By P.J. Root
Special to Lombardiave.com
Imagine living day-to-day beside a telephone, waiting for the floor to drop out any second. Envision the daily weight of trying to maintain a job with a physical mortality rate of 10 years, with benefits that will not kick in until well into their third replacement hip surgery.
This is the life of a journeyman running back.
In recent memory, the Green Bay Packers have hosted numerous backs who have led their lives on borrowed time, but every now and then a gem emerges.
Samkon Gado in 2006 fresh from scrubs attending Liberty to become a doctor became the only silver-lining of an otherwise disastrous 4-12 campaign.
Most recently, Dujuan Harris traded in slinging the metal at a Jacksonville car dealership to sell himself as the next feature back to come out of relative obscurity.
What does it feel like to walk the tight-rope of success and failure, with every opportunity laying at their feet?
On one brisk August night in 2008, my friends and I experienced a snippet of what this unique life had to offer while attending a preseason game at Lambeau Field.
Like any exhibition game, the waning moments of time create space and ample opportunity to grab a taste of the good life, or in my case, closer seats by the field.
Rummaging from one steel bench to the next, we used each seat like a lilly-pad to each row until finally we had reached the first two rows of seating on the 50-yard line behind the Packers’ bench.
Only a matter of 100 feet separated us from our previous seats, yet every sense had been enhanced.
We had become baptized in the gospel of Green Bay grandiosity.
Scouring the seats to see who else remained in the last seconds of the annual Bishop’s game against the Tennessee Titans, I discovered a striking red Georgia Jersey separating itself from the madrid of Green and Gold.
Inscribed on the back read, “Lump Lump,” with the number 28. The jersey had been tattered and faded from attendance and exposure to the elements of different stadiums across the country.
Inside of the jersey sat a stout black man of about 50 years old, concentrating with every fiber to the few remaining plays left in the forgettable game.
Using my Colombo detecting skills, I concluded that this man wearing a abnormally large bluetooth head-set had to be someone special.
Tapping his shoulder I asked politely if he happened to be who I had thought of and with a heavy sigh he confirmed his identity.
Beneath the faded Georgia hat and fine-drawn face sat Kregg Lumpkin’s father.
Lumpkin had been an undrafted free agent who had made quite an impact in his 2008 preseason, enough so that he challenged for a prominent role in the offense in Aaron Rodgers‘ inaugural starting season.
However, Lumpkin’s father explained to us that the road to this point had been long and troublesome.
Being a heralded high school prospect, Lumpkin chose his favorite school of Georgia to display his talent, but unfortunately shredded his knee before his dream of being drafted could be realized.
Listening to Lumpkin’s father, a heavy sense of disappoint could be felt with each word recounting the experience of fate. A shared bond between father and son could be easily deciphered as he removed his weathered hat to reveal a forehead wrinkled with exhaustion.
Wiping the expression from his brow, Lumpkin’s father changed gears immediately and introduced us to his nephew, who after some conversation revealed that he was a 49ers fan (not an easy thing to do in 2008).
At the end of the game we all stood up to leave and say our goodbyes, but before I could utter the words, Lumpkin spoke.
“I have no idea where I am guys,” he began. “Could you fellas tell me where to pick up my son.”
I was floored. We had become the personal guides for a professional football player’s family.
Taking the duty beyond normal terms, each one of our group coordinated a secret service-level mission.
Saving Private Lumpkin.
With two of us on each side of our precious cargo, we led Lumpkin’s family to the fenced-off parking lot. Surrounding the area were fans pressed close to the enclosure peeking for the players as they strode to their cars.
Walking toward the opening of the gate, security slowly paced from one spot to the next, vigilant of the crowd surrounding the lot. One by one, players exited the large glass doors to applause and fanfare. One player silently strolled out holding a duffle bag, visibly wanting anonymity.
Wearing a white oversized T-shirt and khaki shorts, Lumpkin reminded me of one of us.
Looking back, he was.
Twenty-four years old and experiencing early adulthood under the heavy weight of public perception along with bearing the cross of knee injuries that were out of his control.
Instead of being excited to meet a member of the Packers, I became protective. Lumpkin had no idea what would happen in the next 24 hours. He could be cut for all he knew, and with all that anxiety, I felt empathy for him.
Rushing up to Lumpkin, one of my friends asked for an autograph and picture to which Lumpkin responded quietly.
“Real quick,” Lumpkin said. “I don’t want a crowd.”
Pulling my friend aside, I said to let him and his family go. With a bewildered look my friend asked why, and without answering we came to a silent agreement that they had bigger issues to deal with than being mobbed.
Leaving the game that night we recounted the conversation with the Lumpkin’s and how warm and welcoming they had all been.
The revolving image in my head was of Lumpkin’s father explaining his pride for his son. I imagined the miles logged and time spent chasing a dream together. The struggles and triumphs and tribulations fighting for a chance to play a game we all love.
Then I came to a comforting thought. No matter if Lumpkin achieved his dream or not, he had his family always by his side supporting him through each obstacle and phase.
Waking up the next morning, I expected the worst. The Packers at that point where loaded with running backs and even Lumpkin’s father had remarked that the crowded backfield had damaged his son’s chances on the field.
Flipping the phone open I read the short text.
“Lump Lump made it!!!”
Each game we saw that season, our group of friends remembered the experience of meeting the Packer HB, and each time we saw him we cheered a little louder. Lumpkin has stuck around the league and made appearances on several other rosters but to my friends and I we will always remember being there.
Watching and for a short time being part of the Lumpkin family taking a huge step