GREEN BAY – Joe Callahan grew up idolizing Brett Favre, mimicking the quarterback’s every move as a kid in Absecon, N.J.
Now, the former Division III Wesley (Del.) College standout could see a lot of playing time in a game meant to honor the Packers’ three-time MVP quarterback’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Packers and Colts will kick off the 2016 NFL season on Sunday with the annual Hall of Fame Game at Tom Benson Stadium, the night after Favre’s enshrinement.
A chance to play in the game is a scenario Callahan could not have predicted a year ago when he was captaining the Wolverines to the NCAA D-III quarterfinals.
“He was my favorite player growing up,” said Callahan, an undrafted rookie looking to make the Packers’ roster. “I tried to play like him when I was a kid. Then getting signed by the Packers and now this whole Hall of Fame Game the year of his induction, it’s a pretty cool experience and great to be a part of.”
This won’t be Callahan’s first trip to Tom Benson Stadium. He actually was a freshman backup when Wesley beat Walsh University there, 28-3, on Sept. 22, 2011.
The first of five preseason games for the Packers, Sunday’s matchup against the Colts presents Callahan and the rest of the Packers’ rookie class an opportunity to make a positive first impression.
Neither Aaron Rodgers (rest) nor Brett Hundley (ankle) practiced on Thursday, a sign that Callahan and fellow rookie Marquise Williams could get a lot of snaps against the Colts.
Williams, an undrafted rookie out of North Carolina, is excited for his first NFL game experience and honored that it’ll come at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Williams has some connection to Favre, as the two share an agent (Bus Cook). He remembers Favre for his “rocket” arm and his love for the game.
The possibility of playing a role in the historic weekend is meaningful to a rookie who once told his third-grade teacher he wanted to be an NFL quarterback someday.
“It’s been a great honor and experience knowing he’s going in the Hall of Fame,” Williams said. “He’s a great quarterback and that’s why he’s a Hall of Famer and it’s impressive just to see that.”
Aside from the festivities, the game presents a unique opportunity for all the rookies and college free agents on the Packers’ roster to distinguish themselves in a game setting.
It was in the preseason when undrafted free agents like cornerbacks Sam Shields and LaDarius Gunter, linebacker Jayrone Elliott and offensive lineman Don Barclay first made their mark.
Forty years ago, Packers General Manager Ted Thompson was in those same shoes as an undrafted rookie linebacker trying to make the Houston Oilers’ roster.
An extra preseason game puts stress on a team’s roster, but it also gives roster hopefuls extra film to show coaches and scouts what they can do.
Nobody knows that better than Thompson.
“You could make an argument that it’s really good for our young guys, especially the young free agents trying to make the team and be seen, and be noticed,” Thompson said.
“As one that was in that category, I relished every practice, every game because I knew – we got rained out one afternoon in Huntsville, Texas, and I knew that was one less opportunity for me to show the coaches that I could play.”
Callahan is expecting “a good amount of family” at the game. Like any rookie, there’s undoubtedly going to be some butterflies going into his first NFL game.
After a summer of preparation, there’s a lot of anticipation for his first in-game action, too.
“First NFL snap, there’s definitely going to be some nerves but then there’s going to be a lot of excitement, too,” Callahan said. “I’m going to try and make sure I’m level-headed and calm so I’m not firing the ball all over the place. That’s one of the things: Don’t let my emotions get the best of me.”