Super Bowl 2011: How the Packers Made the Super Bowl with a Team of Rejects
The year was 2006. Oakland Raiders' four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson was coming off a broken leg and was approaching the wrong side of 30. He was a free agent and was expecting a flurry of contract offers.
He got two.
One from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who wanted to turn him into a safety (which to him wasn't an option), and one from the Green Bay Packers.
It became obvious to Woodson at that point that nobody wanted him, that he was just a useless has-been forced into NFL Siberia in order to continue playing the game he loved.
Little did he know that just five years later he would be the captain of a team that has felt the same thing he has: rejection.
The 2010-11 Packers are going into Super Bowl XLV with a team of castaways, a team of guys that have been told they weren't good enough their whole lives.
And on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011, these men will get the opportunity to prove everybody who's ever doubted them wrong.
It starts with Woodson, who would love nothing more than to look into the camera with the Lombardi Trophy in his hand and scream, "YOU MISSED OUT!" at all 30 teams that passed on him, and the Buccaneers who insulted him.
However, he is far from the only man in green and gold out to prove people wrong.
There's Aaron Rodgers too, the man who wasn't big enough, wasn't athletic enough. Butte Community College football fans might remember him, considering he was their starting quarterback as a freshman because, you know, he wasn't good enough to play Division 1.
That was until one scout finally realized his talent. He transferred to Cal and played two spectacular seasons just in time for the 2005 NFL Draft where his favorite team as a child, the San Francisco 49ers, had the first overall pick.
They chose Alex Smith. Rodgers wasn't tall enough for them, he wasn't athletic enough for them. About five hours of embarrassment later, after being passed on by 23 more teams who apparently felt they were set at quarterback, Rodgers was finally selected by the Packers.
Three years later, Green Bay finally decided it was time to dispose of legendary quarterback Brett Favre in favor of Rodgers, which was a highly, highly criticized move that had fans calling for GM Ted Thompsan's head.
You know why? Because nobody thought Rodgers was good enough.
Well next Sunday, Rodgers will be playing in the Super Bowl while Smith is sitting at home.
Then there's running back James Starks, the all-time leading rusher in the history of Buffalo University.
Starks also knows what it feels like to be doubted. After all, he was considered by some a first-round talent who wasn't selected until the Packers used the 193rd pick in the sixth round to snatch him up.
The reason? A shoulder injury as a senior at Buffalo had some questioning if he'd ever be the same. He is now the leading rusher in the NFL postseason on any team, and next Sunday, while he's running into the brick wall that is the Pittsburgh Steelers defense, there will be 31 GMs kicking themselves for missing out on this kid.
Packers receiver Donald Driver, now in his 12th NFL season, has been telling his brothers his entire life that he would make something of himself—and coming from a kid who spent much of his childhood on the streets or in the back of U-Haul trucks, that's a bold statement.
Look at Driver now. The 213th pick in the 1999 NFL Draft has become the second greatest wide receiver to ever play his home games at Lambeau Field.
He also will have a chance to look into the camera next Sunday and tell his brothers, "I told you so."
Linebacker Clay Matthews knows how it feels to be rejected; after all, he didn't even start in high school until his senior season, which is really saying something considering the coach was...his dad.
The reason why his father refused to start him was that he didn't want to see his undersized son get hurt; little did he know Clay would be the one doing the hurting.
He walked on at USC and only made the team out of a favor to his dad who had a great career at Southern Cal. It took four years of waiting, but during his senior season he finally got his chance to start.
He ended up being the 26th overall pick in the next year's draft and many people thought that was a bit of a reach by Green Bay.
Just two years later he's an All-Pro and also a starter in the Super Bowl. Let's just hope he doesn't hurt himself.
Lining up on the opposite side of Matthews will be fellow reject linebacker Erik Walden, the man who was waived by three teams in two years.
Green Bay signed Walden off the street in October after they had lost three outside linebackers for the season already. On Super Bowl Sunday, the Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys will all be watching from their couches while Walden will be "waiving" at them from the field.
Just in front of Walden you might notice a big Green blob, but don't be alarmed, that's just Howard Green. You may not recognize him, being that he is now lining up for his 11th team in eight years.
He was too big and out of shape for more than one-third of the league, but he seemed to be in just fine shape when he was starting for a Packers defense that shut out the New York Jets in the Meadowlands.
Oh, but the reject express doesn't end there. It took injuries of three strong safeties (yes, three) for the Packers to finally realize what they had in Charlie Peprah, who by the way was once cut by Ted Thompson himself.
And when Peprah takes the field Sunday he'll be standing right next to two rejects in their own right—Tramon Williams and Sam Shields, perhaps two of the most talented corners ever to go undrafted.
Williams has three interceptions this postseason and had six in the regular season. Yet, he shouldn't even be on the field.
Tramon had zero scholarship offers to play college football, so he attended Louisiana Tech University to get his engineering degree when, one day, he attended a Bulldogs game. They were getting smacked around so he said to himself, "I could do better than that."
A week later, he walked-on to the football team. Four years later he went undrafted in the 2006 NFL Draft. He was originally signed by the Houston Texans but cut before the final roster reduction (how's the pass defense in Houston doing now?).
So he went to the one place that you go when nobody else wants you: Green Bay. And next Sunday he will be lining up across from Hines Ward and Mike Wallace with a Super Bowl patch on his jersey, and precisely 31 teams will be wishing they had signed him.
Next to Williams in the secondary will be Shields, a man who can go stride for stride with Usain Bolt, a man who wasn't even playing corner until last year.
Shields was a top recruit for Miami...as a wide receiver. However, when that failed he was forced to convert to cornerback as a senior.
The draft came and went and nobody wanted Shields, nobody but Green Bay that is.
And that's really become the theme of this team: not being good enough.
But on Feb. 6, 2011, Woodson, Rodgers, Starks, Driver, Matthews, Walden, Green, Peprah, Williams and Shields will be doing what everybody else thought they couldn't.
They will be doing something that nobody outside of Thompson ever thought they could do.
They will be playing in the Super Bowl.
To quote the great Norman Dale, "I don't care what the scoreboard says, at the end of the day we're gonna be winners."
They might as well hang that up in the Green Bay locker room for this game, because win or lose, these men will always be winners.
Let's go Packers!
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