In 2010, he was given a crash course on the Packers’ complex defense in a banquet room the night before Green Bay shutout the Jets. It started a string of rugged performances, and a few months later the journeyman who has been released 10 times made a memorable play in Super Bowl XLV. Now, for the first time in years during training camp, Howard Green feels like part of a club’s plan heading into the regular season.
It’s comfortable, yet, for the 340-pound defensive tackle, comfort has been so foreign during his NFL career he’ll never adjust. Last October, he drove 18 hours straight in his truck to his mother’s house in Prairieville, La., after being cut loose by the Jets, then immediately hopped on a plane to Green Bay to complete the whirlwind. He spent the holidays in an extended stay hotel a few miles from Lambeau Field, happily. Green hadn’t started a game since 2004 before opening three for the Packers last year, and then started three more contests in the postseason.
For most of 2005-06, he was out of football, working odd jobs. Green has had stints with Houston, Baltimore, New Orleans, Seattle, Miami, Minnesota, Washington, the Jets and now, of course, Green Bay, where a savvy, 340-pound run-stuffer is appreciated.
“He’s a tribute to perseverance, because this business will beat you down sometimes,” said defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who was head coach of the Texans when Green was drafted in the sixth round in 2002 and released for the first time in his career that year at the end of camp.
“It would have been easy for him to give up over the years, but he hung in there and kept fighting. It would have been easy for Howard to think it was time for him to go on with his life’s work. Instead he makes one of the biggest plays in the Super Bowl. You never know when that chance comes, and he took full advantage of the opportunity.”
Now, he’s an important part of the club’s rotation up front, one of the widest bodies in Capers’ 3-4 scheme. He helps keep blockers off the linebackers. Capers said the Packers ran out of defensive linemen last year at midseason – necessitating Green’s signing – and it has made the former football vagabond a piece of the Packers’ defensive puzzle.
“This feels like home, and I would say it has been awhile since I felt that way,” Green said. “Last year I contributed, so I felt like I had found a home coming into training camp. I feel like part of the program. Everything I’ve gone through has been worth it.”
Green is currently a reserve behind B.J. Raji at nose tackle, and Green can also play defensive end, where he started last year. Green knows his role is more about creating opportunities for others, but he also knows particularly what Capers expects within a defense that has ranked among the NFL’s best over the last two seasons.
“Coach Capers sees talent and how to use it,” Green said. “He knows my skill set. He can plug some people in for 20 plays a game to get the most out of them.”
He was released by the Jets in 2010 the week prior to arriving in Green Bay because according to reports his weight was hovering around 370 pounds. The Packers immediately plucked him off waivers. Perhaps, as a hostage to fate, the Packers’ opponent that week was New York. Green’s practice time was so limited he was still going over his assignments in a dining room at the team hotel deep into the evening with line coach Mike Trgovac, with chairs serving as offensive linemen.
Green ended up participating in 34 plays in that 9-0 victory over the Jets, including crashing through blockers to force a fumble on a reverse, with the result being an 8-yard loss. It was more playing time than anyone expected from the newcomer and it turned out to be a Happy Halloween.
“Think about how valuable he was in that game,” Capers said. “Howard comes in here in one day and makes a play for us in a big win. The game before against Minnesota we didn’t even have enough people.”
In Super Bowl XLV, Green may have been the most unlikely starter in a defensive huddle that included Pro Bowl selections Nick Collins, A.J. Hawk, Clay Matthews, Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson. In the first quarter, Green drilled Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger in the arm as he threw the ball, and it was intercepted by Nick Collins, who raced 37 yards for a touchdown, giving Green Bay a 14-0 lead.
“Nick doesn’t make that play without Howard,” said Raji. “Howard came with a bull rush and Roethlisberger threw up a prayer after getting hit. After that, Nick took it to the house.”
Green thought he had forced a fumble after hearing the quarterback groan from the impact. When Green heard the crowd roaring after the interception, he was pawing around on the turf, looking for a loose ball. Green didn’t know Collins was already heading toward the end zone.
“Best play of my career on the biggest stage,” Green says now.
After walking into locker rooms often following being claimed off waivers in the middle of seasons – not unlike last year with the Packers – Green has now settled into a veteran’s role. The former castoff with a transactions log a few chapters long has brought a different perspective to a youthful group of defensive linemen. Capers and Raji spoke of his quiet leadership.
Defensive end Ryan Pickett, who invited Green to his house last year for Thanksgiving, has developed a bond with the fellow veteran.
“Howard is part of the group, and it’s like he has been here the whole time,” Pickett said. “With the road he has walked, I was so happy for him last year. He’s a friend. I was so glad he had landed with us, and I thought about that after the Super Bowl, because he came through for us. I know the road he has traveled. I know he has paid his dues.”