'Slow' To Hole, Slow To Stardom

John Kuhn, who played his way into hero status this year, is perhaps the Packers' most unlikely star. Kuhn, who won a Super Bowl ring in 2005, is the kind of guy you'd draft first if you were choosing teams to play a game in the backyard.

Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin has two favorite jokes about John Kuhn.

"He's just slow enough to see those cutback lanes."

And ... "We're kicking around the Wing-T for next year, which he made famous at Shippensburg."

Seriously, though, the Packers might not be preparing for the game's grandest stage if not for the former Division II star who was plucked off waivers from their Super Bowl opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

After all, by squeaking into the playoffs with a 10-6 record, it's not like Green Bay had any margin for error. Thrust into more of a playmaking role after Ryan Grant's season-ending injury in Week 1, Kuhn finished with 84 carries for 281 yards and four touchdowns after rushing 18 times for 46 yards and two touchdowns in his first four seasons.

Would the Packers have held off Detroit in Week 4 had Kuhn not rushed seven times for 34 yards on the clinching series — including 8 yards on third-and-7 — when the Packers ran out the final 6:36? Would they have won those 10 games without Kuhn ranking third in the NFL by converting 83.3 percent of the time on third-and-1 or third-and-2?

"Aside from his versatility is he's got some instinctiveness as an athlete and as a football player that's kind of hard to develop," Philbin said. "As coaches, as much time as we spend with these guys and as much information that we give, there's something to be said for that guy that if you were in your backyard and you were playing ball as a kid, you might be picking this guy early. I think John's kind of like that. He's kind of got that thing where he's got the poise, he's got the confidence, he's got some versatility and he's got some instinct. He understands the game pretty well. You don't have to explain things to him an awful lot and he's not surprised by things on the field. That's a comforting factor to a coach when you're getting ready to play a big game."

A big game like the Super Bowl, for instance. Kuhn is the only Packers player with a Super Bowl ring, won while on the Steelers' practice squad in 2005. That ring, however, is locked in a safe at his home. He'd much rather wear one that he's earned for what he's done on the field.

He'll certainly get that opportunity on Feb. 6, whether it's as a blocker, runner, receiver, special-teamer or even a decoy, which he was on Aaron Rodgers touchdown run against Chicago.

"I'm anxious already for the game," Kuhn said on Monday. "I want to get there and I want to play. Because like I said, this has been something that I've looked at ever since I was there with Pittsburgh, and I just wanted to get back there and play so badly. And to be back there and play against Pittsburgh, it's a whirlwind of emotions, but I'm more excited than anything."

Kuhn was born in York, Pa., and ran wild for 4,695 yards and 53 touchdowns at Shippensburg, a community of about 5,600 located in south-central Pennsylvania and about three hours east of Pittsburgh. Nonetheless, Kuhn grew up a Cowboys fan. Playing in the NFL, not surprisingly given the level of competition, really wasn't on his radar.

"I didn't really think about playing in the NFL until about my junior year in college," Kuhn said in a recent conversation. "My coach told me that he thought I could make the jump, and I kind of even batted an eye at that, like, 'Oh, you're crazy. This is Shippensburg.' But at the end of the year, I talked to a couple people that knew a couple people and they said, you know, you might have a shot."

Kuhn was signed as an undrafted free agent by Pittsburgh in 2005. He failed to make the final roster but was signed to the practice squad for the final five games of the season. He failed to make the roster in 2006, as well, but was brought back to the practice squad and eventually played in nine games. He failed again to make the roster in 2007. This time, however, the Packers plucked him off of waivers.

Entering this season, he had played in 46 of a possible 48 games in Green Bay with 10 starts. Then, Grant — their 1,200-yard workhorse — went down, Brandon Jackson struggled and James Starks was hurt. By necessity, Kuhn was shifted to halfback, and a folk hero was born. Home or away, "Kuuuuhn!" can be heard ringing through stadiums — just like they did in college, albeit in front of much larger crowds today.

"We lost Ryan early in the season and we've been trying to fill holes all season long," Kuhn said. "We've done a good job. Each guy has stepped in different weeks and done something special. If you look, you could point at every guy in the backfield and say this is the week they did something special. This is the week Brandon Jackson did something special. This is the week Starks came, his coming-out party. So, I think everybody's contributed well along the ride."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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