers' vast fanbase.

But just how exactly has this once cast off transformed himself into a player that Packers' fans now clamor for in unison 72,000 strong?

For that answer, we need to first travel to a small town in Pennsylvania.

 

Making the Best of Humble Beginnings

John Kuhn was born September 9, 1982 in York, Pennsylvania, about two hours west of Philadelphia. While attending nearby Dover High School, Kuhn excelled in sports and in the classroom, but very few college scholarship offers came his way.

However, Kuhn's desire to continue his football career wasn't to be deterred. Kuhn enrolled at Shippensburg University—an hour or so drive from Dover—and made plans to play football that fall.

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Once on the field, Kuhn did much more than just play football. In fact, he rewrote the majority of Shippensburg's record books and racked up accolade after accolade.

In his four years, Kuhn rushed for 4,685 yards on 913 carries and 53 touchdowns, added 5,300 all-purpose yards and had 26 games of 100 yards rushing or more.

All of these were school records—just a few among the 27 he tallied. 

While he was three-time Division II All-American at Shippensburg, Kuhn wasn't just known for his dominance on the field. Off it, he was two time ESPN Academic All-American as well, and graduated a semester early with a 3.3 grade point average in chemistry.

Regardless of his accomplishments playing football, many figured Kuhn would need to put his chemistry degree to work after his senior season of football.

Because really, who was going to take a chance on a 6'0", 250 pound running back from Division II's Shippensburg University in the National Football League?

 

Given a Chance

Even when Kuhn's coach at Shippensburg, Rocky Rees, told him he had a shot at playing at the next level, Kuhn was skeptical.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Kuhn was cut during his first stint with the Steelers.

“He [Rees] told me that he thought I could make the jump, and I kind of even batted an eye at that, like, ‘Oh, you’re crazy. This is Shippensburg,’” Kuhn told ESPN Milwaukee's Jason Wilde. “But at the end of the year, I talked to a couple people that knew a couple people and they said, ‘You know, you might have a shot.’

Even with a renewed confidence, Kuhn's shot took longer than expected. He went undrafted in the 2005 NFL draft, but the Pittsburgh Steelers finally gave him a chance when they signed him on April 25.

Kuhn made it through his first training camp and even caught a touchdown pass during the Steelers' preseason, but he was cut on the September 3—the final cut down day before making the 53-man roster.

Distraught, Kuhn figured his professional football career would need to take a slight detour.

"I spoke with a few other NFL teams," Kuhn told York Town Square's Jim McClure, "but at the time, the Arena League seemed like the best option for me."

Kuhn agreed to a three year deal with the San Jose Sabercats in early December of that year and was just three hours away from leaving for California when his agent, Kip Washington, received a phone call.

It was the Steelers again. Kuhn was headed for Pittsburgh's practice squad.

"It was a hectic three months," Kuhn said. "I mean, it was a roller-coaster ride. Within 90 days, I had been released by the Steelers, signed a contract with San Jose, and now suddenly I'm back in Pittsburgh."

Kuhn would remain on the Steelers' practice squad for the remainder of the 2005 season, but that was fine with him. He'd been given an opportunity and he was poised to make the most of it.

"This has been a great experience," Kuhn said of the practice squad. "And at the same time, it provides me with a golden opportunity. It gives me a chance to show what I can do on a daily basis, and that I can take the wear and tear of a season. And, most importantly, it gives me an opportunity to help my team win."

And win did they ever. The Steelers went on to beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super XL, and now Kuhn has a championship ring to show for it.

He's the only current Packer to own one.

 

The Rollercoaster Rages On

Following the Super Bowl, Kuhn was re-signed for another year by the Steelers. However, he was once again sent to the practice squad after failing to make the roster in training camp.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Activated on Halloween, Kuhn saw the field with Pittsburgh.

Kuhn would spend the next the season's first eight weeks on the practice squad, but on Halloween of 2006, he received some scary-good news: The Steelers were signing him to the active roster.

He'd play in all nine of Pittsburgh's remaining games, carrying the ball twice for 18 yards and catching one pass for 15 more. His contributions weren't making Sportscenter, but this was a guy who had doubts he'd ever play in an NFL game.

33 yards in a season was a dream come true.

"You know, sometimes I stop, look around and I wonder, 'How did I get here?'" Kuhn said. "It was unbelievable."

As unbelievable as his start was, the NFL made sure to humble to Kuhn once again. The Steelers released Kuhn after the season.

 

The Packers Come Calling

Just a day after his release in Pittsburgh, however, Packers GM Ted Thompson signed Kuhn to Green Bay's active roster.

Kuhn appeared in all 18 games for the Packers in 2007 (including two playoff games), mostly on special teams. He caught two passes for seven yards and made five special teams tackles.

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Kuhn was mostly a special teamer in his first three years in Green Bay.

It wasn't until 2008 that Kuhn starting making his mark for the Packers. While splitting time with Korey Hall at fullback, he caught four passes for 21 yards and ran the ball eight times for 10.

Kuhn scored his first regular season touchdown on October 12, 2008 against the Seahawks on a one-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers, and finished the season with three total scores—two receiving and one rushing.

2009 saw Kuhn used much the same way. Still a key special teams member, Kuhn accounted for just 65 total yards (18 rushing, 47 receiving) and three touchdowns on offense.

As a member of a crowded backfield with Ryan Grant, Brandon Jackson, Hall and 2009 draft pick Quinn Johnson, it was easy to see how Kuhn could get lost in the shuffle.

The 2010 season was shaping up to be much the same for Kuhn in his role with the Packers. Kuhn had a few carries in the preseason, but with Grant, Jackson, Johnson, Hall and 2010 pick James Starks in the fold, there was very few chances for the likes of Kuhn.

That all changed in one drastic moment for both Kuhn and the Packers.

 

Birth of a Folk Hero

In the Packers' 2010 season opener, Grant was getting his season off to a hot start. Through seven carries, Grant had racked up 27 yards, but his eighth carry would ultimately be his last.

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Kuhn's hero status hit its peak against the Giants.

On Grant's 18-yard run in the second quarter, his ankle got twisted up during the tackle, and while we didn't know it right there, Grant's season was over at that moment.

Packers' fans also didn't know what else they had in their future. Kuhn would run for a three yard touchdown in Philadelphia and the John Kuhn at running back experiment had unofficially begun.

Kuhn would lead the Packers in rushing four times in 2010, but that itself didn't catapult him to hero status just yet. 

That process culminated in Week 16 against the Giants. Just a week removed from one of the Packers' most harrowing performances of 2010 in New England (Kuhn hurdled and bulldozed his way to 21 yards rushing and a receiving touchdown), Green Bay desperately needed a win against New York.

The Packers delivered in a big way, winning 45-17, and the "Kuuuuuuhn" chant hit its peak. On his way to three overall touchdowns, fans were literally calling for Kuhn every time the Packers reached the redzone.

That's right, 72,000 people in Lambeau Field were begging for this once-unknown fullback from Shippensburg University to enter the game and score the Packers' touchdowns.

Despite his new folk hero status, Kuhn tries not to get caught up in it much. At the very least, he's figured out the fastest way to any fans' heart.

Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Kuhn has been a big reason why the Packers made the playoffs in 2010.

"I try not to look into (being a fan favorite) too much. It comes down to just winning games around here. If you win games, they're going to like you. If you lose games, they're probably not going to like you. That's the goal is to win games."

Kuhn has been vital to the Packers winning games this season. While he ranks as Green Bay's third leading rusher behind Rodgers and Jackson, his short-yardage abilities, mixed in with his toughness and leadership, have helped ease the loss of Grant.

His six touchdowns also rank second on the team behind Greg Jennings.

This season, and his wanted or unwanted folk hero status, is just the culmination of a long journey for Kuhn to make it where he is now. He still credits his ties to his home town to his success in the NFL.

“It's been fun. But I just think from my roots – didn’t get recruited by a big school, went Division II and had to fight to get the ball there – I've had a hard work ethic my whole life. That got instilled in high school. And I just tried to stick with it.”

That work ethic has turned Kuhn from being Arena Football League bound into a somebody—a somebody that has captured the hearts of Green Bay Packers fans across Titletown.

So no matter where you are watching or listening to the game—Lambeau Field, your living room, on the radio, even in road games—those aren't boos you're hearing.

That's Packers fans chanting a man's last name who worked for every bit of success he's achieved in his football career.

"Kuuuuuhn!"

 

This article was featured on Sports Haze. You can also follow Zach on Twitter at zachkruse2.

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