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Remembering "The Freezer": A look back at Raji

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Remembering "The Freezer": A look back at Raji

The image is scorched into the memory of modern day Packers fans. 
Green Bay’s 340-pound ball of thud drops into coverage, slides to his right and snatches Caleb Haney’s ill-advised toss at the 17-yard-line. By the time the big man reaches the 14-yard-line, he’s holding the ball stretched out in one hand, his gait equal parts jaunt, prance and strut. 
A nose tackle with, on this play, a nose for the ball. 
This mass of jelly and brawn crosses the goal line, places his hands on his hips and gyrates, before being summarily mobbed by teammates. His body expressed the joy; his expression bordered on stank face. 
B.J. Raji. That’s how we should remember him. Few if any as massive ever returned a pick to pay dirt.
Another Packer’s heroics were needed to put the Bears away for good, as rookie Sam Shields grabbed his second pick of the game in the closing seconds, cementing Green Bay’s trip to Dallas for Super Bowl XLV. 
ESPN’s Rob Demovsky reported Thursday night that Raji’s return to football is unlikely, per Raji’s agent, Brian Murphy. At age 29, on the heels of a resurgent year where the lineman moved back to a more regular role at nose tackle after a few years drifting about as a 3-4 defensive end, Raji abruptly retired last March. A year removed from the game, spent caring for his ailing mother and aunt, hasn’t brought Raji any closer to returning. 
It’s likely at this point that Raji has played his last snap in the NFL. 
The ninth pick of the draft in which he was selected, alongside another memorable standout, Clay Matthews, Raji was a key cog in Green Bay’s key defensive resurgence, as well a hero of not just the NFC Championship game against Chicago in January 2011, but in the Super Bowl two weeks later. The two players teamed up on what would be arguably the game’s most crucial play, with Matthews forcing a fourth-quarter fumble from Steelers running back Rashad Mendenhall. 
Over the years, Raji delivered the aforementioned highlights, and even lined up at fullback a few times, which led to his moniker, “The Freezer,” which he himself coined. He even rumbled in for a rushing touchdown in 2011. 
And yet, there’s a strong sense that he will be a Packer whose historical impact will fail to reach critical consensus. 
Raji had too many lost seasons playing out of position as a defensive end in Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme, and struggled to find a place in what would be a sub package heavy defense. He was arguably never better than in the seasons where he lined up at nose tackle, a position where he notched an impressive 6.5 sacks in 2010. 
Coaches and teammates praised Raji for continuing to travel with the team after a season-ending bicep injury in 2014. Raji coached up the Packers’ relatively inexperienced lineman, showing promise and value for a potential return to football on the other side of the lines. 
His resurgent effort in 2015 faded in the season’s final stretch, and then Raji dropped a bomb with his announcement a year ago that he was taking a year off. It’s worth applauding Raji for back-to-back one-year deals to remain with the Packers. It’s further laudable that he walked away from the game to care for his family. 
Raji will be fairly looked at, like the vast majority of players selected in the top 10 of the draft, as not living up to billing. But before Packer fans cast aspersions of what he was or what they think he should have been, I’d invite them to remember the big man rumbling into the end zone in Chicago. 
It’s a moment that will live forever. 
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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (4) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Lphill's picture

He is from a good family and he is taking care of them , I believe his dad is a preacher, he made enough money and he has his health. Smart man good luck to him!

Bearmeat's picture

I'll forever remember 2010. He was fantastic that year. He, along with seemingly the entire Capers defense, went in the tank in 2011. A tank from which they've never recovered.

Steve George's picture

It was Pickett, not Raji, who teamed with Matthews on that forced fumbles in the Superbowl.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

So glad we never gave Raji a bunch of guaranteed money.

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"I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious."
"The Bears still suck!"
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