Thursday, August 18, 2016

With Humbleness & Heart: The Tracy White Story (Part 1)

Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images Sport
Followers of the Packer Ranter have long known of our affinity toward former NFL Special Teams standout Tracy White (Examples here, here, here, here, and the rest here.). In his short time as a Packer, White developed cult hero status before being released in one of what some consider one of Ted Thompson’s most regrettable moves in an otherwise arguably stellar tenure as Green Bay’s General Manager.  

While we didn’t know where he came from and what we had time at the time, we knew he was special. He always seemed to be around the ball making plays. He was electric, giving maximum effort at all times. In other words, the kind of player that makes it easy for fans to cheer.

Since his departure, I have casually followed his career from a distance, finding his name occasionally in footnotes and comments but always rooting for him. For the first time ever, I decided to dig deeper into White’s history. How did he develop into a true specialist? Why did he bounce around to so many teams?

What follows is a dive into some of Tracy White’s most memorable performances and history throughout his playing career that I could find. I hope you will find it as interesting and surprising as I have…

The Early Years
Tracy White is from a town of less than 2,000 people in South Carolina called St. Stephen. When he was in elementary school, White’s father had to undergo surgery for a brain tumor and essentially lost his vision. Although he was given only years to live at the time, Tracy’s father has persevered to this day and Tracy has often cites him as part of his own inspiration.

As expected in a small school, a gifted athlete such as White dominated in many sports but at one point, thought the Army was his future. Without any appealing football scholarships coming in, he had actually secretly planned to enlist in his brother’s footsteps but when his mother found out, she told him to finish high school first. A good thing she did – White eventually received a scholarship from Howard University.

For the Division 1-AA Bisons in the MEAC, White was simply outstanding. According to several sources, he not only played all 44 games but also became the school’s all-time leading tackler with 500. That’s an average of 11+ tackles a game. That literally almost never happens.

In fact, I was only able to find 5 players since 2000 who have surpassed 500 career college tackles with Tim McGarigle and Luke Kuechly leading the way. (For the sake of comparison, Zach Thomas had 390 career college tackles and former Packers first-round pick AJ Hawk had 394, respectively.)


It’s no surprise White was also two-time MEAC Defensive Player of the Year and the Black College Defensive Player of the Year. He’s also part of an extremely elite club, having earned Black College All-American honors three consecutive times. The other members: Antoine Bethea, Steve McNair and Shannon Sharpe.

Ridiculous Speed
White was projected to be taken in the 7th round but ended up going undrafted altogether. However, Seattle Seahawks linebackers coach John Marshall pushed to the team to sign him and it paid off. White was signed by the Seahawks in 2003 under then General Manager Bob Ferguson and Vice President of Operations (and now Packers GM), Ted Thompson.

Listed at 5-11 ft. and 228 lbs. coming out of college, White was understandably viewed as too small for an NFL linebacker and often mistaken for a secondary player (this would be an ongoing theme in his NFL career). In addition, the Seahawks linebacking corps was stocked with veterans. Thankfully for White, there was one area where he excelled tremendously: speed.

White wasn’t just fast, he was supersonic.

With LBs Chad Brown and Anthony Simmons both nursing injuries early in the season, they needed a replacement. According to SeattleTimes reporter Les Carpenter, “Then it was impossible to miss Tracy White.” Carpenter reported White ran the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds and the Seattle Times reported coaches clocked him at 4.4 twice. But let that 4.3 number sink in for a moment.

Here are the fastest times ever recorded by linebackers at the combine.
https://www.freelapusa.com/fastest-40-yard-dash/
“Yes, he’s that fast,” GM Ferguson said at the time. “Ohhhh yes, he’s that fast.”

In fact, no quarterback, tight end or safety in history has matched that speed at the combine that was reported with Tracy White. That includes Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III and Vernon Davis. (Trindon Holiday set the record in 2010 at 4.21). Packers speedster Jeff Janis ran a 4.42 at the 2014 combine.

SEA @ AZ, October 24, 2004: White’s First Start at Linebacker
The Seahawks were not only dealing with linebacker injuries to their team’s leading tackler, but they were also coming off a failed comeback against the Patriots the week before. They had lost 20-30 in a game that gave New England the NFL record for the most consecutive regular season wins at 20.

Conversely, the Cardinals were home and hungry coming out of their bye week, having lost a tough OT game to the 49ers in a week 5. That matchup saw Tim Rattay throw for 417 yards and set the 49ers single-season record for most completions in a game (38), breaking Joe Montana’s record of 37.

The Seahawks-Cardinals game would also see its own share of significant history. For one, Arizona’s Emmitt Smith was going against Seattle’s Jerry Rice, who was acquired just days earlier. It was the first time in 20 years the all-time rushing leader and all-time reception leader faced each other. 
Via USA Today
While Rice was quiet, Smith eventually scored the game-winner on a 23-yard run that also earned him the honor of having most 100-yard games in a career (78) surpassing Walter Payton’s mark.


In addition, Neil Rackers would tie Morten Andersen’s record with three field goals from at least 50 yards.

The game itself was won by Arizona 25-17 but it probably shouldn’t have even been that close. Seattle’s offense was atrocious, with Matt Hasslebeck going just 14-41 with 4 interceptions but later owning it. “You can put all the blame on me,” he said.

It was only Seattle’s defense that kept them in the game, led by none other than Tracy White.

Replacing a 1st-round pick and team-leading tackler in Seattle’s Simmons with a 2nd-year undrafted player in White already had Seattle coaches a little nervous. As the Seattle Times reported:

"It's interesting," (Coach Mike) Holmgren said. "You go into the game with Tracy White from Howard University… and we’re all worried about Tracy White.”

That worry would later be transformed into high praise.

The Cardinals seemed to test White throughout the game with their future Hall of Fame running back being led by 265-pound TE Freddie Jones and 381-pound tackle Leonard Davis. But White was having none of it. Their first attempt went as follows: 




White would go on to stuff the stat sheet that day, leading both teams with 10 solo tackles and 13 total tackles – even contributing a sack on another future Hall of Famer and then-Cardinal’s rookie on the very first offensive play of the game.




Once again from Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

"It was a good feeling," White said. "My very first start I get to go up against Emmitt Smith. That's something I'm going to keep in my head."

His performance did not go unnoticed by the staff. 

 

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