Making Packers' roster surreal for Joe Callahan

Michael Cohen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY - On Saturday afternoon, quarterback Joe Callahan glanced at his ringing cell phone and, upon recognizing the number, wondered if his time with the Green Bay Packers was over.

On the other end of the line was quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt, calling to deliver some news.

But first, and perhaps for dramatic effect, Van Pelt slow-played the situation.

“He kind of caught me off guard,” Callahan said Monday. “He started off the phone call like, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ Then he said, ‘I just want to let you know congrats, you made the 53.’

“From then on I don’t really remember what I said. I got the news I was hoping for.”

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Paradoxically, the news Callahan was hoping for was news the Packers wanted to avoid at the start of training camp. With Aaron Rodgers and Brett Hundley controlling the top of the depth chart, the Packers felt comfortable entering the regular season with only two quarterbacks on the roster.

But through his repeated strong performances and week-to-week growth, Callahan forced his way in the door.

“This is just clearly Joe Callahan earning the job,” coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. “I mean, how the hell does he not make the team? It was clear. Just watch the games, watch the video. I’m very, very happy for him personally because you always like to see a guy grab hold of an opportunity. I thought it was very obvious what he accomplished during the preseason.”

Likewise, McCarthy squashed the notion that Callahan’s inclusion on the 53-man roster was a reaction to Hundley’s injured ankle. Hundley is expected to be ready to play this week.

“There’s no concern about Brett Hundley’s ankle,” McCarthy said.

With Callahan coming from the Division III level, his learning curve from May through September was immense, perhaps greater than any quarterback the Packers acquired in recent memory. His positive traits, and there were many — great pocket presence, decent athleticism, tough, fearless — were often obscured by the sheer magnitude of jumping what amounts to three tiers of football.

Yet by the end of training camp, after playing more snaps than Rodgers and Hundley combined, Callahan posted respectable numbers: 54 of 88 (61.4 percent), 499 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions.

“He got better each day,” McCarthy said. “You think about the first time he stepped in the huddle in the OTAs to now. He’s a very good football player. It showed in what he accomplished in college, regardless of where he played. He gets more and more comfortable, and I just think he’s a heck of a football player.”

After hanging up with Van Pelt, Callahan called his parents. Predictably, they were thrilled — though Callahan can’t remember any of what they said. (Actually, that’s not true. He remembers his parents asking him for a picture that shows his locker just a few feet from the stall belonging to Aaron Rodgers.)

When he finished with his parents, Callahan called his friends. And his extended family. And his old coaches. He went through “the call list” until everyone around him could revel in his achievement.

“I always made it my goal (to make the team) and I never lost sight of that,” Callahan said. “Obviously, I had to prove myself as camp went on, and the coaches were pleased with what they saw.”

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