Love is strong word and shouldn’t be tossed around lightly. You should say it when you truly mean it and it takes a real man to come to terms with his feelings. That is why I have no problem saying this.
“I love you B.J. Raji!”
I want to yell it from the mountain tops and maybe when I done writing this him and I can get an apartment together. Now, I have a very loving girlfriend and wouldn’t think about jeopardizing our relationship for any other person in the world. But then again if Raji has a couple sacks and maybe a key fumble recovery on Sunday….
My crush on Raji started in April 2009 leading up to the draft. At the time, the two players I really wanted the Packers to get in draft was Brian Orkapo or Raji. As the days got closer, I start to fall for the big man and whenTed Thompson drafted him with the 9th overall pick the expected infatuation ensued. (By the way, nice work again Teddy in 2009 landing two future All-Pros in the first round.)
Raji-fever was rabid amongst friends, including one OBOD’s favorite readers Dave from Milwaukee, during our draft-weekend extravaganza. The beers were flowing and the wings were piping hot and we all couldn’t stop yelling “RAJI!” over and over all weekend. On an organized pub-crawl Saturday night, I think we scared some Minneapolis patrons with our “RAJI!” antics. Chris and I still use this phrase on a very frequent basis in social situations. (Getting off topic a bit again, but thank you Goodell for ruining this draft-weekend tradition for us. 18-game season, concussions, lockout, whatever happens next, this draft weekend change upsets me the most about your tenure, Roger.)
So the folklore of Raji was born that weekend. Throughout last season his shine faded a little bit due to injuries and lack of playing time. However, I knew his potential and the big factor he could play in 2010 after Johnny Jolly got too much of his purple drank on.
What transpired this season out of Raji exceeded my high expectations of him. I expected a good season out of him while showing a lot of promise to the future. What I didn’t really expect was the Pro-Bowl level of play he has provided and becoming the the team’s best defensive lineman. Talk all you want about Aaron Rodgers or Tramon Williams not getting the call to go to Hawaii, my biggest grievance with the Pro Bowl selections is Raji.
I wrote it right after the Bears game, Raji is the team’s defensive MVP this season, not Clay Matthews. Granted the defense would be a mess without either, but in a year where Howard Green and Jarius Wynn have gotten key playing time along the defensive line, it is Raji who has held that line together. It is unheard of a nose tackle playing 60+ snaps a game, which he has done. As the season has gone on, he has simply gotten better every week and is playing at his peak right now. When is the last time a big lineman like Raji has done that? It is usually the opposite as the big men tend to break down and become a tad slower towards the end of the year.
Raji is truly the lynchpin of the defense right now. Matthews, Williams, Woodson and Collins all have had great seasons, but it is the Bearclaw who stands out in my mind. Defensive lineman tend to go unnoticed in a 3-4 scheme, so the very fact Raji warrants this kind of coverage makes me love him even more. Against New England, he looked gassed and needed a blow. He headed to the sideline, but turned around for one more play. He sacked Brady the next snap. How can you not love that?
You can go to just about any Packers, Eagles, or NFL site right now to get an extensive breakdown on how to stop Michael Vick on Sunday. To make it simple it starts with the big fella, the Bearclaw. If he can get initial pressure it will open everything else up, including any exotic blitzes Dom Capers is drawing up.
So, I am not breaking any new ground and all of you have probably noticed Raji’s play this year. This is more of an homage, maybe even a love letter to the man who I think doesn’t get enough attention. Maybe I am going soft, but I think I finally found my sensitive side.
Ok, time to put that aside for now, it’s playoff time.