GREEN BAY – Luis Rodriguez still gets choked up every time he glances at the photo, which has been a lot over the past week.
It depicts himself, proudly wearing his Packers T-shirt, standing arm-in-arm with the man who recently saved him from drowning at a Houston waterpark – Packers defensive lineman Christian Ringo.
You could say it’s simply happenstance, but Rodriguez doesn’t buy it.
“I don’t believe in coincidence,” said Rodriguez in a phone interview over the weekend. “I believe in miracles because my God is a miracle. He does miracles.”
A Houston native, Rodriguez has been a Packers fan since the 1990s. At the time the Oilers were moving to Tennessee, the Packers were on the top of the NFL.
They had the emblem, the Lambeau Leap and the MVP quarterback in Brett Favre. Rodriguez was hooked. Bursting with excitement, he transformed his home with green and gold paraphernalia.
A Packers blanket hangs proudly over his sofa. He wears his Packers jacket almost everywhere he goes. A truck driver, Rodriguez’s Packers hat is an instant ice-breaker on the road.
When Rodriguez became a born-again Christian, his passion for the team was reflected in the spiritual name he chose: Cheese.
Over the years, it’s practically become his first name.
“I’m a die-hard cheesehead,” Rodriguez said. “Down here in Houston, there’s a lot of cheeseheads. You have your Texans, Dallas, but everything is about the Packers (for me). I got my flag. If you’re not a Packers fan, you can’t park in my driveway. You have to park in the street.”
Rodriguez’s job often takes him away from home, but he used a recent off-day to take his daughter, Yasmine, and his grandchildren to the waterpark near his home.
Coincidentally, Ringo had the same idea. With training camp around the corner, he opted to take his girlfriend to the park for her birthday.
As fate would have it, Ringo and Rodriguez both ended up at the wave pool. Rodriguez jumped into the deep end but forgot to bring a flotation device.
Bold and brave, he thought he’d be able to navigate it without a life jacket. As the waves started to crash against him, Rodriguez realized his mistake.
“Suddenly the wave started taking me in,” Rodriguez said. “I start sinking and I’m thinking, ‘Lord, help me. Lord, help me. I’m drowning.’ Next thing you know I see these big hands out of nowhere just reach out and grab me and took me out of where I was drowning.”
Salvation came in the form of a 6-1, 298-pound defensive lineman who happened to notice Rodriguez struggling to keep his head afloat.
After getting ahold of him, Ringo dragged Rodriguez to a shallow part of the pool. He unclipped his own life jacket, put it on Rodriguez and let him go.
“I floated away. I literally floated away,” Rodriguez said. “I was like, ‘Wow, who was this guy?’”
After getting out of the pool and grabbing some water, Rodriguez was determined to find Ringo to thank him and return the life jacket.
When the two locked eyes, Rodriguez noticed the defensive lineman light up. Amidst everything that happened, Ringo never noticed Rodriguez was wearing a Packers shirt.
That’s when Ringo informed Rodriguez he played for Green Bay.
“I was speechless,” Rodriguez said. “I call upon my God and he brought me a cheesehead to save me. Next thing you know, we were talking. He showed me pictures of him with the Packers.
“The first thing I asked was, ‘How’s Aaron Rodgers doing? Is he good to go?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, he’s good.’ I’m like, ‘Well, how about Jordy?’”
The two continued to exchange pleasantries and introduced each other to family and friends. Finally, they took a picture by the pool and went their separate ways.
It’s already become a popular tale among Rodriguez and his co-workers. He’s already told his daughter that he hopes to make it to Lambeau Field to see Ringo play.
Until then, he’s perfectly content isolating on the defensive lineman when he plays Madden on Xbox.
As for the photo his daughter took, Rodriguez said he plans to blow it up and display it in his living room. From this day forward, he has a new favorite player.
“I’m going to go get his jersey and I’m going to sport it like, ‘This man right here saved my life,’” Rodriguez said.
“You tell my friend – because he’s not a stranger no more. I get to call him my friend – You tell my friend that Aaron Rodgers is not on the top of my Christmas list anymore. He is.”
Rodriguez pauses for a moment before adding.
“But make sure he takes care of Aaron Rodgers, too, because we need him.”
Hodkiewicz: Ringo repeats a heroic deed