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Packers receiver Tori Gurley (86), who was passed over in the draft, labors on the practice squad rather than leave the defending Super Bowl champs.

, Star Tribune

On the NFL: Success keeps a hold on Packers' Gurley

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG
  • Star Tribune
  • January 15, 2012 - 12:57 AM

GREEN BAY, WIS. - Tori Gurley woke up Dec. 12 making $6,500 a week. He went to bed making $22,059 a week.

"Let's just say it was a good Christmas for my mom and my brothers," said the Packers receiver, who can thank the rival Vikings for that $15,559-a-week pay bump.

Gurley is a big man who has played a very small part in the Packers' 15-1 season. Infinitesimal, in history's eyes.

He is one of eight practice squad players tucked away in an auxiliary locker room nook deep inside Lambeau Field. He hasn't played a down in a real game. Hasn't suited up. He won't even exist when someone Googles the Packers' 2011 roster years from now.

But Gurley personifies the metaphorical light years currently separating the 3-13 Vikings and the defending Super Bowl champion Packers, who open postseason defense of their title against the Giants in a divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

The morning of Dec. 12, Gurley's agent, Kevin Connor, called with good news. The Vikings had just called to sign Gurley to their 53-man active roster.

For most practice squad players, it's the call they pray for every day as essentially free agents. The Vikings were down to three healthy receivers, so Gurley was being given the opportunity to actually play in three games.

"Thanks, but no thanks," Gurley told his agent. "As they say, the grass isn't always greener on the other side."

The Packers rewarded Gurley's loyalty by raising his pay to that of an active player making the league minimum for a rookie. The Vikings promoted Manny Arceneaux from their own practice squad.

The Vikings' inability to entice even a practice squad player to leave Green Bay for their active roster didn't cost them any victories. But it did signify where they rank in the NFC North as they head into next season trying to end an 11-game losing streak within the division.

"I don't know what they do over there in Minnesota and I'm not going to be down on what they do," Packers veteran receiver Donald Driver said. "And I don't think Tori is down on what they do either. He just knows exactly what he's got here in Green Bay and he's glad to be a part of what we're accomplishing over here."

And, for the record, the Vikings weren't the only downtrodden NFL team rebuffed by a Packers practice squad player on Dec. 12. Receiver Diondre Borel got an offer from the Buccaneers, while cornerback Brandian Ross got one from the Rams.

"You don't want to go somewhere and have the coach get fired, the GM get fired, and you're stuck on a bad team," Ross said. "We wanted to be in a stable organization, where we can learn from guys like [cornerbacks] Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson."

"That's right," Gurley added. "The Packers know how to find guys and give them opportunities. Look at Tramon. He was undrafted. He was a practice squad player. Now, he's a starting cornerback on the defending Super Bowl champions."

Gurley left the University of South Carolina after his redshirt sophomore season. But he's already 24, older than a typical rookie.

He's also atypical in that he calls himself an accomplished alto saxophone player, an admirer of the author Jodi Picoult and the rare pro athlete who doesn't believe in body piercing or tattoos.

He's also a huge fan of the movie "Forrest Gump."

"I am Forrest Gump," Gurley said. "I've lived so many different lives. I've worked at the Home Depot. I've been the mailman at Thompson Caterpillar in Birmingham, Ala. I've played college football at the highest level in the SEC, and now I'm with the defending Super Bowl champs. If I actually sat down and wrote my story, people wouldn't believe it. So I am Forrest Gump."

Some would argue that Forrest is faster. Hence the reason Gurley was passed over in the draft despite a decent college career that saw him catch a Gamecocks-record 14 passes against Vanderbilt.

Gurley's strength is he's one of those big, physical receivers that NFL teams favor. He led the Packers in preseason receptions with nine and blocked at least six punts during training camp practices.

"I give the starters a good look in practice," Gurley said. "This week, I'm playing the role of [Giants receiver] Hakeem Nicks. My best role was [Lions receiver] Calvin Johnson. That week, all we did was throw the ball up for grabs and have me to and get it. I showed the coaches a lot that week."

Meanwhile, Gurley insists he never meant any disrespect to the Vikings.

"Hey, that's a smart organization over there," Gurley said. "It made me feel good, what they did. And it was a smart move on their part. You know the old saying, 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.'"

Mark Craig • mcraig@startribune.com

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