If you think Ruvell Martin left Green Bay a bitter man after losing his job to Brett Swain, then you don't know Ruvell Martin very well.
"This is how good of a man Ruvell Martin is," Swain said after Monday's practice. "He called me about 1:30 in the afternoon (on cutdown Saturday) and he said he wanted to give me an early congratulations. That's how good of a man Ruvell Martin is. It touched my heart, and that's one thing I'll learn from him and that he's taught me since I've been here is just to be a good person and have good character. That really touched my heart a little bit. I love Ruvell for that."
According to Swain, Martin said Swain was the first person he called with the news that he had been released.
"I told him I really wished they could have kept both of us, which is what I was hoping for," Swain said. "I appreciate what he did and I wish him the best of luck, also. It was pretty amazing that he did that."
That the reliable, selfless Martin lost his hold on the No. 5 receiver job was the big news from Saturday. In three seasons with the Packers, Martin caught 52 passes and scored six touchdowns. Swain, meanwhile, was a seventh-round pick last year who spent the entire season on the practice squad. While Martin and fellow receivers Greg Jennings, James Jones and Donald Driver would play spades in the main locker room, Swain was banished to the auxiliary locker room. He was part of the team, but not really.
"Last year, I sat right there on the edge (of the main locker room) and was looking in here all year last year," Swain said. "You want to be in here mingling with everybody. Once you're finally here, now you just want to be on the field with them. The extra hard work comes into play again, just like it did on the practice squad."
Maybe Martin's selflessness had rubbed off on Swain already. During Thursday's preseason finale against Tennessee, coach Mike McCarthy elected to give starting cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson the night off, nickel cornerback Tramon Williams was slated to play only one series with the starters and fourth corner Will Blackmon was out with a bruised thigh.
So, when the short-handed Packers lost rookie cornerback Brandon Underwood to a stinger and second-year corner Pat Lee to a knee injury, the coaches went looking for an emergency fill-in. That fill-in was Swain.
"They didn't really have anybody to go to," Swain said. "They kind of looked to me because I played a little corner in high school and I did a little on the practice squad last year. They needed a guy to fill that spot and they came to me, and I was able to do it."
Swain came to the Packers with an athletic background. His father, Steve, was a first-round draft choice by baseball's Houston Astros in 1982 and played outfield in the team's minor-league system. Swain considered playing at San Diego State, which was coached by hit machine Tony Gwynn, "But I loved football too much."
Swain caught 135 passes for the Aztecs, including 58 as a senior. As a seventh-round pick, the 6-foot, 194-pound Swain wasn't strong enough to handle the Packers' press coverage, and between that and the challenge of learning the playbook, he struggled through training camp and never really threatened Martin's spot on the roster.
"I don't know how much better I am but I feel a lot more confident in myself," Swain said. "I'm more confident in my abilities. I try to work as hard as I can off the field to be able to get better on the field."
Swain admitted to letting out a sigh of relief after making the roster, but he knows that's just the start. Nobody would have cared about Martin had he been deactivated when Green Bay set its 45-man gameday roster. Now, the challenge is for Swain to produce on Sundays.
He also has some new friends to make. Driver, Jennings, Jones, Martin and Jordy Nelson had formed a tight-knit group, both on the field and off of it with their families. After spending all of the offseason and this training camp in the auxiliary locker room with the likes of fellow receivers Jake Allen (practice squad again) and Kole Heckendorf (waived), he's now sitting just one stall down from the venerable Driver.
"It's been tough. I've been back there for so long that I haven't been able to be around them a whole lot," Swain said. "Hopefully now, we can start getting in with each other and hopefully I can start picking these guys' brains a little bit more, learning more about this game."
But that's life in professional sports. One person leaves, and another is there to take his place. It's a cold, cold business in which friendships and popularity don't factor into personnel decisions.
"I'll say this: Every year, you stand up here after these last couple of days and this is clearly the most difficult day in the NFL I'm sure for a lot of people, specifically head coaches," McCarthy said. "The Ruvell Martin decision, personally, it tears you up because of the type of person that Ruvell is and what he has meant to us as a team and as a teammate. He's been a productive player. I told Ruvell that if we were to have a billboard and wanted to put a picture of someone that exemplifies a Green Bay Packer, we would put his picture up. That was a very difficult decision, but really Brett Swain, you can't deny the progress that he has made from last year to this year. I thought he did an outstanding job on special teams, and his special-teams work was one of the big factors in him making our football team."
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