'Turf Monster' No Match for Hentrich in Super Season


*As part of the Green Bay Packers' celebration of the 10th anniversary season of the Super Bowl XXXI Championship, Packers.com is running a series of stories about the people responsible for bringing the Vince Lombardi trophy back home to Titletown.

Craig Hentrich was about to kick off in the biggest game of his NFL career and he wasn't thinking of the bright lights, the opponent, or the magnitude of Super Bowl XXXI.

Instead, Hentrich, the Packers punter and kickoff specialist, had just one thing on his mind: the turf monster.

He had good friend and kicker Chris Jacke to thank for that.

Ten years later, Hentrich, 35, who is now entering his 14th season in the league, still thinks about how nervous he and all of his teammates were, and then having Jacke convince him that he would literally fall flat on his face in front of millions of viewers.

"Chris Jacke had me convinced that the turf monster was going to grab me on the way up for the opening kickoff," Hentrich recalled with a laugh. "And what I mean by the turf monster is that the turf was coming to grab my foot and trip me. So I just remember that was my last thought out there before I was getting ready to kick.

It wasn't that I'm playing in the Super Bowl, it was, 'Please don't let the turf monster get me.' So that was the kind of memory that stuck with me all those years."

Despite having those thoughts running through his head initially, it turned out that Hentrich really had nothing to worry about at all. In fact, it would have been difficult to imagine him having a stronger performance than the one he had that day.

In addition to handling the kickoff duties, Hentrich averaged 42.7 yards on seven punts, including booming 58- and 54-yarders. The playoffs were just an extension of maybe his finest regular season as a Packer in '96 for the 6-foot-3, 200-pound punter. He possessed the rare combination of being able to place the ball inside the 20-yard line (he managed that a team-record 28 times) as well as being able to punt with power.

The Packers may have been known for their stingy defense and explosive offense that magical season, but the special teams units came up big -- particularly in the postseason -- and Hentrich was instrumental to the team's success.

According to Hentrich, much of that success can be attributed to the players enjoying their time with one another.

"We just had so much fun, and that's what I remember the most," Hentrich said. "I remember a lot of Jim McMahon stories that I still tell to this day."

McMahon may have not seen the field that season, but Hentrich isn't the first teammate who suggested the backup quarterback played a role in helping the team be successful.

"I just remember getting a lot of laughs," Hentrich noted. "He was just one of the funniest human beings I ever met in my life. He kept the locker room loose and even minutes before we were going out for the Super Bowl, he had guys laughing in the locker room.

"That was a big key for us. We came out relaxed. Or as relaxed as you can be in a game like that. And a lot of it had to do with Jim and his humor."

Hentrich has now been with the Tennessee Titans for eight seasons, and he admits that things just aren't the same since he entered the league with the Packers in 1993 as an undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame.

"I think the whole mentality of the younger players nowadays has changed from back when I was a rookie and in my first few years," Hentrich explained. "I came into the league and was spoiled. I came into a great team. And every year we made the playoffs. We never had a record below nine or 10 wins.

"Then I came to Tennessee and the first year we were 8-8 or 7-9 and that was my first losing season. So, I was spoiled early."

His numbers may have been gaudy and the team certainly had plenty of great years while Hentrich was in town, but he acknowledged that punting in Green Bay wasn't as easy as he may have made it look at times.

"It was tough," Hentrich said. "I mean, I had probably what I consider the best year of my career up there and didn't even make the Pro Bowl, so that shows you hard it is to punt up there."


And according to Hentrich, punting in Green Bay may have been even more difficult if it weren't for special teams coach Nolan Cromwell.

"I think the best thing I learned from Nolan was poise," Hentrich explained. "I was so nervous coming into the league and really insecure. I didn't know if I really belonged in this league or not because I didn't know if I was good enough.

"But he taught me poise and confidence that stuck with me to this day. I got to see him for the first time in gosh, eight years, when we played them last year and it was really good to see him again. I owe him a lot."

Hentrich, who has two kids -- a daughter Abbey, and a son Sam -- resides with his wife Lisa, in Canters, Tenn. When it's suggested that Hentrich is still punting at a high level, he said, "Well, not quite as strong as I used to be, so I have to make up for it in other ways. But I still feel pretty good."

Hentrich may have moved on from the Packers, but he admits he still watches William Henderson and Brett Favre as well as a couple others that are still around from the time when he was there. And of course, his Green Bay days still bring him fond memories.

"It was a great run up there and I had a great time," he said.

One aspect of his life that Hentrich hasn't moved on from is his love for golf. For him, it offers another sport he excels in and something he very much enjoys. But despite his success, he claims to have no interest in pursuing it professionally.

"It's something I love to do," Hentrich explained. "It's my passion when I'm not in football. That's my relaxation time to get out there on the golf course and solve the world's problems. I don't know what I do when I'm out there, but I enjoy it.

"I'm just a Sunday hacker and just love to get out and enjoy the company and fresh air."

He probably doesn't have to worry about the turf monster, either.

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