Saturday night’s induction into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame turned into a trip down memory lane for Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.
It also was time to create some new memories.
“I’ve never been at this podium, by the way,” Gbaja-Biamila mentioned, interrupting his own answer at one point.
When Gbaja-Biamila arrived at San Diego State, he grabbed the media guide to see who held the sacks record. Turns out it was held by Mike Douglass, who set it in 1977 — the year Gbaja-Biamila was born.
Gbaja-Biamila broke that record and landed in Green Bay with a fifth-round pick in 2000. Again, he grabbed the media guide to see who held the sacks record.
“I didn’t know it was Reggie White, because I know he played most of his career with the Eagles,” Gbaja-Biamila said. “I said, ‘Whoa, Reggie White. Wow. Well, I’m still going to try to break this record.’ That’s what drove me to get in shape and do everything I needed to do to break that record.”
KGB finished his career with 74.5 sacks, six more than White.
A couple sacks stood out, including corralling Michael Vick. One game meant more than others, though, and that was a 26-22 home victory over Minnesota on Dec. 9, 2002.
“That was a memorable one, especially the week after my mom passed away,” he recalled. “I remember coming into that game and I was 236 pounds. When you lose somebody, you’re not eating as much, you’re depressed.”
Size always was a concern for Gbaja-Biamila, and especially so against mountainous left tackle Bryant McKinnie. KGB’s position coach, Jethro Franklin, told him to “just go out there and play.”
That’s exactly what he did.
“I think it was the fourth quarter and they were trying to make a comeback,” Gbaja-Biamila said. “I remember trying to go around the corner and, all of a sudden, I turned it into power. I hit (McKinnie) in the sweet spot and got him on his heels and wound up bull rushing him. If I remember, he landed on his head first and I jumped over him to get to (quarterback Daunte) Culpepper and he went to my right. I just kept on going. I just kept following him and wound up with a sack (and forced) fumble. I remember that like it was yesterday.”
Two years earlier, Gbaja-Biamila, then a rookie, had the best seat in the house for one of the most memorable games in franchise history: Antonio Freeman’s circus catch that beat the Vikings 26-20 in overtime.
“I wasn’t even active for that game,” he said. “So, the natural instinct is to get down and say, ‘Forget this. I practiced all week.’ But I said, ‘I can do two things for this game. One, I can have a good attitude and I’m going to be the best cheerleader today. Two, I can be praying for them.’ So, I remember cheering them on. It was overtime and I remember saying to God, ‘Give us this game.’”
Gbaja-Biamila, who was new to Christianity, had his prayers answered.
“I remember when Brett (Favre) threw the ball and — I remember seeing this with my naked eye — (Freeman) slid and the guy hit it and everyone thought the play was dead. I’m looking the whole time and it pops up and he turns around and catches this ball, gets up, runs, touchdown. I saw this with my own eye. I didn’t need to see instant replay. I was saying, ‘God, that is awesome!’ I remember Coach Sherman saying, ‘You guys deserved this game.’ And I’m like, ‘No, we don’t.’”
The play is immortalized as one of several huge photos outside the Packers’ locker room.
“I want to take credit for praying that game,” he said to laughs.
His career was derailed by an injury to his “get-off” knee, which required surgery and took away his explosive ability. He recorded a half-sack in seven games in 2008. Finally, he was called to the front office to talk to Reggie McKenzie. Sensing what was to come, KGB savored one last “free meal” before being told of his release by McKenzie and Ted Thompson.
Rather than be bitter, Gbaja-Biamila wished everyone well.
“I even went back to Ted,” he said, ‘and said, ‘Hey, Ted, I just want to let you know, I know you’ve gone through a lot with the whole Brett Favre situation,’ But if I had to have somebody let me go, I’m glad it was you. It was kind of crazy when it’s like that. I know that Ted really cares about this team. He wants to do (what’s) best for this team.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.