It sure sucks when your favorite football team loses its best player to a (possibly) season-ending injury, but the remedy to feeling as though the Green Bay Packers are officially collar-boned is not nihilism. While 24-year-old Brett Hundley has induced a lot of collar-tugging in his first two games at the helm, the team is still 4-3, so it’s too early to give up—and besides, the first ones to quit are always a bunch of knobs.
The franchise has smacked helmets with adversity before, and when replacing premier talent on offense, the results aren’t necessarily as bleak as one might think. Granted, it’s ill-advised to bet a grand on the Pack to stunningly win Super Bowl LII (unless you really, really want to), but surrendering in November is also a lousy notion. In recent memory, the franchise has shown the ability to overcome injuries to key players—Rodgers included. Here are five examples in that last 20-plus seasons that range from dudes who earned Super Bowl rings to, uh, Samkon Gado.
Andre Rison, Wide Receiver (1996)
The sole member of the countdown to be mentioned in a Behind the Music because Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes of TLC fame burned his house down, Andre “Bad Moon” Rison was brought onboard for the final five regular season games, after Robert Brooks tore his ACL. Signing Rison helped Favre maintain his full arsenal of weapons. Surprisingly, his regular season numbers were marginal, and he was oftentimes a decoy to take coverage away from Antonio Freeman, but Bad Moon stepped up in the postseason to help the Pack hoist that Lombardi Trophy.
The midseason replacement’s shining moment of Packers lore came on the team’s second play from scrimmage in Super Bowl XXXI, when the Gunslinger got a wily notion, called an audible, and delivered a strike to Rison on a deep post route to open the scoring. Signing the controversial wideout to replace Brooks for part of one season was a calculated risk that led to the ultimate reward.
Samkon Gado, Running Back (2005)
The 2005 squad made a surly Wayne Larrivee grumble “Decimated by injuries” an alarming number of times. The franchise drafted Aaron Rodgers with the 24th pick in the spring, but after the draft, basically nothing good happened the whole season. Except, perhaps, for Samkon Gado. An undrafted rookie from some college called Liberty who was cut by the Chiefs during training camp, Gado wound up deep down the depth chart in Green Bay, but became the starting RB in week eight, after Pro Bowler Ahman Green suffered ruptured quads and second-string Najeh Davenport broke his ankle.
With 103 yards on the ground and two scores in his first career start, the affable Nigerian-born rusher became an underdog worth cheering for, a pleasant folk hero in a season that was mostly doomed. He went on to lead the team in rushing with 582 yards and six touchdowns on the ground (and one receiving TD). The depleted Pack limped to a 4-12 mark, but Gado’s unlikely trio of 100-yard performances are worth remembering, even if almost nothing else was. He was traded to Houston early in the 2006 season, then bounced around the league for a few seasons before becoming a doctor.
James Starks, Running Back (2010)
Though he began his rookie season on the Physically Unable To Perform List (or “PUP List”), Starks was a better-late-than-never asset to a backfield that had lost Ryan Grant, its leading rusher from the previous year. While Rodgers excelled with an array of great receivers, the ground attack left something to be desired in the wake of Grant’s damaged ankle. Third-down specialist Brandon Jackson led the team in rushing yards with 703, but when the Packers truly got their mojo working in December, Starks was the lead back.
Like Rison, Starks made his impact in the postseason. His 123 yards on the ground were crucial in a first-round win at Philly. He rushed for 315 yards over four away games en route to a Super Bowl victory. Unlike Rison, Starks—an unheralded back from Buffalo—was drafted by the team, but both were instrumental skill position guys who replaced fallen stars effectively.
Matt Flynn, Quarterback (2013)
Somehow Matt Flynn earned an incredible payday without being a particularly good NFL quarterback. In 2012, he cashed in with Seattle, who wound up starting rookie Russell Wilson and releasing Flynn, who eventually returned to Green Bay. The first time Packer fans went through the heinous ordeal of watching Aaron Rodgers snap his collarbone, he was replaced by the likes of Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien, and finally Flynn. Due to the last quarterback on that depressing list, the Packers still somehow won the division because the Bears choked.
Flynn was the best of the three options that were clearly a lot worse than Rodgers. With Flynn under center, the Pack tread water and earned a crucial win in a thrilling comeback in Dallas. With his collarbone mended, Rodgers returned in week 17 and the Packers beat the Bears for the division title. The team was just 8-7-1. In the Wild Card Round, the Green and Gold lost another heartbreaker in overtime. Still, the Flynn signing was needed to prolong their season, if only by a game.
James Jones, Wide Receiver (2015)
In the aftermath of the team’s meltdown in the NFC Championship game in Seattle the previous January, motivation and hopes were thriving as Green Bay approached the start of the 2015 campaign…until Jordy Nelson tore his ACL in a damn preseason game. Suddenly, Rodgers was without his favorite target, a top-five receiver in the league. To remedy Jordy’s absence, the team reacquired free agent James Jones. As expected, he was James Jones-good, but not Jordy Nelson-great.
In 2014, following seven years in Wisconsin, Jones signed a three-year deal with Oakland. He got cut after one year with the Raidersm got signed and promptly cut again by the Giants, and then spotted a job opening in Title Town when Jordy went down in a non-contact heap. In one full season, Jones overachieved with a line of 50 receptions, 890 yards, eight touchdowns, and one awesome hoodie, but without a deep threat or an effective tight end, the passing attack wasn’t the same. The team earned a wild card spot and ultimately lost in an overtime heartbreaker to the Cardinals in the Divisional Round. That would be Jones’ final professional game.
Injuries to awesome players are lame, but they may lead to opportunities. So, even if it seems like an optimistic outlook on the 2017 Packers is dumb (and getting dumber), a light of hope exists in the the fan who says, “So, you’re telling me there’s a chance!” Hopefully Brett Hundley can fill in well enough to at least keep Green Bay’s postseason hopes alive until Rodgers returns to the throne.