Green, Ruettgers are hall of famers off the field, too

Robert Zizzo
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Ahman Green, left, and Ken Ruettgers are shown at Lambeau Field before the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame induction banquet Saturday.

The stories of former professional athletes who fail in life or business after retirement are many.

It's often a monumental adjustment from life in the spotlight, where the rewards can be intoxicating and overwhelming, to life in the crowd.

But two former players who were inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame on Saturday night are defined as much by what they've done off the field as what they did on it.

Ahman Green and Ken Ruettgers have spent a big chunk of their post-playing days trying to give back. Green, to the community of Green Bay. Ruettgers, to former players trying to find a life after pro sports.

That's not to say they didn't have remarkable football careers with the Packers.

Green is the franchise's all-time rushing leader. He played eight seasons in Green Bay after being acquired in 2000 in a trade with Seattle that turned out to be one of the most lopsided in Packers history. His other team records include most yards from scrimmage, most 1,000-yard seasons and most 100-yard rushing games.

Ruettgers played 12 seasons at left tackle, as a starter in 90 percent of those games. His career spanned three head coaches and some of the lowest valleys and highest peaks in franchise history. He kept pass rushers from blindsiding Don Majkowski and Brett Favre. He even earned offensive MVP honors one season.

Ken Ruettgers speaks during a news conference before the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame Induction Banquet at Lambeau Field.

But where Ruettgers also has had a big impact is on the personal lives of some former athletic colleagues. In 2000, Ruettgers founded, a nonprofit that helps former professional athletes cope with the stresses of retirement.

"I would say the moment that turned my head in that direction was when I heard the news of Tom Neville had died and been shot in a police shootout, even though he was unarmed, in Fresno," Ruettgers said Saturday. "So, a guy I played with here in Green Bay, and he played eight years in the league.

"And I got a call from a couple of other teammates, Rich Moran and Al Veingrad, and we started talking amongst ourselves about why did this happen. I mean, obviously, you know the surface reasons why it happened but what underneath the surface accounted for that moment in time, where he was somewhat depressed, he was unemployed but trying to find a job ... family, a young family, and so the tragedy of that.

"And so I asked myself, did something like that, did it have to happen, was it preventable? And if so, what are some of the solutions? And that's when I went to get my doctorate to do research, study, do a dissertation on recently retired athletes and barriers to transition."

These days, Ruettgers isn't as involved in GamesOver. He's now giving back in another way: teaching sociology part-time at Central Oregon Community College, in Bend, Ore.

For Green, the impetus for his post-football career choice was embracing a community that he considered home after spending nearly a decade here.

Ahman Green speaks during a news conference before the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame Induction Banquet at Lambeau Field.

When the Omaha, Neb., native was asked why he chose Green Bay to settle in after retirement, he said: "This was a stance of why not come stay in a community that supported you? And now you can be a part of that community and support it in return."

Green is involved in a number of Green Bay-based organizations, including his D1 athletic-training program, coaching football and track at Green Bay Southwest High School, and being a part-owner of the Green Bay Blizzard indoor football team.

"I'm all about trying to better this community," Green said Saturday. "I'm not about making a quick buck.

"The No. 1 thing was the fans and through all the years of the autograph signings and going to the Boys & Girls Club, of doing Paul's Pantry yearly with Chad Clifton and his wife, and things like that where from a network of people I met, fans, have become friends of mine."

Where there are friends, Green said, there are opportunities.

"Business contacts have become more than that because I've been able to start a business, coaching at the high school," he said. "If you were somewhere in college or professional football ... and you were able to become successful and do some big things in that area, why not stay? Because you've got a name for yourself."

Green and Ruettgers have made names for themselves after being told they no longer could play the game they loved and to which they devoted much of their life.

Ruettgers boiled down the advice he gives players nearing the end of their playing days:

"You see your own career and life in the NFL as very, very hard work, as uniquely hard," he said. "And the reality is, people work hard out there. You're not the only one. You kind of have that athletic hubris about you, kind of the 'us and them.'

"And so what I would tell guys who were getting ready to retire: if you want to be successful, then you need to do the hard work of transition."

— or follow him on Twitter @robertzizzo.

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