Kansas City Star
ARLINGTON, Texas — Every single one of the 900 folks from Jordy Nelson’s hometown in the middle of Kansas could bring 100 friends and they still wouldn’t fill this enormous stadium. Just the other day, he walked into Cowboys Stadium and talked of how you could fit every cow and bale and piece of machinery from Riley, Kan.
People laughed. Nelson smiled. Ever since he started making it big in football, this is the stereotype he’s always fit: the farm boy in the bright lights. Maybe there’s a bit of truth in there.
Good pro football careers aren’t supposed to start at tiny high schools in the middle of nowhere, especially not when his best scholarship offer came from Emporia State.
But that is part of Nelson’s story, the one the world got a glimpse of when he caught nine passes for 140 yards during the Packers’ 31-25 win in Super Bowl XLV here on Sunday.
“Besides (my son) and getting married, this is the best feeling I have ever had,” he says.
There were other stars on this night, of course. Nick Collins intercepted Ben Roethlisberger and dived into the end zone for a touchdown. Greg Jennings caught two touchdowns, and Aaron Rodgers threw for 304 yards and won a red Camaro as part of the game’s MVP award.
That’s OK. Maybe even fitting, Nelson going mostly overlooked even while having the biggest game of his career on the biggest stage of his life.
Jordy Nelson walked on as a defensive back at Kansas State in the fall of 2003, and even then, had to redshirt.
Success has a way of changing people’s memories, but if you hear anybody this week say they always knew Nelson would make it big, you should know that when the coaches wanted to talk to him after that first year, he figured they might be cutting him.
Turned out they wanted him to play wide receiver.
Nelson went along with it — “nobody’s going to argue football with coach (Bill) Snyder,” he said — and then built himself into the best receiver in school history.
He dropped some fat and added some muscle and then set school records with 122 catches and 1,606 yards his senior year. Maybe folks started noticing when he caught 10 passes for 137 yards against Kansas and hotshot cornerback Aqib Talib that year.
Slowly, NFL scouts began to look beyond his 4.51 40-yard dash time and modest beginnings.
By the time he left K-State, he was married — he and Emily have a baby boy who turned 1 last week — and had enough of a highlight tape that the Packers took him in the second round.
Imagine that. He joined the Wildcats as a wide-eyed walk-on defensive back, and left as a husband, All-American receiver and second-round NFL draft pick.
“If Manhattan is hard to get to,” Snyder said while explaining how Nelson slipped past recruiters, “then Riley is even harder to get to.”
Jordy Nelson did not play the perfect Super Bowl. He was fantastic, you understand, his nine catches and 140 yards both standing as career highs. No Packer has ever had that many receiving yards in a Super Bowl, and Nelson scored the game’s first touchdown by beating Steelers cornerback William Gay down the right side for a 29-yard catch.
The play was supposed to be a screen pass, but Rodgers saw Gay come up to play Nelson close and gave a signal to go deep.
If you remember Nelson at K-State, you might’ve thought about his long touchdown against Talib in that Kansas game.
But Nelson also dropped three passes. Each came at important moments, though he did follow one of them with a catch over the middle on third down that he took 38 yards to set up the Packers’ final touchdown.
So even if Nelson wasn’t perfect, maybe he was something more realistic: resilient, effective and possibly even understated considering the gaudy numbers.
“Jordy stepped up when probably no one expected him to do it,” Packers receiver Donald Driver said. “He’s a playmaker.”
The Packers have, perhaps, the deepest set of receivers in the NFL. Some have called it one of the best groups in league history. and it’s easy to miss the pride of Riley. He scored only two touchdowns during the regular season, and ranked fourth on the team with 45 catches and third with 582 yards.
But the huge night in the Super Bowl just continued a trend for Nelson, who had three of his four biggest games in terms of yardage in the Packers’ three playoff victories.
Turns out the kid from the tiny Kansas town won’t back down from these giant moments. Turns out, he just needed a chance.
“You always dream big,” he says. “I guarantee there are kids all over the country playing in the back yard. It is such a long shot, I can’t believe it.”