CHICAGO — There was a time, back before all the catches, when the questions were all about his size. There was a point, back before all the touchdowns, when the questions were about his speed.
Now, in the continuing riddle that is Greg Jennings, only two questions remain:
One, who is this guy running through the end zone?
And two, why isn't he a star yet?
He has the numbers, and he has the highlights, and he has the impact. And yet, in the look-at-me world of wide receivers, Jennings remains a mystery. He might as well wear a Rubik's Cube for his jersey number and a mask beneath his face mask. As far as the rest of the nation is concerned, he is the most famous player nobody knows.
By now, Jennings, 27, should be selling razor blades and energy drinks and, given the temperatures in which he often plays, gloves. His should be a familiar face, and when it comes to the discussion of the best young receivers in the NFL, his should be a familiar name. But that's the thing about Jennings. When it comes to catching a football, he has everything but fame.
Look at the numbers: Over the past three seasons, Jennings has caught more passes than either Chad Ochocinco or Terrell Owens. He has gained more yardage than Larry Fitzgerald. He has scored as many touchdowns as Andre Johnson.
And you wonder: Outside of Green Bay, could the football fans of America pick him out of a lineup?
Perhaps that changes today. There is nothing like the playoffs to boost a player's name recognition. Make a big catch in October, and the local fans may fall in love with you, but the rest of the country doesn't notice until the postseason.
Ask yourself: Do you think anyone would remember Dwight Clark if "The Catch" had come in a season opener? Do you think Lynn Swann would be in the Hall of Fame if his acrobatics against the Cowboys came in Week 3 instead of the Super Bowl? Do you think Max McGee would be a legend if he had stayed out late in November and then starred instead of in the Super Bowl? Everyone knew Jerry Rice was a great receiver, but until he lit it up for 11 catches in the Super Bowl, who would have suggested he was the best receiver in history?
On Sunday, then, Jennings has a chance to introduce himself to America.
And, while he's at it, reintroduce himself to the Bears.
This is because of him, you know. It was three weeks ago when the Bears had a chance to eliminate the Packers from the postseason. Late in the game, however, Jennings caught a 46-yard pass to help Green Bay score the winning touchdown in a 10-3 game.
Now, on the turf he called "the worst in the league" earlier this week, Jennings gets a chance to do it all over again.
This time, Jennings said it may take patience before the opportunity of a big play happens again.
"It's very important going up against a team like this," Jennings told reporters this week. "Obviously (the Bears) try and get you and lull you to sleep, get you to try to take those big-shot plays, get you out of taking the quick, methodical plays. That's what they want you to do. They want you to throw underneath, throw underneath and then hopefully you'll make a mistake. But we have to be very patient, and once the opportunity presents itself, make the plays down the field when the ball is in the air."
Perhaps part of Jennings' lack of recognition — and he did finally make the Pro Bowl this season — is that he plays in Green Bay instead of, say, New York. Perhaps part is that most of the offensive attention goes to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, as it should. Perhaps it's that Jennings is only one part of a talented receiving corps that also includes Donald Driver.
On the other hand, what do you want in a star?
Numbers? This season, Jennings was fourth in the NFL in yardage and second in touchdowns. He had his third straight 1,000-yard season.
Moments? Of his 40 career touchdowns (in five seasons), 17 have been for 40 or more yards. He's as good after the catch as anyone.
Overachievement? Yeah, he has that, too. He's the son of a preacher man from Kalamazoo who wanted to go to the University of Michigan until Lloyd Carr's staff lost his number. He ended up at Western Michigan and came to the Packers as a No. 2 pick in the 2006 draft. It is fair to say the rest of the league never saw him coming.
Competitiveness? Yeah, that was Jennings saying he'd like the ball a little more, please, after he got off to a slow start this season.
Charisma? Hey, the camera liked Jennings enough when he was guest-starring on Criminal Minds.
As everyone knows, receivers like their attention. After all, they are the weapons who never know if they're going to get the ball at all. And so they yell, and they wave their arms, and they act out The Sorrow and the Pity to draw a flag from the referees at every opportunity. Hey, that's part of the job. If a quarterback doesn't notice him, he can't help his team. If the public doesn't, he can't help build his reputation.
The lack of attention, however, doesn't seem to bother Jennings.
"If I can fly under the radar and not be that guy when they mention receivers, it doesn't bother me at all," Jennings told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "I know once I go out there on Sunday or Monday, they'll see that 8-5 (his jersey number) can play. I don't have to speak on myself. It's about going out there for everyone to see and letting it speak for itself."
Today, he can do that. If you're going to pick a breakout star for the Packers — no, Rodgers wouldn't be a surprise — Jennings seems as good a place to start as anywhere. If the Bears can't cover him, he might run all the way to the Super Bowl.
Once there, America would get to know his name.
His game, too.