It took a lot to get Greg Van Roten here. The equivalent of getting a thousand doors slapped in your face. No, we’re not talking about Hollywood, though it should be just about as close to a Cinderella tale as you can get. This one just takes place in the NFL and instead of getting to go to the ball in a fancy new dress, the man gets to run out of the tunnel into MetLife Stadium wearing a No. 64 jersey for the Packers.
"It's pretty cool,” Van Roten, a Rockville Centre native, said after the game Sunday night, on the other end of a 38-10 loss to the Giants.
The 6’3” guard only had limited playing time, blocking for wide receiver Randall Cobb on kickoff returns, but still he was on the field after being regulated to practice squads for most of the season before playing in his first NHL game against Detroit last week – would it be too much of a Rudy moment to get your first shot in your hometown stadium?
The very fact that Van Roten stands on the defending Superbowl champions roster is in itself remarkable, a journey that led him from the uniform of Chaminade High School (wearing No. 65, one removed his current designation).
"Every coach has an influence on you,” he recalled of former Chaminade coach Bill Basel, who retired after Van Roten’s senior year in 2008. “(He) was a good guy. We were a good program while he was there.”
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Van Roten would next play at Penn State where he obtained a marketing degree, something that would serve him too well as NFL scouts said that he wasn’t ready for the show, persisted by working out, attending “pro” days, but still was rejected. Using his own website, he sent statistics and video of himself to player personnel, garnering two invites to mini-camps, one to the Chargers, the other to the Jets, for which he had grown up rooting. Still, nothing. By July, the Packers called and Van Roten had lucked out as two players were cut the following day, allowing him an invite to training camp.
He played in all four of the Packers’ preseason games, but then was cut on the last day. However, the team thought enough of him to put him on their practice squad, meaning that if enough injuries were sustained, there would be a chance of making the gameday roster.
And Green Bay has had more than their shares of injuries this season, finally clearing a spot for him in week four before taking the field as a guard against Detroit in kickoffs during week 7 and a homecoming of sorts this past Sunday.
Afterwards, Van Roten said that he would be going back home following the game to spend some time with family and friends while he was home before going back to Green Bay to host the Vikings this coming Sunday.
“It stinks that we lost,” Van Roten would say after the Giants’ dismantling of the team, “but I'm getting experience with every play. That's a positive I can take away from it.”
Ever the perseverer.