IRVING – Graham Harrell has been with Green Bay all season. In the early portion of the year, he was a scout team player. Six games ago, he was activated as the team’s third string quarterback.
Along the way, he’s gotten to know his teammates, build up a rapport and become one of the guys. It’s probably a good thing because the former Ennis signal caller made a few promises about Texas before the Packers headed south. So far, Mother Nature has not obliged.
“Me and (Texas native) Matt (Flynn) both have been talking up the weather we were going to have coming to Texas, how great the weather has been,” Harrell said. “We get here and it feels just like Green Bay. That one kind of backfired but we’re still excited to be here.”
Freezing temperatures, icy conditions and snow have all compiled to make the Super Bowl XLV experience much different than many had expected.
Less than amicable weather might dampen activities outside the stadium but it’s still all about the game itself.
“It’s great to be back here. To make a Super Bowl is awesome but especially in Dallas that just makes it that much more special,” Harrell said. “Obviously I’d like the weather to be a little better but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
A former Texas Tech standout and NCAA record holder, Harrell left Lubbock with the most touchdown passes in NCAA history (134), the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, a few All-American honors and a fourth place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting. All those accolades were still not enough for an NFL team to take a chance and draft him.
Eventually, he got a tryout with Cleveland but wasn’t signed. He signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. Less than a year later, he was out of Canada.
Fast forward to May 2010 and Harrell earned a tryout with the Packers. He stuck through all of preseason camps, was cut on Sept. 4 and resigned the next day. From there through mid-December, Harrell worked as a practice team quarterback.
Then on Dec. 18, Harrell got the call he’d been waiting for. Safety Anthony Smith was placed on the injured reserve opening up a spot on the roster. The Packers added Harrell as the team’s third string quarterback, behind starter Aaron Rodgers and back-up Matt Flynn. He was active for the final three regular season games and all three rounds of the playoffs.
Harrell has realistic expectations and a lot would have to happen for him to see playing time in the Super Bowl. Rodgers is a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback and Flynn played well earlier in the season when asked to step in. Both are healthy. Of course, so were the Bears quarterbacks in the NFC Championship game two weeks ago.
Starter Jay Cutler went down to a knee injury and back-up Todd Collins was pulled after being ineffective, allowing third stringer Caleb Haney to step in. Being on the opposite sideline was a realization for Harrell, who knows if the situation were reversed it would have been him.
“As a third you’re not always expected to go in or anything like that, you don’t expect two guys to get hurt but you’ve still got to prepare all week like you might have that opportunity,” Harrell said. “I think that game really just showed that you better stay ready, be sure you’re ready, be sure you’re prepared, know the game plan, know the scheme, know what you’re trying to do because you never know when your number is going to be called.”
Playing time or not, Harrell realizes just how special being at this year’s Super Bowl is. The Packers feature players like Donald Driver (12 years), Charles Woodson (13 years) and Ryan Pickett (10 years) who have played years in the league with no Super Bowl ring to show for it. Woodson did play in Super Bowl XXXVII with Oakland but lost to Tampa Bay.
Hearing their stories has made Harrell appreciate the fact he’s made the big game just one-year into his professional career. It’s also made him want to get the defense ready for the task at hand.
As the third team quarterback, Harrell is responsible for playing the role of Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during practice. His work with the first team defense is key to the team’s preparation in the two weeks leading up to the game.
Roethlisberger’s size, mobility and strength present a big challenge to the Packer defense and his improvisation is hard to impersonate. Still, Harrell has to try.
“I don’t think anyone can really get you ready for Ben. There’s certain quarterbacks that do things that other people can’t do and Ben’s one of those guys with how big he is, how many sacks he gets out of and how well he does making plays out of the pocket, stuff like that. It’s tough but we try,” Harrell said. “You can’t really give the perfect picture of a guy like Ben Roethlisberger because he’s got his own style and he makes plays a lot of guys can’t make. It’s tough but we do our best and hopefully the defense will be ready to play and play well again, they’ve played well all year so hopefully they can play well again.”
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