GREEN BAY ? The dye is officially No. 5535 on the Pantone Matching System color chart. It?s what gives the Pro-Brite heavyweight polyester mesh its dark green hue.
But on Tuesday evening, as he stood near his locker for quite possibly the final time, Brandon Jackson knew that far more had seeped into that jersey, that it had absorbed four of the best years of his life Sunday by Sunday, culminating in the Super Bowl XLV championship 48 hours earlier.
So yes, it was a remarkable scene at Lambeau Field Tuesday, with more than 50,000 devoted people braving subzero wind chills to listen to their heroes thank them for their support, promise a repeat in 2011 and share the love that came with the Green Bay Packers? fourth Super Bowl title and 13th overall championship.
But to truly understand what this team accomplished by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday at Cowboys Stadium, you needed to come in from the cold. Super Bowl MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers? speech was great, the players? victory lap around the stadium while holding out the Vince Lombardi Trophy for front-rowers to touch was wonderful, general manager Ted Thompson nervously calling it the Lambeau Trophy charmingly comical.
But it was in watching 50 or so grown men jockey for position at the equipment room window, where T-Bone and Red and Odea and Kevin were handing out their game-worn green jerseys, that the accomplishment became real. It was in watching Jackson tugging at the edges of the fabric, tracing the outline of the No. 32 tackle-twill; in watching Jarrett Bush?s eyes moisten as he talked about the interception he?d snared while wearing his No. 24 ? it was in those moments when the reality of what they?d accomplished truly sunk in.
?That?s four hard years of dedication, blood, sweat, tears, adversity that goes into that 32,? said Jackson, the ultra-professional running back who toiled as the team?s third-down back without a single complaint, even after Ryan Grant?s season-ending ankle injury didn?t lead to the full-time starting gig he?d expected. (You can hear the emotion in his voice for yourself by clicking here.)
?The history of the organization goes into that 32. My family, the love, the support goes into that 32. My faith in Christ goes into that 32. There?s a lot of history, there?s a lot of accolades, there?s a lot of things that go into that 32 that?s on that jersey. That jersey will not be washed. It will be hung up, framed, with the rest of my jerseys that I have from college, high school.
?That 32 is very special to me. It?s been ? I don?t know. It?s emotional, you know, when I talk about it because I?ve been through a lot here. The road is tough. And to bring home the Lombardi Trophy, to have that patch on the side of my shoulder, it?s amazing.?
Moments earlier, in another part of the expansive locker room, Bush was staring at the captains patch embroidered on one side of the collar and the Super Bowl XLV logo heat-transferred on the other. The special teams ace had been through his share of ups and downs during his five years in Green Bay, enduring more than his share of criticism along the way. But as he looked at the No. 24 on his jersey, he rattled off the stains ? ?Gatorade, dirt, some chicken broth ?? ? he came to another mark and knew immediately what it was from: The ball, from his second-quarter interception.
?My heart melted. Melted,? he said, bowing his head, tears welling. ?Just all the doubters, all the believers who believed, it?s gratifying. Gratifying. To get an opportunity at that time, at that moment in time ? throughout the whole season, to have it happen at that time, it was special. It meant a lot to me. After the game, I broke down. That?s how much I put into this. It?s not just here. I go home, I think about it. I think about the stuff I try to work on. I work on that year-round. I go back home, it doesn?t end here. It?s a job, but you definitely take it home, because you take so much pride in it. You just try to do the best you can do ? I know that?s kind of cliché, but ? the best you can do.
?There?s kids out there, on the street, running around. I?m just glad I gave them hope. That?s all it takes, is hope. That?s all it takes. Hope.?
Tuesday wasn?t the first time the players were allowed to keep their jerseys, but according to assistant equipment Tom ?T-Bone? Bakken, who has been with the team for going on two decades, it is a rarity. Each jersey is specifically tailored to each player ? ?You don?t just throw a jersey at them,? Bakken said ? for the perfect fit, they are normally re-used for multiple years. But on Tuesday, each jersey was given to its owner ? and each told a story.
?I took mine from the game. I didn?t want them to wash it. I wanted to keep it stinky, with the holes and the tears and the scuff marks on it,? fullback John Kuhn explained. ?Just great memories, man. There was a lot of hard work that went into that victory we had on Sunday. We?ve all had our ups and downs this year as an individual and as a team.?
?It?s almost like you feel transformed when you put it on ? you feel like you?re a part of something a heck of a lot bigger than yourself,? first-year punter Tim Masthay said. ?And then to have the Packers jersey with the Super Bowl emblem and know that you played in that thing ? the biggest game you can play in ? it?s surreal.?
But at the same time, the stark reality of the business side of the game was setting in. While Tuesday?s celebration was quite the sight to behold ? the non-HD television broadcast scarcely did it justice ? it also likely marked the end of the line for a handful of players in Titletown. Among the free agents who may not return were Jackson, Kuhn and defensive end Cullen Jenkins, all of whom were key contributors to the cause, even though they didn?t receive the same acclaim as Rodgers or Clay Matthews or B.J. Raji.
?I really like it here in Green Bay. Not just on the field but off the field. I feel like I?m a good fit here. I love this locker room, I love the guys on the team, so I really hope (to be back),? Kuhn said.
Jenkins, who first joined the team since being cut in training camp in 2003 and made the roster for good in 2004, did something he?d never done at the end of any previous season: He removed every single item from his locker. All that remained were clumps of turf from the cleats he?d removed.
?Going into the year, we had approached (the Packers), because you want a little security. I wanted to stay here, and it would?ve been nice to have something done so you?re not having to think about it the whole year, but obviously that wasn?t what they were thinking at the time and it hasn?t felt that way up to this point,? Jenkins said. ?Something could still get done, I would like to be here, but the way things have went, I wouldn?t be surprised (if this was it).
?I?m pretty confident in my game, I?m pretty confident in what I can do. I know there?ll be some place for me. I?d prefer it be here, but if it?s not, there?ll be some place for me.?
For Jackson, an even more challenging decision awaits. Given his value as Rodgers? personal protector in the backfield, the Packers ? and Rodgers ? undoubtedly want him back. But with Grant set to return from injury and rookie James Starks having piqued the team?s interest with his running ability, Jackson could also garner outside interest and seek an opportunity to be an every-down back ? the role he expected to have when the team took him in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft, and the role he thought he?d finally gotten after Grant?s injury.
?When I walk out this door, what I?m going to remember is the love that this organization gave me. Drafting me in the second round, taking a chance on me. Me giving my all to this team,? Jackson said. ?I feel like I?m the ultimate team player. You?ll never hear a peep out of me. I?m always doing my job. That?s what it takes to win this. That?s what we did Sunday. When I walk out of here, it?s going to be full of joy. Full of tears. Full of exciting memories. Nothing can take that away. There?s a lot of love that goes into this organization when I walk out this locker room.
?It?s not up to me. If the Packers want me, they?ve got me. When I leave this door, it?s going to be full of joy. It?s been a great ride.?