By the third time Greg Jennings had pointed into the stands and was warned by officials that he was about to get flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit started thinking.
Was his star senior turning into a diva receiver? Was he pointing to family member or maybe a young lady he was trying to impress as he scored three touchdowns that fall day in 2005? What kind of showy silliness was going on here?
"So I asked him, and he said he was pointing to my son," said Cubit, recalling the conversation with the current Green Bay Packers wideout.
The week before, Ryan Cubit's senior season as Western Michigan's quarterback had ended when he suffered a broken leg against Temple. Ryan Cubit, Jennings' roommate on the road, was prohibited from standing on the sideline after having surgery to have a rod inserted in his leg. So instead of sharing the moments on the field, Jennings had to show his buddy some love in a different way, even if it meant skirting the college celebration rules.
"I'm sitting up there in tears half the game as Greg and (former teammate and current Broncos tight end) Tony (Scheffler) are doing that," said Ryan Cubit, who was later granted a sixth year of eligibility. "Here are these two great players who we all know are going to play in the NFL, and they're showing me how much they appreciated me as a teammate."
"That will definitely change your thinking about someone," Bill Cubit said.
In an era of diva receivers, Jennings is high on substance with very little flash.
The most productive wide receiver in the NFL today doesn't go by his initials, throw tantrums at the drop of a pass or wear outfits featuring bright sweaters and bow ties. He also hasn't changed his name for marketing purposes, and he doesn't appear likely to punch out one of his teammates anytime soon, let alone two of them.
Jennings is about as unassuming as you can get. To most people, he doesn't even look like he's running hard. Even so, the third-year receiver is lighting up the NFL as if he were some morph of Terrell Owens, Chad Ocho whatever and Steve Smith.
Jennings leads the NFL with 653 yards on 34 catches through six games. He's on pace for more than 1,700 yards. Moreover, Jennings is doing that as a pure deep threat, not the elaborate catch-a-bunch-of-short-passes receivers that are en vogue around the NFL these days.
Jennings' 19.2 yards per catch this season is only exceeded by two receivers with 20 or more grabs: San Diego's Vincent Jackson and Minnesota's Bernard Berrian, with both averaging 19.8 yards a grab. Beyond that, Jennings has 12 catches of 20 yards or more this season, including five of 40 or more.
"I try to be a perfectionist when it comes to route running, that's how I was taught in college," said Jennings, who credited former Western Michigan receivers coach George McDonald with helping him perfect his craft. "You want to be smooth and fast in and out of your cuts, make sure the cornerback doesn't know what's coming. There's nothing like being able to fool the cornerback with a great route, get behind him and make a big catch."
It can be game-changing, as it was Sunday at Seattle. Locked in a 10-10 tie in the third quarter, Green Bay was looking for a way to get control of the game. On a third-and-6, the Packers called for a double-go route for both Jennings and fellow wide receiver Donald Driver.
Jennings was matched up with Seattle Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Trufant, who had done a good job of keeping Jennings in front of him until that point. Jennings gave him just enough of an outside fake to get Trufant turned around and then jetted up field as Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers laid the deep pass perfectly in stride to Jennings for a 45-yard go-ahead touchdown.
To prove this is not simply about speed, Jennings used the next drive to show off his other skills. He worked the sideline for an eight-yard catch on third-and-6 and then caught a 14-yarder on second-and-10 two plays later as the Packers drove for another touchdown. He finished with five catches for 84 yards.
Jennings says a prayer after scoring against the Seahawks Sunday.
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Afterward, dressed in long jean shorts, a t-shirt, windbreaker and tennis shoes, Jennings was about as look-at-me loud as someone who sits in the balcony at church. If any part of him wanted attention, it was well under control – a testimony to his humble upbringing by two evangelist parents. Greg Sr. and Gwen raised him in church to respect God for all he was given, including the chance to stay home instead of go off to Michigan. Jennings had hoped to play for the Wolverines before being told they had run out of scholarships.
"I don't know why it was, but at one point I felt God was telling me that he needed to stay home," Gwen Jennings said. "He didn't know that, but I prayed for that. My oldest daughter, who was at Michigan at the time, was upset with me because she really wanted him to go to Michigan. She kept saying, 'Nobody is going to see him, he's not going to make it.'
"I thought to myself, if he's really good enough, the teams will find him. They go everywhere to find players, even the North Pole … so if God means it to be for him to make it, he'll get there and he has … I don't know why it was. It's not like we ever had some great, traumatic event in our lives about why he needed to stay."
Well, maybe not for the Jennings family, but the Cubits certainly benefited. During Jennings' senior year, he and Ryan Cubits came up with a critical play in the fourth quarter to beat Southern Illinois, a play and game that vaulted Western Michigan to seven wins over an eight-game stretch and the school's first winning record in five years.
"When you have guys who work so hard for you and give so much of themselves, it makes it so much easier to coach," said Bill Cubits, who took over at the beginning of 2005 and now has the team off to a 6-1 start this season. "Guys like that set a tone for what you're trying to do with your program … it's a lot more than just about talent."
It runs much deeper, so to speak.