Today’s NFC Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, as you would expect, is loaded with star power.
Only the Cowboys and Broncos have more Pro Bowlers than Seattle and Green Bay. Between the two NFC bullies – their ten combined Pro Bowl representatives feature some of the bigger household names in the NFL.
Those names include Marshawn Lynch, Aaron Rodgers. Richard Sherman, Jordy Nelson, Kam Chancellor, Clay Matthews and Earl Thomas.
That doesn’t even include Randall Cobb, Russell Wilson or Eddie Lacy. Like I said, star power all over the damn place.
And if this game were being played five years ago, there’s another name who would easily be right at the top of the group: Julius Peppers.
Long before he came to Chicago, Julius Peppers was my favorite NFL player.
The second overall pick in 2002, Peppers has eight Pro Bowl honors under his belt. After eight seasons with the Panthers and four with our beloved Bears – the man Chris Berman likes to call “Giardiniera” is putting the finishing touches on his phenomenal career with the Packers.
My passion for Peppers started when I was around 11 or 12, the same time I genuinely started falling in love with sports (probably because I could understand them).
I had read about a player on North Carolina’s football team who also played basketball for them, but didn’t think much of it. Even for gifted two-sport athletes, it was rare to see them contribute significantly in both.
Then I saw plays like this:
That’s an impressive feat for any defensive end, let alone at a hoops program like the Tar Heels’. Looking back now, in our current world of specialized athletics, it’s crazy to think about an athlete playing both sports at such a high-level.
Peppers parlayed that ridiculous athleticism into his lofty draft selection by the Panthers, and he rewarded his home-state team with 81 sacks throughout the next eight seasons. As the years went on, this 6’7” monster reminded us of his basketball days whenever he got a chance.
When you think about it, Julius Peppers revolutionized his position in the game of football. In addition to the pick-six linked above, Peppers has five other defensive touchdowns throughout his career (the second most all time by a lineman).
He’s racked up 424 yards on those scores, good for the best of all time by a lineman. His 11 interceptions are the second most all time at his position, and the same goes for his 46 forced fumbles. That’s all on top of his 126 career sacks (which is well within reach of the all-time top ten list).
Yeah, you could say Julius Peppers has had a hell of a career. But that might be under-selling it.
One thing he does not have, however, is a Super Bowl ring.
Despite an unceremonious exit from Chicago, he’s proved that he’s still got plenty left in the tank. And as a matter of fact, Green Bay probably wouldn’t be on the doorstep of a Super Bowl this season without him.
As Chicago’s be-hated Packers take on Seattle in today, I’ll be rooting for Julius Peppers. And so should you.
He’s revolutionized a position, and did so without even a hint of behavior problems off-the-field.
Pretty soon, one of the best NFL players of our generation will be hanging up his cleats. And Bears fan or not, I hope he does so with a ring on his finger.
Photo courtesy of Kyle Engmen