ARLINGTON, Texas » B.J. Raji said he doesn’t consider himself an elite NFL nose tackle. Maybe that’s the case, considering most fans watching the Super Bowl on Sunday will know the Green Bay Packers defensive lineman more for his touchdown dance than for his playing ability.
Raji became a YouTube sensation for his dance following his first career touchdown in the Packers’ 21-14 victory over the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game.
Raji dropped back in coverage and jumped in front of Bears running back Matt Forte. Raji intercepted the pass from Caleb Hanie and returned it 18 yards for the score.
Then the 6-2, 337-pounder let loose with a hip-swirling booty shake that was the topic of conversation at Super Bowl Media Day yesterday at Cowboys Stadium.
Raji said everywhere he’s gone, people have asked him to duplicate the dance. He declined the invitation yesterday, saying he’s not sure what his follow-up would be if he reaches the end zone in the Super Bowl.
"The last one was spontaneous, so we’ll have to see what happens," Raji said.
In only his second season out of Boston College, Raji took a huge step forward and became a starter.
Raji has 44 tackles and 7 1/2 sacks this season and has become a young star for the Packers in the playoffs.
Green Bay defensive end Cullen Jenkins said Raji, whose parents were ministers, is just being humble when he says he’s not yet an elite defensive lineman.
"He fought through injury and adversity last year and this year he’s just really excelled," Jenkins said. "I thought he had a Pro Bowl year this year."
The combination of Raji’s size, athletic ability and his use as a fullback in goal-to-go situations has earned him comparisons to William "The Refrigerator" Perry, the Bears defensive lineman who scored a rushing touchdown 25 years ago in Super Bowl XX.
Raji, however, has nicknamed himself "The Freezer."
"Even bringing his name up with my name is an honor," Raji said of Perry.
Raji will be a focal point for Pittsburgh’s offensive line, especially considering the Steelers have to go with backup center Doug Legursky because of starter Maurkice Pouncey’s left ankle injury.
Legursky said Raji certainly has his attention.
"We’ll have a battle in there with him," Legursky said. "He’s a playmaker, and he’s shown that in the playoffs alone. He’s a very complex player, very versatile, so they can move him around a lot and he can get the job done from multiple positions."
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he loved Raji’s interception return for a touchdown when he watched it live. But after seeing it on film, he admitted he wasn’t too fired up about the play because Raji stuck the football out with his right arm well before he reached the end zone. He just crossed the goal line before Hanie knocked the ball loose from behind.
"The dance is a little bit undesirable," McCarthy said. "He got two minuses on the play, one for holding the ball out and one for the dance."
Two minuses from your head coach after scoring the Super Bowl-clinching touchdown might be a bit harsh.
"I like my ability and I like what I bring to the table," Raji said, "but you have to put in more years to be considered an elite player at this level."
And, for Raji, more time perfecting his dance moves to satisfy his coach.