Packers tight end Robert Tonyan:
Let me just say right off the bat: This isn’t a typical thing for me.
I’m not ordinarily someone who does a ton of talking or opens up about himself for the whole world to read. But this season has been special — and meaningful to me. I felt it was the perfect time to share a little bit of myself and give our amazing fans an inside look into this incredible team and organization.
Before I dig in and talk about what makes us tick, and the playoff journey we’re about to undertake, I’ve got a little story for you.
Flash back to three years ago. First week of December, 2017.
I’d just signed on with the Pack’s practice squad after having gone undrafted as a receiver out of Indiana State and being cut by the Lions in preseason. It’s my first day on the job, new guy in Green Bay, low man on the totem pole.
So I get to the facility early, check in, and immediately — like as soon as I get there — the quarterback comes right up to me and shakes my hand.
“Hey, I’m Aaron. Welcome!”
For a split-second it was like, Whoa! But I hold it together and manage to get out something basic like: “Hi, I’m Robert. Really excited to be here.”
And Aaron, he’s just being totally on-point and welcoming, but the funny thing is, for whatever reason, right off the bat.…
I notice that he’s calling me “Bobby.”
It’s like he’s known me for years and that’s just what he calls me. Like we were buds from middle school and that’s what he knows me as.
Which is cool, obviously. But at the same time, it’s kinda throwing me for a loop because … no one has called me Bobby since, I don’t know … kindergarten? First grade? Next thing I know he’s introducing me to people as Bobby.
And, I mean … I’m just rolling with it. Right? Like of course. Lettin’ it ride. Just sitting there smiling and nodding away like, I’ll be Bobby … why not.
So anyway we get out onto the practice field and, like clockwork, as soon as things ramp up and we get ready to go, it starts snowing.
And it’s one of those perfect winter snowfall deals, too. It’s like something out of a movie. Lambeau in the background, snow coming down, a crisp chill in the air. It’s just perfect. I look around and take it all in and just kind of think to myself: Well, it couldn’t get much better than this.
But then … it does.
I’m on the scout team, and we’re getting set to do red zone stuff, and it turns out on that particular day, get this … first set of downs, guess who comes jogging into the huddle?
“What’s up, Bobby? Let’s go score some points, what d’ya think?”
Aaron was in the process of rehabbing the collarbone injury he’d suffered against the Vikings earlier that season, and he was working his way back when I came to Green Bay. So now … that’s my scout team QB.
Aaron frickin’ Rodgers.
Not too shabby, right?
And, to top it off, dude ended up throwing me three touchdown passes that day, too. Perfect passes. Textbook throws.
It was definitely one of the coolest days of my life.
But then, at the same time, it was also like … I guess Bobby it is!
Looking back on it, it really does seem to me like maybe Aaron saw something in me that day because from then on he’s held me to an extremely high standard. He wouldn’t let even the tiniest mistakes slide. He’d explain things to me and coach me up, but he’d also get legit mad when I screwed up.
And to me, I always took that as such a compliment. It was like, Hey man, this guy really cares about you and wants you to reach your full potential.
Every single day I’ve been a Packer, Aaron has pushed me and helped me get better. And as a result a good friendship has developed that I think is paying dividends on the field. You go the extra mile for the people you truly care about, and that’s what it’s become with Aaron and me, for sure.
And, honestly, the more I think about it, it’s like that with literally everyone on this team right now. The support and trust and love we show for one another really is off the charts. We’re all on the same page. And that’s one of the things that I believe makes this team truly special and ready for these playoffs.
Because of how focused we are on winning, we all push each other constantly. As a tight end, from Day One, I was so fortunate to be able to learn from true pros like Jimmy Graham and Lance Kendricks and Marcedes Lewis.
And man, let me just say, Marcedes….
That’s my guy right there. He’s like my big brother, and he truly embodies everything I hope to be. Year 15, healthy, still doing it at a high level, still loving the game, so wise, and just the best, nicest dude you’ll ever meet. When we’re on the field together, it’s almost like we feel this extra, I don’t know what to call it … almost invincibility. When you have a best friend on the team — someone you look up to and respect — and you’re lined up right next to him ready to make something special happen, there’s no better feeling in the world.
And I’m pretty proud to say that, thanks in large part to Davante, I’ve now gotten to a place in my career where I have total confidence in myself during those big moments. That guy, he’s just always drilled into me that you need to believe in yourself and that you should never set any limits on what you can do. He’s taught me to develop and harness that … I guess you would call it raw confidence, or inner belief that all great athletes possess.
The week in Atlanta when Davante was out and I had that big game on Monday night, the first thing he did afterward was pull me aside in the weight room and tell me, in no uncertain terms, that when he got back on the field he wanted to see me acting exactly like I did that night against the Falcons.
Not playing like I did … acting like I did.
I didn’t really get it at first, so I asked him what he meant.
“Acting like you were unstoppable,” he said. “Like no one on the planet could stick with you. Knowing that you had reached another level.”
Coming from a guy of that caliber? I mean, It was one of the coolest moments of my career to have him say that to me.
“I need you to be like that,” he said. “We all do. This team needs you to be like that every single game.”
That type of honesty, that directness, is one of the things I love most about being a Packer. We’re a player-led team, so we’re all just completely real with one another. There’s no bulls*** when you come into the Packers’ locker room. And everyone knows it.
Hell, even outside the locker room we’re like that with each other.
I’ll never forget Thanksgiving in 2019 at Aaron’s place, when David Bakhtiari leaned over to me at the dinner table for a word. (Literally at the dinner table. And, keep in mind, this is two Thanksgivings ago … before I was anything at all. Before I was really even playing.)
“Listen,” he says, “I don’t know what’s up with you in the passing game, or how you do things when the ball’s in the air … but when we’re running the ball, in the run game, what you’re doing … it’s not good enough. You need to be better.”
He wasn’t smiling as he said this. Trust me.
He was … mad. Like mad mad. Here I am thinking dude was gonna ask me to pass the gravy or something and David, he’s pissed off … and leaning in to talk to the fourth-string tight end about his run-blocking skills.
Dude was not messing around.
To this day, David’s fiancée, when she sees us together she’s still like: “Man, you were sooooo mean to Bobby that one Thanksgiving.” (Of course, I’m “Bobby” to everyone now. Thanks, 12.) But I actually really loved the talking-to he gave me that afternoon.
When he came at me like that, I remember there was this pure emotion that rose up inside me. It wasn’t anger. It was desire.
It was inspiration.
I looked him dead in the eye, and I was like: “I cannot wait until practice tomorrow.”
A few years later, David’s one of my very best friends on the team. We joke about that conversation all the time, and how stern he was. But the really cool thing about it is that when we talk about it now, do you know what he says?
“Dude, you went and made me look like a damn fool after that.”
David helped me more than he’ll ever know. And you damn sure better believe that we’re gonna do everything in our power to help bring that guy a Lombardi Trophy this year. We’re all heartbroken for David, obviously, but I’m truly hopeful that we’re about to do something special for him over the next few weeks.
For me, these playoffs are going to be the most fun thing imaginable. And running onto that field for these games is definitely going to take me back to when I was a little kid.
I grew up in Northern Illinois, not too far from Wisconsin, and the first football game I ever went to was at Lambeau. It was us against the Bears. And I was really little, maybe five or six. So I only remember blips and flashes. But, I gotta say: They’re some pretty damn good blips and flashes.
I remember our angle to the field, and the scoreboard, and then I remember the bright yellow railings and steps, just all that yellow paint, and the light reflecting off that yellow. I mean, what an image. What a memory.
And to this day it still takes my breath away when I look around Lambeau. When it’s noon on Sunday in October, and there’s dew on the ground and the sun hits all that yellow and reflects off the bleachers at the same time? It’s just … wow. There’s this golden tint to the field. And it just looks like football, man. It’s just beautiful. There’s really no other way to put it.
So to me, getting the chance to play in these playoffs on that field now, that hallowed ground … I just feel extremely fortunate.
It’s a dream come true.
Ever since I was young — and I’m talking really, really young, like two or three years old — I feel like what I’ve been put on this Earth to do is to play football and compete. That’s just how I’m wired. That’s what I was put here to do. And at this point, thanks to this team and this incredible community….
I know the exact place where I was meant to do it.
That big G, and everything it stands for? It’s unlike anything in all of sports. And that’s not me being disrespectful in any way to any other team. It’s just that Lambeau Field and the Green Bay Packers … that’s NFL royalty right there. The frozen tundra, all those historic games, that yellow and green. It speaks for itself at this point.
We all know what this is about. We all get it.
This is what we all live for. It’s what we’re all here to do. Players, coaches, fans … all of us.
This is what it’s all about.
And it all starts right now. It’s gonna be one hell of a ride!
Go, Pack, Go!