By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Understated personality belied fire, passion, production in Jordy’s career
GREEN BAY, Wis. – From Kansas State walk-on to shoo-in for induction into the Packer Hall of Fame, Jordy Nelson was excellence personified during his 11-year NFL career.
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Last week, Nelson called it quits after an amazing run.
He announced his decision on Twitter, writing:
“Packers Fans, my family and I would like to say THANK YOU for your support over the last 10 yrs. We have been blessed to call Green Bay our home and WI will always be a part of our lives. We have many great memories and it’s the people we will miss the most. Until next time …”
Nelson, who turns 34 on May 31, spent his first 10 seasons with the Packers. It’s where he and Aaron Rodgers became one of the NFL’s most feared quarterback-receiver duos in history.
Rodgers and Nelson combined for their 65th touchdown pass in 2016 to eclipse the franchise record held by Brett Favre and Antonio Freeman.
The touchdown tandem raised the back-shoulder throw to an art form. Even when opposing cornerbacks knew it was coming they were defenseless to stop it.
It seems like only yesterday that Rodgers, standing tall in the pocket, would pat the football once, twice … and then fire it to a wide-open Nelson on a deep crossing route for six points.
Or Rodgers, buying time in the red zone, would prance and dance and finally unleash a bullet to Nelson in the back of the end zone, or at the pylon. Again, the same result: Touchdown.
The images remain firmly ingrained in Packers’ fans minds.
Some think Rodgers’ greatness mitigated Nelson’s dominance, almost as if to say, “Nelson couldn’t do it without Rodgers.”
How did that work for Rodgers in 2018?
The fact is this: Rodgers and Nelson were terrific individual players who teamed up to be unstoppable for nearly a decade.
Nelson’s retirement signals the end of an era. It was with a wistful glance that I looked back on the Sports Illustrated cover in 2011. It was titled, “The Perfect Pack!”
It featured Green Bay’s embarrassing array of weaponry.
Jermichael Finley, James Jones, Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson stood tall in the back row. In the front, a kneeling Aaron Rodgers was flanked by Randall Cobb and Greg Jennings.
To this day, the photo makes fans shake their heads at the Packers’ amazing passing game and 15-1 record. All that was missing were the Super Bowl rings it should have wrought.
Alas, enough talk of falling short.
Nelson’s soaring achievements deserve praise in this space:
** Nelson is the only player in team history to record three seasons with 13-plus touchdown catches (2011, 2014 and 2016).
** He ranks fourth in NFL history with three seasons of 13-plus touchdowns and 1,250-plus receiving yards. The receivers ahead of him are Jerry Rice (six), Randy Moss (five) and Terrell Owens (four).
** He ranks second in Packers history in TD receptions (69), third in receptions (550) and fifth in receiving yards (7,848).
The fact that Nelson was named to the Pro Bowl just once (2014) says more about the ridiculous nature of the Pro Bowl than it does Nelson’s achievements.
Nelson caught 98 passes for 1,516 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2014. After a preseason knee injury erased his 2015 season, Nelson responded with a 97-catch, 1,257-yard, 13-touchdown season to win NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2016.
The Packers will be forever indebted to Nelson.
“We want to congratulate Jordy on an incredible career that included achievements that will result in his eventual induction into the Packer Hall of Fame,” Packers GM Brian Gutekunst said. “He is one of the greatest receivers in franchise history and played a vital role in the team’s success with not only his play on the field but also for what he provided as a great teammate and leader. We wish the best to Jordy, his wife, Emily, and the rest of their family.”
I recall hosting an Event USA player reception party attended by Nelson and his wife, Emily, in his first season in Green Bay.
Nelson was so low-key, polite and unassuming I couldn’t believe he was an NFL receiver. And he and Emily couldn’t have been nicer to everyone in attendance.
That persona didn’t change despite all the catches and touchdowns and wins throughout the years.
Nelson was as genuine as they get in the NFL.
In Nelson’s 2008 rookie bio in the Packers’ media guide, he said he enjoys, “working on the family farm, listening to country music and watching SportsCenter.”
To this day, along with a ton of charity work, Nelson still enjoys getting dirty on the family farm, listening to country and watching SportsCenter.
It’s how Nelson was raised. Simple, honest, hardworking and true to his faith and family, he ranks among the Packers’ greats on and off the field.
Don Hutson, James Lofton and perhaps Sterling Sharpe are the only receivers in Packers’ history I would put ahead of Nelson. Hutson and Lofton are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sharpe might be if his career hadn’t been cut short by injury.
It’s an incredible list made even more so by Nelson’s presence.