Eric Crouch returned to Green Bay this week almost exactly the same way he left the town and its NFL team less than nine months earlier: quietly.
The 2001 Heisman Trophy winner, who last July retired from the NFL for the second time in as many years, is attempting to come back again, making his third crack at the league at his third different position: safety.
But for all the ways this pursuit seems to mirror those of the past, this time around Crouch feels his mission has something that until now his professional career has lacked: focus.
"I really feel like I'm a football player, and I should exhaust that to the very end, until I physically can't do it anymore, or emotionally can't do it anymore, or I don't want to do it, or I'm not having fun," Crouch said Thursday, after taking part in an offseason workout at the Don Hutson Center.
"Maybe that's five years down the road and maybe it's 10 and maybe it's two, but at this point in my life I feel like this is what I need to be doing. So there won't be another time for me walking away from something or letting a team down, or building relationships with people and then the next thing they know, I'm gone.
"Because that's kind of frustrating to me, too. That's not something I would like to have happen, it's just something that happened, and I've got myself to blame."
One of only three players in NCAA Division-I history to rush for 3,000 yards and pass for 4,000 yards over his collegiate career, Crouch's professional tenure came under controversy before it even began.
Although he played quarterback at the University of Nebraska, as the 2002 draft approached NFL teams debated whether Crouch's background in an option style offense would make him better suited for a different position in the pros.
The St. Louis Rams drafted him in the third round that year with the intent to make him a wide receiver, but after battling injuries, Crouch retired less than a month into his rookie season, openly questioning whether he had the desire to play a position other than quarterback.
One summer later, after believing he might take his career to the Canadian Football League, Crouch was in Green Bay, where the Packers saw him as a developmental quarterback, but where he was fighting for training camp reps behind Brett Favre, Doug Pederson, Craig Nall and Akili Smith.
Frustrated at the logjam ahead of him and unsure whether he wanted to spend a year on the practice squad before heading for a season in NFL Europe, Crouch retired from the league for a second time, leaving the team in the middle of training camp with little warning.
"I think if I had to do it over again, I'd take a little bit more time," Crouch said. "If I had to sit on the practice squad for a year, I had to be willing to do that ... After watching a couple seasons go by, I made some mistakes, maybe. I was hasty and immature and probably should have asked to be traded in St. Louis. And last year I should have just waited to get cut, and maybe I would have been picked up by somebody else."
Instead, Crouch sat out the 2003 season. But if to outsiders it appeared that his career was over for good, Crouch had other ideas.
He continued training. At the same time, he not only came to terms with the idea of playing a position other than quarterback, but more specifically he developed a desire to try safety, an option the Packers had presented to him during his first stint in Green Bay.
It's an experiment, to be sure, but March 23 the Packers activated Crouch from the reserve/retired list to give it a go.
Taking part in the Packers' offseason opportunity sessions this week, Crouch has been pleased to see how his quarterback background has helped him to understand defensive formations. But both he and the Packers know that the real uphill battle still awaits.
"Obviously this guy is a tremendous athlete," Packers personnel analyst John Schneider said, "and there have been option quarterbacks in college who have gone on to pro careers at safety. But there's a huge learning curve, and it's going to take a lot of work to be able to make up for lost time."
According to Crouch, effort won't be a problem. Although he was in town only for mandatory offseason camps with the Packers last summer, this year Crouch plans to spend more time training in Green Bay.
Along the way, he knows much of the public will doubt him, wondering when he'll decide to walk away from the game again. But that's the least of his worries.
"You can take one side or the other," Crouch said. "There's one side, where you say history will repeat itself, and the other side is to say, 'He tried receiver and quarterback and that didn't work, maybe safety is the position for him.' And maybe it is."
In the meantime, doubt only increases Crouch's determination.
"It's always been, 'he's too small,' or 'he's too short,' or 'he's too slow,'" Crouch said. "Well, my whole entire life I've been proving people wrong, and I don't want to stop now."