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Jordy Nelson reflects on a remarkable career

A Packers all-time great and fan favorite, the star receiver fit in from the beginning and never changed


GREEN BAY – Of all the memories, it starts with the Super Bowl for Jordy Nelson.

In the historic victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, he had nine catches for 140 yards and a touchdown, stepping forward in a big way after veteran Donald Driver left the game early with a broken ankle.

It was one of the top postseason performances in franchise history, and it could have been even better if not for a couple of dropped passes, as Aaron Rodgers kept feeding the third-year pro who was becoming a rising star.

But in typical Nelson fashion, he didn't think too much about it at the time nor get caught up in the pressure of the ups and downs as the game unfolded. He simply lined up every play, did his thing, and let the chips fall.

That was Nelson, then and now.

"When Donald went down early with his ankle, things changed rapidly, but in the moment it's so fast and keeps picking up, you can't dwell on it too much," Nelson said Tuesday morning in the Lambeau Field auditorium as he came back to Green Bay to make his retirement from football official.

"It's still frustrating to look back and I've yet to watch the game and probably never will watch the game. Any athlete, you remember and regret the bad more than you do the good. Hopefully now I can enjoy the good."

He remembers the aftermath more than anything, with all the confetti falling on the AT&T Stadium turf, soaking in the moment with his wife and son, who had just celebrated his first birthday that week.

Nearly a decade and two additional children later, he has plenty more to reflect upon whenever he chooses to, including several lofty places in the franchise record book.

Over 10 years with the Packers (2008-17), Nelson caught 550 passes (ranking third) for 7,848 yards (fifth) and 69 touchdowns (second), with 25 100-yard games (third). His 1,519 receiving yards in 2014 still stands as the team's single-season mark, though Davante Adams closed in on it last year, and he's the only player in Packers history with 13 or more TDs in three separate seasons.

Numbers aside, he's one of the most beloved Packers ever, in part because of how he remained genuinely true to his roots as a Midwest farm kid who knew only how to work hard. Coming to Green Bay as a second-round draft pick from Kansas State in 2008 couldn't have been a more perfect match.

From the day he entered the Packers locker room he knew he was in the right place, because it wasn't the type of ego- and diva-filled place he'd been led to believe defined the NFL.

"Guys like Charles Woodson, Aaron and Donald, they hardly talked and just worked, and it set the standard," Nelson said. "It was easy to step right into it."

He found shared values, fit right in, and then kept his eyes and ears open. The unparalleled chemistry he developed over a decade with Rodgers actually started in his early years when he played sparingly behind the likes of Greg Jennings, Driver and James Jones.

Having only been a receiver for three years before getting drafted, Nelson knew he had a lot to learn and therefore focused on the conversations Rodgers had with his other veteran receivers. Whenever they spoke, he listened.

"I was just trying to absorb everything," he said. "One thing I always tried to do was never have to be told a second time. I wanted to be able to learn, if it was from their mistakes or what they did well, so (Rodgers) didn't have to tell me again a couple years later."

What resulted in Nelson's prime was an array of unstoppable back-shoulder throws, spectacular tip-toe sideline grabs, long breakaway touchdowns and improvised big plays. As Rodgers won two MVP awards in 2011 and '14, the duo was seemingly never not on the same page.

A torn ACL in the 2015 preseason cost Nelson a full year and likely much higher marks in franchise annals, but he returned in 2016 to win NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors with another monster season.

By then he was firmly established as the elder statesmen and leader in the receiver room while the team's current go-to guy, Adams, was coming into his own. His work ethic and professional approach to everything he did leaves a legacy in the locker room greater than he probably realizes.

"That's for them to answer," Nelson said. "I kept it simple, came in and worked, and did what was asked."

Nelson's final year in Green Bay, 2017, unfortunately was largely without Rodgers after the quarterback broke his right collarbone in Week 6. Nelson had caught six TD passes in the season's first five games as he and Rodgers raised their franchise record as a duo together to 65 (70 including postseason), but it stopped there.

Nelson didn't catch another TD pass for the Packers, was released heading into 2018 and signed with Oakland, where he played his final pro season. As hard as it was to leave Green Bay, he has no regrets over what he described as an enjoyable year in California with his family, but when the Raiders released him, he and his wife decided not to keep moving around.

As he gets settled again back in Kansas, he's working on building a house and helping his brother on the farm. Other than that, he has no immediate plans in retirement. It was important, though, to come back to Green Bay to end things where they started.

Nelson ranks No. 3 in franchise history in receptions (550), No. 5 in receiving yards (7,848), No. 2 in touchdown receptions (69) and No. 3 in 100-yard receiving games (25).

He called it "humbling" and "surreal" to be as revered as he is by the fan base, and his career exceeded any preconceived notions, because the humble kid from Kansas never thought he'd get to the NFL in the first place.

Back when he was studying game films on VCR tapes with his high school teammates of opponents he knew they'd beat, he did it because it was the right way to go about it, not because he was thinking about being a future NFL star.

"I guess it started there," he said.

For the Packers it started the day he was drafted in 2008, which President/CEO Mark Murphy recalled as he introduced Nelson on Tuesday.

"I remember thinking at the time how excited Ted Thompson was, and I realize now Ted didn't get excited very often," Murphy said. "I remember him saying our fans are going to love Jordy Nelson, and boy was he right."