A Super Bowl hero is crediting his eye-popping success this season to old-school racial stereotypes.
Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, who is white, has become one of quarterback Aaron Rodgers' favorite targets and believes his skin color has been somewhat of an asset.
Nelson broke into the spotlight a year ago by scoring a crucial touchdown in his team's Super Bowl XLV win over the Steelers, becoming just the fourth NFL wide receiver ever to post nine catches for 140 yards and a score in the Super Bowl.
Other Packers receivers joke that Nelson is the beneficiary of being the only white receiver on the team, suggesting opposing defensive backs don't think of Nelson as a big a threat.
Nelson tells the Green Bay Press Gazette that he's used this racial bias to his advantage. "Honestly, I think it is (a factor)," Nelson told the Press Gazette. "As receivers, we've talked about it. I know (cornerbacks coach) Joe Whitt tells me all the time, when all the rookies come in, he gives them the heads up, 'Don't let him fool ya.' That's fine with me."
Packers teammate Greg Jennings, who is black, believes Nelson isn't like other white pass catchers who've played in the NFL. "It's easy for someone to say, 'Oh yeah, he’s like one of those other white receivers,'" Jennings said. "He's not. I'm sorry. He's not. He knows how I feel about it. Maybe I'm a little biased because he is a teammate, but from watching him day one to right now, totally different player."
Among the top 15 NFL wide receivers in yardage, only New England Patriots star Wes Welker, the league leader in receptions and yards, is white.
Jennings went on to tell the Green Bay Press Gazette that race is indeed part of the story. "He uses that to his advantage," Jennings said. "Don’t put this out there because that’s our secret. But no, seriously, he has taken full advantage of every position that he’s been in whether it be special teams with the kick return game, now being the No. 2 ... however you want to put it, he's taken full advantage of it. It’s not because he didn’t put the time in. It's not because he's the white guy. A lot of it has to do with the fact that guys look at him say, 'OK, yeah, he's the white guy, he can't be that good. 'Well, he is that good. He's proven to be that good, and it's because of the work and the time that he's put on not only on the field but in his preparation off the field."
Apparently people have been underestimating Nelson for a while. He went from being a walk-on safety as a freshman in 2003 to posting the most prolific single season in Kansas State history, with 122 receptions for 1,606 yards in 2007.
Rodgers, the favorite to win league MVP honors, joined the conversation about racial perceptions with a teammate during Green Bay's blowout win over the Vikings on Monday night. "I was talking to 'Wood' (Charles Woodson) in the fourth quarter and he said, 'When you see Jordy out there, you think, 'Oh well, he's a white wide receiver. He won't be very athletic.' But Jordy sort of breaks all those stereotypes," Rodgers said during his weekly radio show in Milwaukee this week. "I am not sure why he keeps sneaking up on guys."
Nelson has caught 61 passes for 1,082 yards and a stunning 13 touchdowns in his past 15 games for the Packers.
This season he's tied with Steve Smith of the Panthers for the NFL's top spot in yards per reception at an impressive 18.6. Nelson's seven touchdown receptions ties him for 7th best in the NFL, behind Detroit's Calvin Johnson (11) and the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski (8).
Jordy Nelson highlights from 2010, when he emerged as a star.
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