GREEN BAY – As kid growing up in Dallas, all Ty Montgomery ever wanted was to play football at Texas Stadium.
The future Packers running back got his chance to do just that when his Pop Warner football team played during halftime of the Cowboys-Seahawks game on Oct. 27, 2002.
As luck would have it, on the same afternoon a 9-year-old Montgomery busted a 60-yard touchdown up the middle, one of his childhood idols, Emmitt Smith, snapped the NFL’s all-time rushing record during a 109-yard performance.
It’s one of several fond memories Montgomery has of Texas Stadium. In addition to watching Smith break the record, he also used to sell hot dogs and water at one of its concession stands.
“I watched him a lot,” said Montgomery of Smith. “I watched him, and I watched Eddie George. And Earl Campbell and Walter Payton weren’t playing anymore, but I watched those guys, as well.”
All of those past recollections are fresh on Montgomery’s mind this week, as he and the Packers prepare to face the No. 1 seed Cowboys in an NFC Divisional playoff game on Sunday.
The scenery has changed a little bit since Montgomery was toasting his Pop Warner competition, as eight years ago, Texas Stadium was replaced by state-of-the-art AT&T Stadium.
That venue will host a game that pits the NFL’s top-ranked run defense against a Green Bay running game that bears few resemblances to the first meeting between the two teams in Week 6, which the Cowboys won 30-16 at Lambeau Field.
With Eddie Lacy on injured reserve and James Starks still in the concussion protocol, the Packers have turned to the trio of Montgomery, former Cowboy Christine Michael and fullback Aaron Ripkowski over the past month.
Montgomery started the season with the receiving corps but has since converted to running back. He’s been part of a three-headed monster with Michael and Ripkowski that’s produced 572 yards and six touchdown on 116 carries (4.9 yards per carry) over the last five games (including playoffs).
“I feel as though we've made some good progress,” Montgomery said. “I'm still fresh at this position, I've learned a lot real fast, and I've had to learn things on my feet very, very fast. I've felt like I was kind of thrown into the fire. But it's been good, to C-Mike, Christine – he's been doing a great job as well. He's a very, very talented running back; he's a good person as well. I've learned a lot from him.”
Dallas’ run defense, in allowing only 83.5 yards per game, has enabled rookie Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys to outrush the opposition in all but two games this season – the opener against the Giants and Week 17 against Philadelphia, when Elliott didn’t play.
Controlling the clock is one of the central philosophies of the Cowboys, who finished the year second in the league in time of possession (31:41).
It also probably factored into why opposing teams ran the ball against Dallas a league-low 340 times in the regular season.
“They've got a good defense,” Montgomery said. “I think their run defense is ranked first in the league right now. So it will be a good challenge. They've got some good guys up front, especially playing in the box. The safeties do a good job of filling in the gaps as well. Good run support. It will be a fun game.”
Montgomery said he’s expecting “a good amount” of friends and family at Sunday’s game, including one of his foster brothers. Montgomery’s mother, Lisa, has been a foster mom to 17 children over the years, all of whom Montgomery considers brothers.
Right guard T.J. Lang knows the excitement Montgomery is probably feeling to perform in front of his home crowd. A native of Birmingham, Mich., Lang fondly recalls the first time he played against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in 2009.
“It was fun. I remember I had a lot of people there; a lot of family, a lot of friends,” said Lang, who played in the stadium in both high school and college during his time at Eastern Michigan. “I think it’s every kid’s dream to grow up and play in that stadium that you watched some of your heroes play in.”
Montgomery finished the year second on the team with 1,171 all-purpose yards from 457 rushing yards, 366 receiving yards and 366 yards on kickoff returns.
Now a full-fledged running back, Montgomery will have the opportunity to not only check off an item from his bucket list, but also help Green Bay in its quest to keep its Super Bowl hopes alive.
“I always had dreams of playing at Cowboys Stadium,” Montgomery said. “I remember, specifically up to this day, I remember having a dream of playing running back in Texas Stadium, (though) I didn't know that AT&T was going to be built.”
On Sunday, that dream will be realized.