Self-aware Wallace fits right in
Of course Steve Brickey remembers The Run. Jack Whitver does, too.
In a college career filled with breathtaking plays, Seneca Wallace’s zig-zagging sprint around and through the Texas Tech defense in 2002 might be his most unforgettable. On an I-don’t-believe-what-I-just-saw 12-yard touchdown odyssey, Iowa State’s sports information department estimates that Wallace ran 135 yards en route to the end zone.
But as Brickey, Iowa State offensive coordinator’s that day, and Whitver, Wallace’s teammate and wide receiving target, recalled Monday night all the incredible moments they saw their quarterback deliver in his two seasons leading the Cyclones, it was a throw that stood out more.
Here was the only problem: Brickey, now the quarterbacks coach at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., and Whitver, now an Iowa state senator, were recalling two different plays that were strikingly similar.
But more on those plays later.
As the two men spoke glowingly of Wallace – now the Green Bay Packers’ backup quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers – they couldn’t emphasize enough the kind of person they believed the Packers were getting. Rodgers’ excitement about having Wallace in the quarterback room with him – the first time since Rodgers took over for Brett Favre as the Packers’ starter in 2008 that he’s had an older, more experienced backup – was palpable on Monday afternoon, and it all came from the first impression Wallace made on him.
According to Whitver, that shouldn’t be a surprise. The same thing happened to him when Wallace arrived on campus in Ames as a transfer from Sacramento City Community College in January 2001.
“He definitely has the ‘It Factor,’” Whitver said in a telephone interview. “People like him, people gravitate toward him. He came in as a junior with the starting quarterback job wide open, and even as a JUCO transfer, he came in and became such a leader before he even played a snap. Just the way he carried himself – it was a quiet confidence, very mature, always very focused. He always had such a long view.”
Not much has changed in the decade since. While it certainly seems like the Packers bungled their backup quarterback situation – in less than a month, the No. 2 job has gone from Graham Harrell to Vince Young to B.J. Coleman (albeit briefly) and now to Wallace – they just might’ve lucked into a guy who’ll fit perfectly.
Not only does the 33-year-old Wallace understand exactly why he’s been brought in (to help Rodgers in any way he can and, heaven forbid, fill in for him if disaster strikes) but he is utterly comfortable in his own skin and has no grand illusions of one last hurrah at starting glory.
“The ones who stay around for a long period of time are the ones who get it,” said Wallace, who entered the league as a fourth-round pick in 2003 with the Seattle, drafted by then-Seahawks vice president of football operations Ted Thompson, now the Packers general manager. “Look, it’s been a blessing for me to keep playing this game. I’ve been here 11 years
“When I first came in, it was ‘This guy can’t really play in a NFL system.’ For me to be here 11 years later, I have no complaints about how my career has went. If that’s a back-up, whatever I can do, I’m going to be the best at it. Whatever it is, whatever role it is, even when I was playing receiver in my early days in Seattle, as long as I step on the field, I’m going to do my best. As a back-up, I’m going to do whatever I need to do to continue my success and provide whatever I can provide to A-Rod. It’s a blessing. I’m just excited to keep going on with my career.”
Wallace actually came to Green Bay for a workout last fall, which he spent out of football after two seasons with Cleveland. He signed with New Orleans this spring and spent the offseason with the Saints before being released on Aug. 19, then spent a week with the San Francisco 49ers, whom he felt used him to pressure Colt McCoy into restructuring his deal. Wallace was trying Monday to move past his brief stint with the 49ers – who, conveniently, are the Packers’ opponent in Sunday’s regular-season opener – and focus on getting up to speed on the playbook as much as he can.
“It’s just awesome. You can never dream about how things worked out,” Wallace said of extricating himself from the 49ers situation and landing in Green Bay. “I mean, it was tough. It was a tough couple weeks. But what happened is behind me and now I’m moving forward and focusing on being here in Green Bay and being the best provider as a backup to A-Rod.”
Asked about how his backup quarterback situation played out, coach Mike McCarthy was slightly defiant – “If it didn't work out the way people are used to, I make no apologies for that at all,” he replied in part – but seemed genuinely pleased with the end result.
“Seneca Wallace has been in the league 11 years. He's been a backup quarterback primarily his whole career. He clearly understands the role, has a lot of experience in and out of systems,” McCarthy said of Wallace, who has started 21 career games. “Just talking football with him (Sunday) night, I felt confident that he'll be ready to play Sunday. That was part of our conversation.”
The conversations Monday night were about Whitver and Brickey’s favorite moments with Wallace. Both recalled plays on which Wallace rolled to his left, then made picture-perfect throws across his body for big gains. For Whitver, it was one against in-state rival Iowa in Iowa City 2002, the second of back-to-back victories Wallace engineered over the Hawkeyes, when Wallace scrambled through the end zone, was approaching the left sideline and hurled a 30-yard strike back across the middle to Whitver. The Cyclones had rallied from a 24-7 deficit to take a 30-24 lead at that point, but a mistake there against the third-ranked Hawkeyes could have been disastrous.
“They had started to get the momentum back, and it looked like he was going to go out of the end zone,” Whitver recalled. (Iowa State ended up winning, 36-31.) “When we were in college, I would say he was the best player on the field in almost every game we played. That Iowa game, (Hawkeyes quarterback) Brad Banks finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting that year, and Seneca outplayed him. You always thought if you had him on your team, you had a chance to win.”
For Brickey, meanwhile, it was a 41-yard touchdown pass Wallace threw to wide receiver Craig Campbell the year before, when the Cyclones beat the Hawkeyes 17-14 in Ames, that stood out.
“It was a long throw down the sideline. He was running to his left and he had hardly anywhere to put the ball except exactly where it came down to our receiver,” Brickey said. “I remember that one as a really amazing throw under duress, being chased. He just put it right on the money 40 yards down the field. Of all of them – and there were plenty – that stuck out more than any. And it was against Iowa and helped us win the game.
“The thing I loved about him was how accurate he was. When he came to us, I can remember that first spring, that very first practice, he always put the ball in the right spot. If a guy had a linebacker inside of him, he put it on his outside shoulder. He was just an extremely accurate thrower.”
A decade later, Wallace’s throwing accuracy may not be needed if Rodgers, who has missed only one game due to injury since becoming the starter in 2008, stays healthy. But his accuracy in another way – the self-aware picture he has of who he is and the role he’ll play for this team – just might allow the Packers to escape their mismanagement of the backup quarterback position unscathed.
“(McCarthy) just pretty much laid it out on the line what they were looking for, and I was blessed enough to be that person. So I’m here,” Wallace said. “(It’s about) just providing my insight as far as a veteran goes. (They’ve never had) a veteran quarterback backup to try to help A-Rod during the game and during the meetings and things like that. Just some of the insight that I can provide (from) being around for a long time (might help).
“I guess I’m the (second-) oldest one in the locker room, which is hilarious. It’s exciting just to be able to keep playing in this journey and so I’m just excited to be here.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.