This was the first time I saw him after the Packers drafted Ferguson in the second round in 2001. This moment came in the locker room after a practice. He was a controversial pick from the start, as many wondered why then-GM Ron Wolf didn't opt for Wisconsin's Chris Chambers, who has went on to have a nice career with Miami.
One major reason was then-coach Mike Sherman, a Texas A&M alum, worked out Ferguson at A&M and advised Wolf he was the pick. This came during the transition from Wolf to Sherman as GM, and Wolf said he wouldn't give Sherman a player he didn't want, especially when Wolf was retiring. Sherman didn't want Chambers, he wanted Ferguson, so there you have it.
Although this wasn't Sherman's pick officially, it was an unofficial pick, and it came right after the Packers picked Jamal Reynolds in the first round, when Wolf wanted Dan Morgan.
Sherman made many gaffes during his GM tenure and once again another high-round pick has failed. Sherman's successors, GM Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy, informed Ferguson on Thursday he was not needed anymore in Green Bay, ending a stay in Green Bay which could only be termed as disappointing. Friday, he was released after the Packers couldn't find a team to trade him to (don't be surprised if Ferguson reunites with Sherman in Houston).
"We're going in another direction," McCarthy said. "We're just moving on with the other guys."
From the start, Ferguson was headed down the wrong road. During his rookie training camp, he caught the ire of Brett Favre for not knowing the playbook. Then in a preseason game against Miami, Ferguson was pulled from the field and retreated to the bench and slammed his helmet to the ground, much like players do to a football when they score a touchdown. Ferguson's rookie year was a waste (zero cacthes, 1 game), but it's not uncommon for receivers to struggle as rookies. As an observer of the team, I thought Ferguson could break out in his second season. He managed 22 catches followed by a career-high 38 in Year 3 as a starter. Now I'm thinking, "He's coming."
As it turned out, he was done. Ferguson was labeled a starter, but was quickly passed by Donald Driver. Injuries began to set in and his special teams work became more of his forte as his receiving numbers fell quicker than a chin when Jessica Alba walks by a group of men.
All these shortcomings made me wonder what could've been. I remember watching Ferguson practice with the JUGS machine, catching ball after ball. I remember looking at a receiver who was physically gifted. I remember watching a receiver play through knee injuries when it would've been best for him to miss a few weeks.
It's an overused word, but Ferguson was a warrior. For all the bad there was with Ferguson, there was plenty of good. He has, not had, the tools to produce in this league, but for whatever reason it didn't happen in Green Bay. You then look at a guy like Driver, who has made himself into a Pro Bowler. And unlike Ferguson, Driver has managed to stay healthy.
Picking players in the NFL is in inexact science. So may top 15 picks flame out (i.e. Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Cade McNown all in one draft), so when a second-rounder doesn't make it, should we be surprised?
But when you see a guy like Ferguson, who possesses so much physical skill and can't make it with Favre as his quarterback, you realize no matter how good a player is physically, there's always the mental and health hurdles that need to be cleared.
Maybe a decade a ago a receiver named Yatil Green was a can't-miss prospect. A first-round talent with a bigger upside than Gilbert Brown's backside. But knee injuries prevented him from every doing a thing with Miami.
Injuries are the one thing which can extinguish a pro career. Ferguson ends his Packers career with 116 receptions for 1,577 yards and 12 touchdowns. Hardly the numbers you expect from a second-round pick. He missed 36 of a possible 96 regular season games because of injury.
His decline only shines the spotlight on Chambers' career even more. What could've been if the Packers stayed in-state and picked the Badger? What could've been is a phrase that will always be related to Robert Ferguson's career in Green Bay. What could've been? It could've been special, but as it turned out, it wasn't even close.
Doug Ritchay is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.