NEW YORK CITY––Had it not been for been for John Schneider, former Green Packers players Jon Ryan and Breno Giacomini might not be where they find themselves today, with an opportunity to claim professional football's grandest prize and achieve what every young player dreams of––becoming Super Bowl champions.
Now general manager and architect of the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks, Schneider was formerly a personnel executive for the Packers, a connection he's used to his advantage in building a title-contending team.
For Ryan, even though Schneider had nothing to do with his landing in Seattle––having signed with the Seahawks a full two seasons before the G.M. arrived––it was thanks to Schneider that he was discovered in Green Bay.
"My workout there back in '06, it was just Reggie McKenzie and John Schneider were the two guys that orchestrated the workout," said Ryan.
A native of Regina, Saskatchewan, Ryan began his pro career in the Canadian Football League, booming punts for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The number of players that earn a job in the NFL via the CFL each year can likely be counted on one hand, Ryan being one of the lucky few. And Schneider is at least partially to credit for his discovery.
Ryan helped stabilize the position in Green Bay in 2006 and 2007 following the faux pas that was third round draft choice B.J. Sander the two previous seasons.
But after two years, the Packers decided to part ways with Ryan, being released at the end of training camp in 2008 before latching on with the Seahawks.
Ryan admits he wasn't the best punter in the NFL while in Green Bay, but he's become more consistent and, indeed, one of the best in Seahawks franchise history, setting single-season team records for both gross (46.6) and net (40.8) punting average while in Seattle.
"The six years I've been here, I've definitely improved from when I was in Green Bay and kind of turned that corner from, as I considered myself in Green Bay one of the bottom 10 or 15 punters in the league," said Ryan. "And I think I've kind of turned the corner now. I've become more consistent and overall a better punter."
There's no animosity toward the Packers from Ryan's standpoint for parting ways with him. Things have worked out for him in Seattle and now he has the opportunity to win a Super Bowl ring.
"They're the one that gave me my shot," Ryan said of the Packers. "If not for them, I might not have even gotten my foot in the door. Obviously as a player, you always feel like you've been done wrong a little bit when you're released, but at the same time I understand that it's a business and at the time, they thought that was what's best for the team to let me go. And things have worked out for me, even though kind of in a different way from how I originally thought they were going to."
The feeling is mutual for Giacomini, who's gone from playing one regular season game in Green Bay in two years to becoming the Seahawks starting right tackle for the better part of the last three seasons.
Schneider was in Green Bay when the Packers originally selected Giacomini in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, giving him inside knowledge on the strengths and weaknesses of tall, 6-7 offensive lineman.
When the Packers cut Giacomini after training camp in 2010 but signed him to their practice squad, the relationship between player and executive played a large role in offering him a better opportunity in Seattle.
"There's no question," said Giacomini. "As a matter of fact, right after I signed with the Green Bay practice squad, Schneider called me about two hours later, asking me to come over to Seattle. So it's definitely been the John Schneider connection that got me here. He told me right away. I was on the practice squad for a few weeks in Green Bay, and I did what I could. And Schneider just had an open roster spot and said, 'Hey, come with us.' And I took advantage of that."
Considering where he's been, Giacomini has come a long way in the NFL, barley being active his first three years in the league to playing in 40 games and starting 33 in the next three. Among his biggest accomplishments has been helping running back Marshawn Lynch run for over 1,200 yards and double-digit touchdowns in each of the past three seasons.
And like Ryan, he and Giacomini will be playing for the right to win the trophy named after the coach in Green Bay, where they began their careers and where they first met Schneider.
This week has been the pinnacle of Ryan's career, at least up until now.
"To this point it is," said Ryan. "This has been great and just trying to take this all in right now."
It could be taken even a notch higher by the end of Sunday night.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.