GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Blake Martinez simply signed his name on his first NFL contract Thursday. He did not add I told you so below it.
But he could have.
In January, the Tucson, Arizona, native and former Stanford linebacker took a break from his pre-NFL draft preparations to attend the NFC divisional playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. His agent, Dave Butz, secured pregame sideline passes that got them on the field, and that’s where the two wound up bumping into Packers vice president Russ Ball, the team’s chief contract negotiator.
“We were like, ‘Hey, we have a linebacker here for you!’ And he was just like, ‘Oh yeah, OK … We’ll see,’ just kind of shooing it off,” Martinez recounted with a smile Friday, following his first practice with the Packers at the team’s post-draft rookie orientation camp. “All of a sudden, we’re here.”
Martinez, whom the Packers took with the first of their two fourth-round picks last Saturday, said he and Ball “were both laughing” at the small-world nature of the encounter. Add that coincidence to the premonition his mother, Carissa, had that her son would end up in Green Bay, and it appears Martinez was meant to be a member of the Packers. Reality hit him when he walked into the locker room and saw his nameplate two lockers down from quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ dressing area and the No. 50 jersey with his name on it hanging on a hook.
“Chills ran down my whole body,” Martinez said. “It was just kind of that surreal moment that, ‘This is real, now it's an actual thing. Your dream is reality.’”
Martinez said he chose No. 50 out of a group of numbers the Packers offered him. He didn’t think of the previous owner, linebacker A.J. Hawk, the franchise’s all-time leading tackler who spent nine seasons in Green Bay. The Packers did not issue No. 50 last season, after Hawk was released by the team the previous February.
“They gave me like 12 options, and I was just kind of going through it and not really thinking [and picked] No. 50 like, ‘50’s a great number.’ Then all of a sudden, everybody’s like, ‘Oh, you’ve got A.J. Hawk’s number.’ I was like, ‘Ohhhh, yep, here we go,’” Martinez said. “But it’s a great number, and I’ll do everything I can to live up to his legacy and all of what he’s done.”
Meanwhile, Martinez said his father, Marc, still is working on ridding the house of the hats and T-shirts of the NFL’s other 31 teams that he bought in preparation for his son being drafted. Martinez said extended family members grabbed some of the gear for a few other teams and joked that they “burned” the Chicago Bears paraphernalia. Martinez said his dad likely will donate whatever is left.