On Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011, the Green Bay Packers took to the gridiron as the defending Super Bowl champions for the first time in 14 years.
As the green-and-gold clad ensemble made their way onto the Lambeau Field turf to play host to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, they were ushered in by the Titletown faithful with a hero’s welcome.
It was a night in which the accomplishments and glory of yesterday were uniformly basked in—if only for a brief moment—before officially turning the page and preparing for whatever the future may have in store.
Thanks to the heroics of Randall Cobb over the ensuing three hours, the future appeared quite bright for the Green Bay offense.
A second-round draft pick by the Packers less than five months prior, the 5’10”, 191-pound former Kentucky Wildcat transformed the Frozen Tundra into a running SportsCenter highlight.
With the Packers holding a 14-7 edge over the Saints late in the first quarter, Cobb, who accounted for 16 touchdowns (five rushing; seven receiving; three passing; and one via punt return) during his junior campaign in Lexington, hooked up with Aaron Rodgers for a 32-yard touchdown reception with 11 seconds to play in the first quarter.
The aforementioned touchdown proved to be a foreshadowing, however, of the fireworks still to come from the first-year player.
With New Orleans pulling to within 28-20 on the heels of a John Kasay 38-yard field goal, Cobb, who returned 28 punts for 219 yards at UK a year prior, lined up to receive the subsequent Saints kickoff with 8:40 to play in the third quarter.
Fielding the kick in the back of the end zone, Cobb raced up the left sideline before being met by a New Orleans defender just inside the 25-yard line. Breaking free of the tackle via a ballerina-esque spin move, Cobb, after regaining his balance, continued his march down the sideline nearly untouched, promptly escorted in the end zone by a cavalry of Packers.
The 108-yard journey from end zone to end zone tied the NFL record for the longest kickoff return in league history, while also providing a national audience a glimpse into lethalness of Cobb’s offensive repertoire.
“It was amazing,” cited Cobb afterwards, according to The AP. “I certainly tried to make the most of my opportunities tonight.”
Entering his third season in Green Bay, Cobb, who turned 23 on Thursday, will have his fair share of opportunities to make a similar impact on a weekly basis.
Following the departure of Pro Bowl wide receiver Greg Jennings and retirement of Donald Driver, Cobb, boasting career totals of 105 receptions for 1,329 yards and nine touchdowns over 30 games, is poised to become one of the primary targets for Rodgers.
Returning to practice on Wednesday upon having missed time during training camp due to a biceps injury, Cobb, who finished with a pair of 100-yard receiving games over the Packers’ final three outings of the 2012 campaign, is, barring injury, well positioned to be one of the key contributors on a squad threatening to bring home the Vince Lombardi trophy for the second time in three years.
“He’ll be given opportunities, there’s no question about that,” said Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy of Cobb, as reported by kffl.com. “But yes, I think he definitely has a lot more growth in front of him. And it’s exciting, for how productive he’s been as a young player.”
One only needs to go back and review the events which unfolded on a beautiful September night two years prior for validation.