- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2008

It was an afterthought of a trade — the price was merely a late-round draft pick — involving an afterthought of a player — a no-name running back who was out of football the previous year.

But five months and five 100-yard games later, the Green Bay Packers’ acquisition of Ryan Grant from the New York Giants qualifies as the NFL’s Steal of the Year.

Dealt by the Giants on the eve of the regular season, Grant waited his turn, and when the opportunity came, he seized it, running for 956 yards in the regular season and then a Green Bay playoff record 201 yards in last week’s 42-20 win over Seattle.

As if the season weren’t special enough, Grant gets a crack at his former team in Sunday night’s NFC Championship game at Lambeau Field.

“I don’t think things have set in, to be honest, and it probably won’t until after all of this is said and done,” Grant said yesterday during a conference call. “It’s a great opportunity and definitely the stage you want to play on. You can’t ask much more than to be playing in this game and then playing New York. I’m excited across the board.”

Since taking over the every-down job in the middle of the Week 8 game against Denver, Grant has sparked a running game that was across the board bad early on. Thanks to his production, the Packers improved from last to 21st in rushing.

Following his college career at Notre Dame, Grant latched on with the Giants. He spent the 2005 season on the practice squad. The following offseason, he sustained a severe arm injury when he slipped on a wet floor and crashed through a glass table. He sustained artery and tendon damage and was in a cast for eight weeks following surgery.

Because the injury was of the non-football variety, Grant didn’t get a paycheck last year. He returned to the Giants for training camp but was clearly behind Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, Reuben Droughns and Ahmad Bradshaw. The Packers, who did not re-sign Ahman Green, were in need of a running back because their top two runners were rookies DeShawn Wynn and Brandon Jackson.

“We always thought Ryan was a very good football player,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “He performed and played very well during the preseason. We knew there was no question Ryan was an NFL player. We hadn’t seen the development in terms of a ball carrier, but we had seen all of the other things.”

Green Bay fans didn’t get to see much of those things early in the season. Wynn and Jackson got most of the work, and Grant was limited to six carries for 27 yards in the first six games.

“It wasn’t a matter of wondering [whether a chance would come] because I didn’t have control over it,” Grant said. “I couldn’t focus on that. I had to make sure I was mentally and physically prepared for whatever came my way. I do have control over how hard I work, and I always made sure I had a handle on that.”

Wynn was injured and Jackson unproductive, creating an opportunity for Grant, who averaged 5.1 yards a carry and finished the regular season with touchdowns in six consecutive games.

In the Seattle win, Grant started awfully, fumbling a reception and then a carry, both of which led to Seahawks touchdowns.

“My teammates all just said, ‘Stay with it. Forget about it. Let’s go. Let’s get on track,’ ” Grant said. “They were all very supportive.”

Grant rebounded with a rushing effort that was the seventh best in NFL playoff history. Now he faces his former team, the team he grew up watching while living in New Jersey. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy hopes Grant doesn’t come out too fired up.

“I think it’s safe to say that conversation will take place,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s natural for any individual; you try to do too much. We all go through it, whether it’s a player or coach, facing your former team and you have some personal emotion tied up.”

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