As his last name would suggest, Adrian Battles didn't give up when the Vikings released him before the 2010 regular season.
The Vikings headed off to New Orleans to begin what was supposed to be a Super Bowl season. Battles went home to Milwaukee to live with his mom, Rose Taylor.
At 6 a.m. each morning, Rose left for her job as a receptionist at a nearby neurologist's office. Adrian was 24 and didn't have a job, but he was up and out the door with Rose every morning.
"I'd train every day, twice a day," Battles said.
Battles stands 6-3 and weighs 311 pounds. He dominated the NCAA Division II ranks as a left tackle at Minnesota State Mankato. But it's a long way from dominating Division II to even making an NFL practice squad, as Battles found out when he failed to hang on with the Vikings as an undrafted rookie.
Some would have taken that as the cue to move on. Give up. Start a life after football, kid.
Battles still has two classes to complete before he can graduate. He has thought about taking them online and has every intention of doing so eventually. But it was those NFL dreams still dancing in his head that caused him to rise each morning to work out and keep his weight under control. After all, you never know. The next phone call could have had him on a plane heading to Miami, Seattle or anywhere in between.
"I always had in my mind that another team would call me," Battles said. "I worked hard each and every day to make sure that when the call came, I was ready to give them a great workout."
The call did come Dec. 22. It came from the team just up the road. The team he grew up rooting for. The Green Bay Packers.
Battles was signed to the practice squad as a guard. He's also an unofficial good-luck charm because the Packers haven't lost since he was signed. They're 5-0 in elimination games and are the first No. 6 seed from the NFC to make it to the Super Bowl. They will face the AFC champion Steelers in Super Bowl XLV on Sunday in Arlington, Texas.
"I knew this day would come," Battles said. "Not the Super Bowl. I didn't know that would happen. But I knew I'd get another shot at the NFL."
This isn't just any shot. This opportunity comes from Ted Thompson, one of the sharpest general managers in the NFL. Thompson's ability to find hidden gems has built one of the league's deepest teams and kept it afloat and thriving in a sea of injuries.
"It means the world to me for a guy like Ted Thompson to find me," Battles said. "He's always had that reputation for finding diamonds in the rough. When I got that call to come work out for the Packers, I knew Ted must have seen something in me."
Battles started four years for MSU Mankato and was considered the player most likely to be the first Maverick to play in an NFL game since Tywan Mitchell did so with the Cardinals in 2002. Battles said the Packers have told him he will return in 2011, so he's hoping he sees some sort of live action this fall.
"It is a surprise that Adrian is going to the Super Bowl, but it's no surprise that an NFL team is giving him a chance," said Mike Cunningham, MSU Mankato's offensive line coach. "First off, he's a great kid, a great human being. Secondly, he's a tremendous athlete. Very strong. Great technique. In his last two years, there was probably only two or three sacks he gave up. If that. I never went to bed worrying about a matchup with Adrian."
Battles won't be playing in the Super Bowl. But he arrived with the team in Dallas on Monday. He will go through all the team functions, including today's media day. Most importantly, he will practice as a member of the scout team, where his objective is to give the Packers starting defense a look similar to what it will see from the Steelers on Sunday.
"I'm just trying to enjoy each and every minute, because who knows if I'll ever get back to this point again in my life," Battles said. "It's weird. It's just so surreal. In a million years, if you'd have told me two months ago that I'd be standing where I am right now ... man, it's crazy."
Mark Craig • firstname.lastname@example.org