Friday, February 4, 2011

Super stardom: Former CMU players looking to make an impact in Super Bowl XLV

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || February 04, 2011

They just wanted to make the team.

They didn’t ask to play with the first team, didn’t ask to travel with the team and they certainly didn’t ask to live out a Super Bowl dream.

No, the preseason goals of Green Bay Packers defenders Frank Zombo and Josh Gordy weren’t too extreme.

“I was just hoping to make the practice team,” Zombo said.

He did.

“My whole goal really was to make the practice squad,” Gordy said.

He didn’t.

But fast forward from preseason to postseason, past all of the injuries that might have opened doors and past all of the cuts that might have closed them; fast forward from Mount Pleasant to Green Bay to Sunday evening at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, where the former Central Michigan standouts will be on the field and part of the biggest spectacle in American sports.

“I’m really blessed,” Zombo said over the phone this week.

“It’s been a blessing to make it this far,” Gordy said.

And the Packers rookie linebacker and defensive back aren’t alone, joining seven-year veteran and teammate Cullen Jenkins and opposing fellow Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver Antonio Brown to give the Chippewas a power-program presence at Super Bowl XLV.

“I won a championship last year at this time with these guys,” Brown said at Super Bowl media day on Tuesday. “Now, we’re playing in the biggest bowl on Earth.”

The quartet of former Chippewas is tied with perennial college football powers Ohio State, LSU and Tennessee for most in the game, and the 15 players competing from Mid-American Conference schools trails only the football hotbed of the Southeastern Conference, which sports 18.

“This definitely looks good for Central Michigan and the MAC,” Gordy said. “We all take great pride in our school.”

And the two Packers rookies also take great pride in their journeys, from the bottom of draft boards to playing for the top prize in football and from being on the same team and to not having a team, to having a chance at fulfilling a dream together.

“We’re real close,” Gordy said.

And many a time, they were real close to not having this opportunity.

“It’s been a heck of a journey,” Zombo said. “We’ve had some chances that we’ve had to take advantage of and things have worked out in our favor.”

Even when things didn’t seem that way.

After signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in May, Gordy competed for a roster spot throughout training camp, only to be cut loose before the team’s final preseason game.

“I was playing with a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “You have to play like that and it paid dividends.”

Green Bay signed Gordy to the practice squad on Sept. 15, where he stayed until being placed on the Packers active roster and making his NFL debut on Dec. 5 against the San Francisco 49ers.

“It’s about stepping up when you have to,” he said. “When we have injuries, it’s about stepping onto the field and being productive on Sundays.”

He recorded one tackle in his debut against the 49ers and played a week later in a 7-3 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

Just six months after having nary a question asked his way, the 23-year-old Gordy fielded a wide range of questions Tuesday inside Cowboys Stadium.

“That’s probably when it hit me the most,” he said.

But that moment still hasn’t hit Zombo.

“I think on Sunday, when the fireworks are blasting off and all the people are out there,” he said, “I think that’s when it will hit me.”

The moment might not have come for the Sterling Heights native had he not hit Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning from the blindside in a nationally-televised preseason game.

The hit caused a fumble, and along with five solo tackles, put the linebacker on the inside track for a roster spot.

“That was a big opportunity,” he said of his first preseason start.

And that opportunity might not have come if the Packers linebacking core wasn’t battling injuries at the time.

“A lot of guys were hurt and I had to step up.”

He stepped up, performed, and earned eight starts during his rookie campaign, recording four sacks and 28 tackles.

Now, along with Gordy and Jenkins, Zombo, who said “It’s looking good,” that he’ll see the field on Sunday, is preparing to contain Steelers wide receiver Brown, who has made big catch after big catch for Pittsburgh this postseason.

“I haven’t talked to him yet,” Zombo said. “I’ll probably mess around with him before the game.”

But Gordy has.

“He was trying to get some information out of me,” he said on the phone from Dallas, laughing. “I wouldn’t tell him nothing.”

And if you would have told these two Packers a year ago that they would be playing in the Super Bowl?

“I’d tell you that you were crazy,” Zombo said.

They just wanted to make the team.

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