Green Bay Buries Seahawks in the Snow
Sunday, January 13, 2008
GREEN BAY, Wis., Jan. 12 -- In the middle of the winning locker room beneath the stands of the famous stadium, Ryan Grant quickly dressed Saturday night and hardly anybody noticed. A few of his Green Bay Packers teammates, men who just weeks ago barely knew his name, walked by to offer congratulations. One still wore a shower cap, which made for an amusing scene.
But otherwise, Grant -- now with more yards in a playoff game than anyone in the history of one of the NFL's most historic franchises -- changed clothes alone on the day he broke the Seattle Seahawks. Outside, on a field covered with snow, in front of Lambeau Field's largest crowd ever, he had brought the Packers within a game of the Super Bowl by rushing for 201 yards in Green Bay's 42-20 victory over Seattle. Inside, in those moments after history, he seemed all but forgotten.
All around him more famous players pulled on expensive suits and loaded themselves with jewelry. But Grant, just months ago an unknown brought over from the New York Giants, who had no use for him, put on a simple green Packers sweat shirt and gray warmup pants. He disappeared into a hallway beside his locker until a Packers public-relations official told him to come to the interview room that is normally the domain of Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre.
Until Saturday, he never had rushed for more than 156 yards. Then again, until the season's eighth week in Denver, he never had gained more than 17 yards in an NFL game.
Which makes it more unbelievable that he was allowed to try and ruin the most important one he ever played. Because he came very close to blowing this for Green Bay.
The first play of the day went to him, a pass he bobbled, then caught and then dropped for a fumble as two Seahawks thundered toward him. Moments later, the fumble had been turned into a Seattle touchdown and Green Bay trailed 7-0. Then, inexplicably, he fumbled again on the Packers' next possession, and once again the Seahawks took the mistake and scored for a 14-0 lead before the game was five minutes old.
Most teams, most coaches, with a running back who had fumbled twice in his first important game and given the other team a two-touchdown lead, would have pulled a player such as Grant from the game. Certainly the man across the field, Seattle Coach Mike Holmgren, notoriously short of patience with young players when he coached the Packers to their last two Super Bowls in the 1990s, would not have endured Grant's misdeeds with ease.
But Green Bay never considered it. Later, the team's offensive coordinator, Joe Philbin, seemed surprised when asked how close he or Coach Mike McCarthy came to benching their running back.
"It never came up," Philbin said.
In a way this is the atmosphere McCarthy has created in his two years here: one of quiet simplicity, devoid of many highs or lows. His locker room is filled with first- and second-year players with much the same demeanor. Which is why he seemed delighted to discover the running back General Manager Ted Thompson delivered him in a trade with the Giants on the final day teams could make roster cuts before the season wouldn't break either.
And in the limited time that Grant played this year, essentially the final eight games, he had shown enough (with 956 rushing yards) to keep playing him even when he fumbled Saturday.
"There was a lot of game left," Philbin said. Plus, the Packers believed they could run on the Seahawks, who were built more for speed and less for snowy games such as this in frigid places such as Wisconsin.
So they gave Grant the ball again. And again. And again. And through the snow he ran over the Seahawks. Green Bay moved and the touchdowns piled up. Favre hit Greg Jennings with a 15-yard pass to make it 14-7. Grant had a one-yard run to tie it. Jennings caught another touchdown pass and by halftime Grant already had 91 yards and the Packers were up 28 -17.
In the second half, the snow came harder, filling the bowl of the stadium with a wall of white so thick it was impossible for people on one side of the stands to see the other. Television was forced to abandon its traditional press box shot and shoot from the sidelines. As Favre would later say, "The style of runner [Grant] is, in these conditions, played perfectly for him."
Grant kept getting the ball. And he kept running. One third-quarter dash, in the heaviest of the snow, went for 42 yards and immediately was followed by a 15-yard run that set up his third touchdown and the Packers' final score. But by then the numbers on the scoreboard were irrelevant. A player who no one much knew just a few weeks before had come to crush the Seahawks.
After the game, Holmgren would call Grant's running style "no-nonsense." McCarthy would extol the virtues of his sudden superstar's even-tempered personality. Even the rambunctious Favre, now 38 years old and yet so excitable that he admitted he had spent the morning hoping for a big snowstorm, said he admired the way Grant never has seemed to rattle in the short time he has known him.
In the end, the game Grant nearly gave away became the game he dominated. But if that irony meant anything to him he didn't show it. He stared at the questions that came to him in the news conference room and answered them quickly and flatly, as if to make them go away and return him to anonymity.
He said he appreciated the coaches for not pulling him from the game, but he also figured they wouldn't. Some of his teammates came to him, he said, and told him not to worry.
When fullback Korey Hall told Grant that everything would be fine and Grant replied, "Yeah, I know," Hall realized he had nothing to worry about.
For Ryan Grant, "Yeah, I know" is about as excited as he gets.
Even when he is a game away from the Super Bowl.