Tuesday, February 7, 2012

From Akron to the Super Bowl to Ohio and Back

At one particular point during the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl this past Sunday, Tom Brady found himself in deep trouble. The Patriots were still leading 17-15 but the pocket was collapsing and he was under pressure. Yet somehow he escaped, if only for a split second. But then did something fuly understandable on paper but really hard to believe if you were watching live.

Brady stepped up and chucked a wild, too-high throw way down the field. Not exaggerating, the second he threw it up I yelled "interception!" The thing was a floater. Of course at that point I didn't realize he was throwing to Rob Gronkowski, otherwise known as Superman. And that Gronkowski was covered by a gigantic middle linebacker. 50 yards downfield.
But it didn't matter. That ball was too hgh. Might as well have been a punt. and that middle linebacker made the interception--avoiding what could have been a game-sealing touchdown drive by New England. But the story behind that middle linebacker--Chase Blackburn--is awesome. From Marysville, OH (just like my dearly departed Honda Accord), Blackburn was an undrafted free agent out of the University of Akron, who earned a Super Bowl ring four years ago with the Giants against these very same Patriots. He was never a starter, and looked like his career was winding down.
But things changed in 2011. And what a story it became, as Gregg Doyel writes on CBS Sportsline.
But do you know how Blackburn got here? What he was doing in late November? He wasn't playing football, I can tell you that. He was working out, hoping against hope, but as far as he knew his career was over. After spending six seasons with the Giants, most in a reserve role, Blackburn and his wife sold their house after he was released before the 2011 season. They moved to Ohio, where he's from, to raise their two young kids. Blackburn was working out whenever he could, sometimes after dark because there are days when that's the only time a father of two babies finds to himself, but he was about to become a substitute math teacher. Why? Because his family needed the money. And because his NFL career was over.
And then, it wasn't. Two linebackers for the Giants, Michael Boley and Mark Herzlich, were injured Nov. 28 against New Orleans. The next day the Giants called Chase Blackburn in Ohio and asked, "Are you in shape?"
Yes, as a matter of fact, he was. Five days later he was starting at middle linebacker against Green Bay, even intercepting a pass from eventual NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers.
Good on 'ya, Chase.  That substitute teaching career can wait a little bit longer.