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Packers Address Need For Punt Returner, Sign Darrien Gordon, NFC's 2001 Champion, As A Free Agent; M


Addressing a major need, the Green Bay Packers have signed three-time Super Bowl veteran Darrien Gordon, the National Football Conference's punt return leader in 2001, as a free agent, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman announced Tuesday.

The 31-year-old Stanford alumnus, an eight-year professional and the possessor of an imposing 12.3-yard average for 279 career regular-season punt returns, averaged 14.1 yards for 31 runbacks as a member of the Atlanta Falcons last season to lead the NFC.

Gordon thus becomes a prime candidate to replace the departed Allen Rossum, the Packers' punt returner the past two seasons, who, by a curious coincidence, earlier in the offseason signed with Atlanta as a free agent.

Frank Novak, the Packers' special teams coach, hailed Gordon's addition, noting, "He'll bring experience to that position. Not only is he extremely capable of generating excellent field position for us....he makes good decisions. He knows when to catch the ball, when to let it go. He will direct traffic back there with his people that are protecting for him as to when the ball is short and they have to get away from him. He's been doing this for a long time and he's done it very well, so we're very happy to have him.

"He will solidify an area that became weak when we lost Allen Rossum, and became unpredictable...He is a guy that will bring some credibility to that position, mainly because he's been in the league, he's done it for so long and he's done it well. Maybe he doesn't have the burst he had when he was young, but he can make the first guy miss and generate good field position for us...He had a great year last year with Atlanta."

Over Gordon's career, which has seen him play for four teams prior to joining the Packers, the 5-11, 190-pound Oklahoman has been to the top of pro football's "mountain" three times, helping the San Diego Chargers reach Super Bowl XXIX following the 1994 season and the Denver Broncos win back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998, the first of them against the Packers.

Overall, Gordon has played in 12 postseason games and has accumulated 200 yards with 21 punt returns, a 9.5-yard average.

In addition to pacing the NFC in punt returns last season, he also has been the AFC's season leader twice - in 1994 with San Diego, when he averaged 13.2 yards for 36 runbacks, and in 1996, when he averaged a career-high 14.9 yards, also on 36 returns.

Gordon, who also has been a starting cornerback for 65 regular-season games, set - and still holds - career Super Bowl records for most interception return yards, 108, in SB XXXIII against the Atlanta Falcons January 31, 1999. He is the possessor of 5 career postseason interceptions, with 156 total return yards.

Additionally, he shares NFL single-game regular-season records for most touchdowns by punt return, 2, and most touchdowns by combined kick return, 2, posted with Denver on November 9, 1997, against Carolina.

The Shawnee, Okla., native had his most productive year as a returner in 1997, amassing a career-high 543 yards on 40 returns (a 13.6-yard average) while a member of t he Broncos.

Originally San Diego's first-round selection in the 1993 NFL draft, the 22nd player chosen, Gordon spent his first four years with the Chargers, sitting out the entire 1995 season with a shoulder injury. Subsequently granted unconditional free agency February 14, 1997, he signed with Denver on April 30 of that year, and started 22 games for the Broncos over the 1997 and 1998 seasons, including all 16 games in '98.

Granted unconditional free agency by Denver February 12, 1999, he signed with the Oakland Raiders just under four months later (June 9). Released by the Raiders March 1, 2001, he signed on with Atlanta and played in all 16 games for the Falcons last season, posting 1 interception as a defensive back, in addition to leading the NFC in punt-return average.

In another transaction, the Packers have placed linebacker Cornell Menafee on waivers Sherman announced.

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