You could almost feel it in the air. While an otherwise bright and inviting mid-May day signaled an impending epoch of warmth, sunshine, and rebirth throughout Wisconsin, the serenity was interrupted by an abrupt chill of cold reality and a cruel reminder of mortality. More than a month before summer’s arrival, much of the state and countless other fans of “America’s Team” spread throughout the country were suddenly dreading the arrival of what they now knew would be an especially empty autumn and a hollow winter. The King Of Scrap’s reign was over. The God Of Grit was a made to be a martyr. The Patriarch Of Moxie had been unseated. John Kuhn would no longer be a Green Bay Packer.
On Thursday, reports surfaced indicating the fan-favorite fullback would not be re-signed by the team he knew for all but one season of his 10-year career. Having been a fixture in the Green Bay backfield since the 2007 season, Kuhn was tied with Mason Crosby (who was much less of a “gamer”) as the second longest-tenured Packers player, trailing only Aaron Rodgers. At 33, he was also the second oldest player—younger than only Julius Peppers—and the oldest offensive employee. In 2015, he managed merely 28 yards rushing and a pitiful 3.1 yards per carry. Hell, even before last year’s dip in production, stats (save for the 15 career rushing touchdowns he vultured from more deserving backs) were never Kuhn’s strong suit.
None of that mattered, though. Most Packer Backers weren’t about to let small details like “athletic talent” and “the ability to run forward while carrying a football” get in the way of their near-decade love affair with the flawed figure regarded to be the Saint Of Scrap Iron. Neither a Wisconsin native nor a career Packer, the state adopted him just the same because, well, we saw some of ourselves in his stocky and bearded visage. Like many of the folks screaming his extended monosyllabic surname into the frigid northeast Wisconsin air at Lambeau Field, “KUUUUUUUUUUUHN” went to a crappy (possibly not even real) college. He wasn’t in peak physical condition. He was underpaid in comparison to many of his counterparts, especially other veterans. He wasn’t particularly good at football. He was us.
The numbers don’t show it, but Kuhn did manage blips of greatness amid 139 games of predominately below-average games in a Packers uniform. There was the 2010 game against the Giants when the home crowd beckoning his name thrice convinced Mike McCarthy to sub Kuhn in for Brandon Jackson, resulting in a trio of goal line touchdowns. There was the crucial block in 2013 that bought Rodgers just enough time to loft a fourth down bomb to Randall Cobb that ultimately helped the Packers beat the Bears and claim the division. There were the three Pro Bowls he was selected to for some reason. There were the unnecessary hurdle attempts—OH THE UNNECESSARY HURDLE ATTEMPTS!—that simultaneously showcased Kuhn’s indisputable effort and injected a dash of comedy into even the most tense games.
Kuhn leaves behind drums upon drums of elbow grease, an ocean of gumption, infinite intangibles, and a library full of lessons you just can’t teach players today. His Packers career ended the same way it began…playing the game “the right way.” He is survived by Aaron Ripkowski, a younger model of the bearded and faintly out-of-shape try-hard fullback archetype you’ve come to love. He will be your new favorite player now.
No matter where John Kuhn ends up this year before he inevitably retires prior to the 2017 season, both his name and the stupid fucking chant it inspired will never be forgotten. Goodnight, sweet prince. They can’t hurt you now.