GREEN BAY – The Packers’ Sunday Night Football contest in December of 2010 at New England will always be remembered as the last game Green Bay lost that season, when backup quarterback Matt Flynn nearly outdueled future Hall of Famer Tom Brady.
But another Packers legend also might have been born that night.
Fullback John Kuhn, seeing extra snaps and plays called for him due to injuries in the backfield, ran six times for 21 yards and caught three passes for 27 more, including a touchdown.
It wasn’t just the stats, though, but the way he compiled them. Kuhn was hurdling Patriots defenders in the open field. He dove over the goal line with abandon for the 6-yard TD pass from Flynn.
After the game, then-head coach Mike McCarthy called it the best game Kuhn had played in his four seasons (to that point) in Green Bay, and the next week the Lambeau Field faithful let him know how much they appreciated him.
As the former undrafted waiver claim scored three touchdowns – two rushing, one receiving – in a blowout of the Giants that started the Packers’ remarkable run to the Super Bowl XLV title, the fans’ chant of “Kuuuuuuuhn” was the loudest it had ever been. It was even heard when Kuhn came off the sideline and jogged into the huddle for a short-yardage or goal-line snap.
The echo seemingly never quieted down over Kuhn’s five additional seasons in Green Bay, cementing him as a fan favorite forever.
“It got me on some fans’ radar, and then I backed that up with another good performance,” Kuhn said of the memorable two-game sequence back in 2010. “They took notice and that’s when things started to change.”
On Thursday, Kuhn officially announced his retirement, as a Packer, after 12 seasons in the NFL. Nine of those were in Green Bay, where he went to three Pro Bowls and totaled 1,158 yards from scrimmage (601 rushing, 557 receiving) and 23 touchdowns. He added seven more scores in the postseason, second most in team playoff history behind only Antonio Freeman’s 12.
In his roughly 20 minutes at the podium inside the Lambeau Field media auditorium, Kuhn thanked countless coaches, teammates and support staff from his college days at Shippensburg University to his NFL years with the Steelers, Packers and Saints. He thanked his family as well, including his wife and daughters, who are happily making Green Bay their permanent home in retirement.
He got emotional at times, in part because it’s difficult to walk away from the game he loves so much. But the appreciation for the fan support was tied up in those emotions, too, and Kuhn will never forget it.
“When you don’t touch the ball a lot, you have a hard time telling (if the fans like you),” he said. “By the time they started getting as loud as they got, it told me right there I had a lot of fans out there and a lot of people that cared about the team and supported me.
“It drove me … to even work harder than I did in the first place. It was special to me and something I’ll always cherish.”
Kuhn leaves the game with the distinction of having played with four quarterbacks who are or will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Rodgers was and remains a friend, and Rodgers frequently has referred to Kuhn as one of his all-time favorite teammates, as well as the only player who might have known the offense as thoroughly as he did.
That was on display in the one play Kuhn is most remembered for, from the 2013 regular-season finale at Soldier Field, with the NFC North title at stake against the Bears.
With the Packers facing fourth-and-8 from the Chicago 48-yard line in the final minute, Kuhn cut across the formation to throw a block on Bears pass rusher and future teammate Julius Peppers, allowing Rodgers to connect with Randall Cobb on an improbable, game-winning touchdown pass.
Kuhn spoke of that play as one on which all 11 players were simply doing their jobs, but his role in it was as big as anyone’s.
“To me he was a coach on the field,” Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy said in introducing Kuhn for his retirement announcement. “He was a smart player who was always in the right place at the right time, a leader on the field and in the locker room, and a great community contributor off the field.”
As Kuhn’s family re-settles in Green Bay, he said he’s not sure what’s next in his life, but he wants to be around football.
He spoke of “the smell in the air” in the fall when football season rolls around, and how tough it was not to be part of a team last year after going on injured reserve with New Orleans in 2017 and not getting another NFL job in 2018.
“I would love when that atmosphere comes around again I’m some way, somehow part of this game,” he said. “Whether it’s coaching, scouting, covering it, watching it … just to be near it, that’s what my hope is for.”