Green Bay Packers' B.J. Raji celebrates an interception into the end zone for a touchdown against Chicago Bears' quarterback Caleb Hanie during the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship game Sunday, January, 23, 2011, at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. / File/Gannett Wisconsin Media
Is there anything B.J. Raji can’t do for the Green Bay Packers?
The 337-pound nose tackle is a run-stuffing behemoth on the No. 2-ranked scoring defense in the NFL. He has nimble feet that allow him to make plays away from the line of scrimmage. He can rush the passer and has the third-leading sack total on the team to prove it.
Lately Raji has been used as a blocker on offense in goal-line situations. He served as the perfect decoy against the Chicago Bears in the NFC championship game when he plunged up the middle and fooled the Bears defenders long enough to free up quarterback Aaron Rodgers to score on a bootleg run.
Raji also shocked the world against the Bears when he dropped back in coverage in the fourth quarter and intercepted a Caleb Hanie pass and returned it for a touchdown that proved to be the difference in the Packers’ 21-14 victory.
If there’s one thing Raji hasn’t been proficient at this season, it’s dancing.
Raji’s celebration dance after scoring that decisive touchdown was a little short on style points, but it has landed him in the national spotlight. You Tube videos, including one produced by University of Wisconsin-Green Bay staff members, are all the rage with fans attempting to dance “The Raji.”
“I didn’t know it would be such a big hit,” said Raji. “It just goes to show the support that you get from the Green Bay fans. It’s great to be part of it.”
If Raji isn’t careful when he takes the national stage this week in preparation for the Super Bowl, his dance sensation might sweep the nation much like the Bears’ Super Bowl shuffle did in the 1980s. Big plays in big games tend to attract a lot of attention, as Raji’s interception and touchdown did, and a corny celebration only adds to the attraction.
Some of his teammates rolled their eyes when discussing Raji’s dancing skills. But they love what he brings to the defense.
“He’s real explosive,” said defensive end Cullen Jenkins. “You look at him and he’s not the tallest (and he doesn’t have) the longest arms, but what he does have is a lot of power.
“And he’s so quick. Anytime he makes up his mind about where he wants to go, there’s not too many people that can stop him and get in his way.”
Those are the skills General Manager Ted Thompson had in mind when he drafted Raji with the No. 9 overall pick in 2009. The Packers needed a force in the middle of their new 3-4 defense, and Raji has filled the bill perfectly.
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, a noted 3-4 expert, has called Raji the key to the Packers’ defensive success.
Raji takes such compliments in stride. “I appreciate that comment, but we have a lot of great players on this defense,” he said.
He has fielded a few more text messages and telephone calls this past week after the Bears game, but nothing else has changed.
“I don’t anticipate anything going to my head,” Raji said. “That’s not the type of person I am.”
Normally nose tackles toil in anonymity in the NFL, but Raji is clearly an exception, especially after his big interception that left teammates in awe.
“You never see a defensive lineman make that play,” said defensive end Ryan Pickett. “It was just perfect. That was awesome to watch.”
Now that Raji has proven his ability to handle the football, it’s possible he could get a rushing attempt in the Super Bowl and score an offensive touchdown, just like the Bears’ William “The Refrigerator” Perry did 25 years ago.
Teammates lately have been calling Raji “The Freezer” and would love to see him show off his moves against the Steelers.
“You like to see guys out there having fun and playing,” said Jenkins. “Hopefully he can get out there and do some more dancing next Sunday.”
Mike Vandermause is sports editor of the Press-Gazette.