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So'oto Wins His Own Super Bowl

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So'oto Wins His Own Super Bowl

Last Thursday’s game against the Chiefs was insignificant in many ways.  It was the final preseason game, the starters only played one series, and the Packers were able to hold off Kansas City’s first- and second-teamers without their second- and third-teamers.

But one significant event happened immediately following that game.  As players were exchanging pleasantries and making their way to their respective tunnels, linebacker Vic So’oto was taking a victory lap around Lambeau Field, slapping hands and greeting fans like he had just won the Super Bowl.

Indeed.

The undrafted linebacker from BYU was a long-shot at best to make the squad of the defending Super Bowl Champions, especially as the Packers had already drafted scrappy DJ Smith in the sixth round.  Moreover, most of his competition at backup had served in a starting position last season at some point or another:  Brad Jones, Frank Zombo, and Erik Walden were all jockeying for the start, while the losers would take a reserve spot So’oto coveted.

You know the saying about slim and none, and Slim just left town, right?  Vic So’oto was Slim, and he knew it.  An NFL lockout just continued to diminish his chances to catch on quickly in rookie minicamps and give his best audition in training camp.

By his own admission, he is still more than a little rough around the edges, a consequence of playing tight end in college until after his sophomore year, then switching to defensive end.  Now, trying to transition from the line to the linebacker spot would seem to increase the doubt, not only from those around him, but in So'oto himself.

So, when you saw So’oto making the rounds after the Chiefs game, in many ways, this was his Super Bowl.  He found his way into the backfield to be a part of two sacks, and picked off Tyler Palko’s fourth quarter pass, returning it for a touchdown.  He did this while fighting off double- and triple-teams.  On Thanksgiving, stats like that will earn you a Golden Gobbler Award.  On Thursday, it earned Vic So’oto what he coveted far more:  a spot on the 53-man roster.

Despite all the doubts, yet having a groundswell of support coming from his position coach, Kevin Greene, and the rabid Packer fanbase, this was a victory that deserved to be celebrated:  with tears, with joy…but So’oto chose to celebrate with the fans that had cheered him on all along.

You can imagine So’oto going into the locker room and finding a mirror, looking at his reflection and saying, “I made it.”  Then, perhaps surprised at the sound of the words coming from his own mouth,  pausing and repeating them… “I made it.”

That sense of joyful disbelief harkens back to last December, when a team crippled by injuries was defeated by the lowly Lions, who hadn’t won a division game since 2007.   High hopes early in the season had long since been dashed, but with but a mere sliver of opportunity to make the playoffs, the Packers forged on in spite of everything working against them.

Once their quarterback returned from injury, the Green Bay Packers went on a tear that would silence the critics, defy the doubters, and invigorate the believers like never before.  The Green Bay Packers had almost no chance to make the playoffs, much less the Super Bowl, but they gritted out a victory, week after week.

Oh, mind you, it wasn’t easy.  How many games do you remember coming down to a last-minute defensive stand, where a game-saving interception by Tramon, Charles, Nick, or Sam was necessary to advance the team and restart our arrested hearts?  The Cardiac Pack, indeed.

In the end, one word could be used to define the Packers’ 2010 Super Bowl Championship Season:  perseverance.  They achieved the monumental task of winning a Lombardi Trophy, not as the odds-on favorites like they were in 1996, but as the team that defiantly rejected the notion, even from its own fans, that they couldn't take the field and win every game on the road with the personnel they had.

How many Packers do you think went into the locker room in Dallas and had to pinch themselves to completely fathom what they had truly accomplished?  As fans, we lined Lambeau Field a few days later on one of the coldest days of the winter to watch Mike McCarthy, Ted Thompson, and Aaron Rodgers hold up that trophy, as if we needed to see it for ourselves, too.   Frozen tears lined the faces of folks who could no longer feel their hands, yet clapped wildly.  We fought through that season of injuries and doubt, and this…this…was the reward.  This is what Packers and their fans lived for.

This brings us back to Vic So’oto: the man without a ring (yet), the player who worked his tail off to overcompensate for his raw fundamentals.  The man who had to impress to even be considered for a roster spot.  The man who defied the odds.  “I can’t lie," he said.  "People doubted me. I had coaches at my school actually say, ‘What are you going to do now after football?’ That kind of hurt me. My wife asked, ‘What’s Plan B.’ I said, ‘There’s no Plan B. I’m playing football.’”

In reality, the Super Bowl team of 2010 wasn’t just one huge story, but a series of hundreds of little stories like So’oto’s.  Sure, we know the big names:  Rodgers’ rise from a draft-day drop and Favregate; Charles Woodson’s redemption from being labeled a locker room cancer by the Raiders; and Mike McCarthy’s head being called for by fans following the 2008 season.  But every player on that roster had their own story, their own demons, their own doubters.  Some made it all the way, like James Starks showing enough promise to avoid the IR and make a difference in January.  Some, like Josh Gordy, collected a ring from the practice squad.  AJ Hawk went from the guy we wanted to replace to the prototypical middle linebacker in the 3-4 scheme.

Even guys who left the team made a mark.  When guys like Jamon Meredith and Allen Barbre failed, it provided the impetus for Ted Thompson to draft a first-round tackle in Bryan Bulaga.  Each position on that team has its own number of stories to tell.

Yes, the Super Bowl is the ultimate prize for any fan, but it isn’t the reason we watch.  If it were, we’d only tune in sometime in February, and only if the Packers were in the game.  The reason we watch is because of all these little stories,  all of the little battles we see along the way.  As Mike Homgren told his team in the 1990’s:  The journey is its own reward.

What is a championship?  Maybe nothing more than some mathematical equation of all of those little wins and losses, a sum of all the fights and controversies and celebrations that evolves into a team able to reach out and take that golden ring.  Each one of those stories is important.  Perhaps to us, they aren’t equally important:  we might think that the story of Rodgers or Woodson or Clay Matthews had far more of a direct impact on the final product.

But don’t ever doubt how important each individual battle is to a player like Vic So’oto.  He sealed up what may end up being just the 53rd spot on a 53-man roster, and may not even survive the season.

But as you watched him do his victory lap around Lambeau Field, you couldn’t tell him it wasn’t a big deal.  He had not only defeated all the doubters around him, but the doubter inside him.   He had persevered, sometimes through nothing more than pure grit and determination, willing his body to do whatever it took to reach his goal.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

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Comments (20)

BigSnakeMan's picture

Good story, and.....good story. ;)

redlights's picture

Way deeper than the headline indicates!

Awaiting more chapters.

Kathy's picture

Great story. And the part about Vic looking in the mirror saying twice "I made it" actually brought a tear to my eye. How hard these young men work is evident and to NOT make it must be heartbreaking.
I'm also reminded of another undrafted player who is now a strong member of our team - Tramon Williams.
Maybe Vic will never be the player Tramon is, but this first step has to be gratifying. And nothing stands in his way except himself.
Congrats Vic. Happy to have you as a Packer.

ZaphodBeeblebrox's picture

Gordy was elevated from the practice squad to the final roster and was active for a number of games (all Special Teams IIRC).

PackersRS's picture

Goddamnit C.D... *Sniff*

CJ in Guatemala's picture

There are exactly 16 "new" faces in the final 2011 53 man roster vs last year. That has to account for a bunch of good stories to tell!

*I say new, because players like Starks or Walden for example, weren't in that initial 53 man roster last year.

Clay Toporski's picture

Amazing read. One of the best I have read in a long time.

davyjones's picture

Seriously--that is the best piece I've ever read on this site.

Absolutely outstanding.

Bogmon's picture

Excellent piece. The collection of talent on this site is remarkable.
I look forward to more great content throughout the season...whether C.D.'s insight; Aaron's analysis; or Brian's factually dense articles....It all adds another great layer to the glory of the Packers fan experience.

Thanks!

Swingle's picture

holy shizzle Angelli, fan-fuppin-tactic article!!

FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

My next childs name shall be Vic... Boy or girl.

GBP 4 LIFE

Oppy's picture

I got nothin' original to say.

Just a really well written article, CD. Thanks.

calipackfan's picture

Vic will take the position from Walden and Zombo if not this year the next.

Roger Mayerson's picture

Well, this is why I am a Packer fan since 1959. I moved to Milwaukee with my family that year and my Dad got season tickets. We went to every game at Milwaukee County Stadium and the spirit was unbeliveabable. I have since lived in 3 countries and 12 cities and watched the Packers every week. I have met Packer fans everywhere and we are all the same. I have lived in NJ and the difference between the fans there (super team, like the team in Miami where I live today) is night and day. The best memory is San Diego drinking beer and eating brats at 10am in PB (Pacific Beach) with fellow fans. Hope So Oto is a super star because he represents why Wisconsinites are different no matter where they live.

bomdad's picture

So'oto's Skull Crackers. The perfect compliment for head cheese.

Nononsense's picture

Nicely written story CD.

Its always nice to hear these kinds of stories especially about guys who were considered such longshots to make an NFL team.

I started taking notice of So'oto during the the 2nd preseason game against the Cardinals. In that game he was always around the ball even though he didn't make a ton of plays he was close to making quite a few. It was after that game that I believed he had a real good chance to make this team.

In the 3rd game against the Colts he really started to open some eyes and then recorded his first sack and forced fumble against their starting RT. At that point I was sure he would make the team and I couldn't wait to see more of him.

Then he has his coming out party in the final game against the Chiefs. 1.5 sacks a forced fumble and an interception returned for a TD. In that game he went from a sure bet to make the 53 man roster to a guy that will allow the Packers to move Clay Matthews around the defense on any given down or formation or spell him for a series or two whenever he needs it.

Since hes done most of his damage from the left side, im not sure how much he'll play on the right side but I can't wait to see what he can do with the opportunity.

I am also proud of the fact that both MD Jennings and Jamari Lattimore made the 53 man roster because as my previous posts will show I have made my feelings known about all three of these guys for a while now and im not the only one.

Good luck to all 3 of you and I look forward to watching you contribute to this team in whatever capacity you can.

Go Pack!

Sisto's picture

With So'oto playing opposite Matthews playing with the monster mentality the opposing quarterback's heads wil be spinning. they could be the NFL's tandum outside linebackers! Awesome!

Feranei So'oto's picture

AWWW i loved this article! Vic is my brother and he HAS come such a long way. He has worked SOOO hard to be where he is now. So many people did doubt him and to me, nothing is more gratifying than to prove people wrong, to show people that you CAN acheive your goals. This is his dream to play in the NFL and it makes me happy to see him happy.The game against the Chiefs was AMAZING and I'm glad he proved himself and showed people what he is capable of. Love you #97! :)

Starry Barts's picture

Though, when your wife asks "What's Plan B?"... you should probably have an answer!

Cole's picture

Bravo!

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