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Legend grows for Green Bay Packers' B.J. Raji

Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji’s now-famous dance began when he played with his family was a child.

Associated Press

Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji’s now-famous dance began when he played with his family was a child.

IRVING, Texas — The first steps toward stardom occur early. Long before he knew the shape of a football, long before he knew which direction a helmet should face, the little big kid knew all about the proper moves.

He was a kid at the time, filled with energy and attitude as he raced through his family's home in New Jersey.

B.J. Raji played a different game then, and to tell the truth, he was a pretty good performer. He would run through the hallway, duck underneath the table and emerge through the other side. There, his hands would go to his hips, and he would taunt.

"Granny can't catch me," he would say. "Granny can't catch me."

Then he would dance. A shimmy here. A shake there.

As it turns out, that was where a dance called "The Raji" was born."

• • •

These days, the only thing bigger than Raji is his legend, and it is growing through the roof.

His shadow spreads from England to Japan, from Canada to Mexico. Raji grows larger by the moment. On Tuesday, he was immense, and on Wednesday, he was enormous, and by Sunday's Super Bowl, he may be the biggest thing on the field.

There are T-shirts with his face on it. There is a cheeseburger named in his honor. Soon, he may be selling a product — a very large one, no doubt — on a television near you.

Yes, celebrity has found its way to the Packers defensive tackle. Who knew it would fit this well?

On Wednesday morning, Raji, 6 feet 2 and 337 pounds, overwhelmed a small chair and looked into the cameras once again. He is eating this up, so to speak. A wide smile creases his round face, and he talks about interceptions and touchdowns and dancing in the end zone.

"I'm enjoying this," said Raji, 24, in his second year out of Boston College. "It doesn't bother me. When you're a defensive lineman, you don't get a lot of exposure."

Well, it helps if you can dance, and it helps a little more if you do it in the end zone, and even more if you can do it against the Bears in the NFC title game. Add a few thousand ESPN replays of B.J. boogeying, and you have the makings of a star.

Every now and then, people seem to enjoy the sight of a big man in the end zone. Once, there was William Perry, the Refrigerator. Now, there is Raji, the Freezer. Twenty-five years ago, Perry scored a touchdown to help his Bears win the Super Bowl. A week and a half ago, Raji scored a touchdown to get his team here.

In the days that have followed, you have probably seen Raji's end zone dance a few times. He wiggled here, and he waggled there, and even though Dancing With the Stars has not called him, it was a joyous thing to see.

And, as his father, Busari, looked on, he said to his wife, Mamie, "Look! B.J's doing the dance he did for his grandmother!"

Busari Raji, a Pentecostal minister married to a Pentecostal minister, laughs loudly as he tells the stories of the old days and a strange sport.

"Football was one of the sports I never liked," Busari, who grew up in Nigeria, said by telephone. "It was too rough and too violent for me. Now, I'm the same as anyone who watches it."

Ah, but it wasn't that way on B.J.'s first day of football camp as a high school freshman in New Jersey. Busari watched his son struggle to complete a sit-up or a pushup and had to fight the urge to run out and pull his son off the field, away from the madness.

"I thought he was being tortured," Busari said. "I couldn't stand to see him suffer."

As it turned out, Raji had the perfect build to play defensive line, and eventually, his parents grew to enjoy watching him. Although, to tell the truth, there are still things Busari doesn't know.

"Last year, I found out what a quarterback was," Busari said.

Now, Busari marvels at his son's fame. On Tuesday, supermodel Brooklyn Decker asked B.J. to teach her how to do the Raji. He declined. Alas, there are still things the son needs to know, too.

Football? He has caught onto that. This was Raji's breakout year. Oh, he won't quite say it that way, but he had 7½ sacks, and he buoyed the interior of the Packers' defense.

"I'm not an elite player yet," Raji said.

"Yes, he is," Green Bay defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. "He's being modest. But he had a Pro Bowl (caliber) year."

As much as people talk about Raji's dancing, this is the week when they may finally notice the way he plays nose tackle.

It was supposed to be an interesting matchup, of course, when Raji met Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey. But with Pouncey likely out with a high ankle sprain, the Packers seem to have an advantage in the middle.

"Let me get one thing straight — I know that Pouncey is not playing, but the guy (John Legurski) behind him is no slouch," Raji said. "He's a pretty good player. He is very physical and finishes to the whistle. (The Steelers line) is not going to just let you get off blocks — you are going to have to tear off blocks."

Still, Raji admits, if the Packers are going to win, he probably has to play well. He has to be the Freezer. He has to be the Raj Mahal.

That's the thing about Super Bowls. Either a man's legend grows, or it gets cut down to size.

On Sunday, Raji gets measured again.

Legend grows for Green Bay Packers' B.J. Raji 02/02/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 3, 2011 7:12am]
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