Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Fate puts former, current Cal quarterbacks in media spotlight

By Van Arnold
Hattiesburg American
I've always been a big fan of karma, coincidences and various quirks of fate.
You know, those confounding little occurrences that pop up in one's life from time to time. They defy conventional explanation. And therein lies their beauty.
We have enough reasoning in our daily lives. Geez, we're force-fed a steady diet of logic from our toddling days right on through senior citizenship.
Sometimes, it's cool just to accept happenstance for what it is.
And such is the case with Rich Campbell and Aaron Rodgers.
Recognize the names? Certainly University of California-Berkeley alumni everywhere know them as former Bear football heroes. Campbell forged his legacy in the late 1970s and early '80s, while Rodgers made quite a name for himself the past three seasons out West.
Today, they have a lot more in common than a sparking Cal football pedigree. In April of 1981 Campbell was selected by the Green Bay Packers as the seventh pick overall in the first round of the National Football League draft. Last Saturday, Rodgers listened to NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue call his name as the Packers' first round pick (24th overall) of the 2005 draft.
Campbell and Rodgers are the only quarterbacks taken in the first round by the Packers in the last 25 years. In case any of you are uncertain about the draft history of current Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre, keep in mind that he was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2nd round of the 1991 draft. He was subsequently traded to Green Bay where he has carved out a Hall of Fame career.
Many loyal readers know Campbell as the Opinion Page Editor of the Hattiesburg American. Campbell met his Cal pigskin brother for the first time last December when the Bears came to Hattiesburg for a regular-season-ending game against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles.
"After watching him play in that game (a 26-16 Cal victory), I could tell he was special, that he had all the tools to be an NFL quarterback," said Campbell. "And after the game I met him and his parents outside the visitors locker room. I found out something else about him - that he's a great kid of top of everything else."
Like virtually every other interested observer of Saturday's draft proceedings, Campbell was stunned to see Rodgers, once considered a Top-5 pick, still available in the lower stages of the first round.
"I had never given much thought to the possibility of Aaron being around when Green Bay came up in the first round because everybody assumed he would be gone by then," said Campbell. "But the closer it got to Green Bay's turn, the more I thought how perfect that would be.
"I firmly believe Green Bay got a great player. I thought all along that he was the best quarterback in the draft."
The San Francisco 49ers obviously thought Utah's Alex Smith was the better of two, making him the No. 1 overall pick Saturday.
But back to the karma for a moment.
Campbell delighted in the fact that two former Cal quarterbacks wound up as first-round draft choices of the famed Green Bay Packers. But the enchantment doesn't end there. Campbell knows full well that Favre honed his skills as a quarterback at Southern Miss and still make his off-season home in Hattiesburg.
"The whole thing is just ironic, isn't it?" Campbell said rhetorically.
Not long after learning Rodgers' fate Campbell placed a congratulatory call to Favre's heir apparent.
"I got his voice mail, but I just told him that I thought he was headed to the right place and that I understood if he didn't have time to call back," Campbell said.
Well, he made time for a fellow Bear.
On Monday evening, Campbell got a return call from the newest Green Bay quarterback.
"We talked for probably 10 minutes," Campbell said. "He asked me about playing in Green Bay, what it was like. I told him he was going to love it.
"The people there are some of the nicest that you will ever meet and they dearly love their football team."
NFL pundits have been anything but nice to Campbell over the past quarter-century, labeling him as one of the all-time, first-round "flops." Campbell spent four seasons with the Packers as a back-up to Lynn Dickey. He never got a chance to showcase his ability and stayed in the league just long enough to qualify for the pension program.
Once-bitter about the experience, Campbell has accepted his NFL legacy, which includes being used as a punchline for commentators who refuse to look beyond the numbers.
"For the first 10 years it bothered me a lot," he said. "But I've long since resolved it. I've reached a level of peace about it."
For the record, Rich Campbell has a scrapbook full of personal accomplishments that supercede the glory he found as a football player.
In the past 24 years he has become a husband (to wife Janice), the father of two great children (Meredith, 19, and John, 12). He attended seminary for five years in Oregon, earning two degress that prepared him for work in the ministry. He served as associate pastor at a church in Little Rock, Ark., for six years and co-authored a couple of Christian-based books before joining the staff at the Hattiesburg American. During the past eight years Campbell has penned a number of award-winning editorials for this daily publication.
In the newspaper business, he's got plenty of game.
I asked Rich if he had any advice for Rodgers, who will be moving from balmy California to the "frozen tundra" of Lambeau Field in upper Wisconsin.
"I would tell him to find the largest pair of women's nylons that he can find," said Campbell. "He'll need them."
By Monday afternoon my old buddy Rich had suddenly become a media celebrity again, fielding calls from sports writers and broadcasters in California and Wisconsin.
Funny, how karma works that way.

No comments: