Why you must believe in Marquez Valdes-Scantling

No player in Green Bay had higher highs and lower lows than MVS in 2020 (hello, death threats). But as he tells Go Long down in Tampa, MVS also knows the truth: He is built for this moment.

TAMPA, Fla. — The sleek black Jeep pulls into the parking lot and out steps Marquez Valdes-Scantling.

He’s the epitome of cool.

Rocking a backwards Nike hat — Velcro, not a snapback — and a sharp Jumpman hoodie, the Green Bay Packers wide receiver totes a bag of Chick-fil-A in his left hand. He doesn’t want to be rude here at Cigar City Brewing, of course, so he’s quick to order soft pretzels. MVS has never heard of this legendary home of the Jai Alai IPA but met up here because, hey, this is where his visitor was hanging while he finished chillin’ with his sidekick “Ace”at a nearby dog park.

And that’s typical MVS. He aims to please.

The chiming of glasses and dishes in the open-air kitchen synchronizes perfectly with Mumford and Sons over the speakers. One table over, two couples in their 60s order flights and yell, “Cheers!” And there’s no need to tip-toe around the reason we’re here. MVS gets it. His name alone elicits a reaction from Packers fans.

Fans who are, to put it mildly, passionate.

“It’s a blessing,” Valdes-Scantling begins, “and a curse.”

You know the history of this love affair between team and fans by now — it’s woven into the very fabric of the franchise. Fans have “owned” the team for a century. Fans take pride in the fact that this team is theirs and not the business interest of some faraway billionaire. You all know about the Lambeau Leap. You all know it takes a lifetime to get season tickets. The waiting list is currently up to about 135,000 names. And you most certainly know somebody in your life who’s an unabashed cheesehead. Maybe he or she is even one of the 360,760 stockholders who own some of the 5,011,558 “shares.”

But the only way to truly understand the unique rabidness of this fan base is to live in Wisconsin. The mood of the entire state is directly tied to Packers wins and Packers losses.

And like anything in life, when someone loves something to this extreme, when your happiness is this dependent on a sports team, such love can turn … ugly.

One veteran on the team (MVS won’t say who) even warned him about this dynamic early in his 2018 rookie year. Expect some bad seeds in the bunch, that vet said.

Valdes-Scantling sets his cell phone at the other end of the table and, then, relives the night that same phone essentially lit on fire. It was Nov. 22. The Packers were in overtime against the Indianapolis Colts. He motioned right, reversed left, caught a quick screen and a DB’s lunging hand managed to pop the ball free. Indy recovered. Indy scored. The game was over and MVS remembers what happened next at Lucas Oil Stadium like it was yesterday. One by one, players and coaches consoled him in the locker room. He took a shower, got dressed, headed to the team bus, chatted with his Dad over the phone like the two do after every game.

Then, he actually looked down at that phone and saw “thousands and thousands of notifications.”

MVS knows this is the worst thing a pro athlete can do in this moment. The smarter play, obviously, is to delete the Twitter app and pretend these cowards do not exist. Yet, to him, the logic was simple: If he’s going to talk to the world after a great game, he couldn’t hide.

“I’m not afraid,” he declares. “I can handle both ends of the spectrum.”

He expected some animosity.

What he did not expect were fans threatening to kill him.

What he did not expect were fans telling him to kill himself.

“Over a game,” says Valdes-Scantling, who called it out publicly. “It was mind-blowing to see the types of things people say. People forget that we’re humans and this is for your entertainment. It’s a job we take very seriously and we care about and it helps provide for our families. It’s for your entertainment or for your gambling or for your fantasy team. They forget that we’re humans and not some number.

“You can’t treat people that way.”

Right then, MVS saw for himself how much of a lightning rod he was.

Never mind the fact that Green Bay was only in OT that night because of Valdes-Scantling’s 47-yard reception with 1:17 left in regulation. Never mind that this was a regular season loss that, in the end, amounted to absolutely nothing. The Packers still earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC, still scored more points (31.8 per game) than anyone else and Valdes-Scantling’s knack for nuking games any given moment was a major reason why.

MVS led the NFL in yards per reception (20.9), totaling 690 yards and six scores.

In the NFC Championship Game, he torched the Buccaneers for 115 yards on four receptions with a touchdown.

Yet, too often, none of this seems to matter. It’s not only fans. Many in the media have become one-hit wonders, singing the same ole tired tune: Aaron (clap) Rodgers (clap) needs (clap) more (clap) weapons.

Please.

That remains one of the greatest lies going in the sport. OK, so the apparent “massacre” of NFL vets getting whacked has commenced. We’re about to see more new faces in new places than we ever have in a single offseason. Expect someone’s trash to become someone else’s treasure. Expect blockbuster trades, too. All of which is likely music to the ears of Packers fans clamoring for a new No. 2 opposite Davante Adams — “Bang the Drum” in March. So many want what they don’t have. So many want to swipe right and marry that hot blonde before even grabbing a cup of coffee.

Well, here’s the beautiful truth: The player who brings the Packers closest to a Super Bowl next season is sitting right here at the brewery. It’s time for everyone to believe in MVS.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling is the solution.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling was built for this moment.

Three seasons in, as a player, MVS knows exactly how to play with one of the most demanding quarterbacks ever.

As a person, he knows he can take the heat. Go ahead. Tweet all you want.

“I’ve been through way worse shit growing up in life,” Valdes-Scantling says. “I’ve been through way worse adversity. Not just not making a play or not making a catch. I’ve been through way worse shit in real life. I’ve seen people with real struggles, man. This is work for me. This is fun for me. But I never get too high and never get too low.

“I’ve got to keep going.”

Close calls

Nothing about MVS suggests MVS was ever riddled with hardship. He gets it. He knows most people who meet him make the same assumption.

He’s from the region of the country — St. Petersburg, Fla. — we all associate with vacation.

He grew up in a strong, two-parent household. He just co-launched an esports franchise and is about to relaunch his own clothing line. He is over-the-top friendly. There’s not the slightest tinge of malice to his voice that’d even hint at darkness in his past.

Yet even though the math tells you MVS has been forever incubated from danger, the reality is the man himself has witnessed things that’d give most of us a lifetime of trauma.

Stabbings. Shootouts. Murder.

“Anything that you can name, I’ve seen it,” Valdes-Scantling says. “Been a part of it. Been around it. I’ve been through real-life struggles. Anything you can think of, that you see on TV, the movies, hear about, read in the news, I’ve seen it and lived it.”

Initially, he’s hesitant to delve into specifics. But asked how close he was to crossing over, to being a statistic, and Valdes-Scantling assures it could’ve happened any given night growing up on the south side of St. Pete.

He stares ahead. Memories resurface.

“Literally, I make one wrong decision and my whole life is different,” Valdes-Scantling says. “I’m not sitting here talking to you right now. That’s what it is. I’ve got friends who are sitting in jail for life right now. Kids I grew up playing in the same Little Leagues with, the same baseball teams with, soccer, track. The same kids I grew up with are sitting in jail for the rest of their life, like, kids I went to middle school with.”

One kid comes to mind this day. One shot and killed a police officer at 16 years old and, now, is locked up forever. It’s one thing to read about a ninth grader throwing his life away, to see that news scroll across the bottom of a TV screen. It’s quite another to live it in real time.

MVS saw childhood friends with more talent than himself — again and again and again — lose it all.

“One mistake,” he says, “and your life’s over.”

That “one mistake” can take many forms, too. Valdes-Scantling knows how easily he could’ve seen his own future go up in smoke — just being around the wrong people can get you killed. One day, in a parking lot, he remembers gunfire breaking out. The guy who’s now one of the best deep threats in the NFL took off in a different kind of sprint that night. A sprint to save his life. Valdes-Scantling hurdled a bush, dove behind a car and prayed for his life. Miraculously, those bullets that sounded so close missed him.

He took a deep breath. He collected himself.

He never had a clue who was shooting at who.

“You don’t ask why. It doesn’t matter why. A bullet has no name.”

Up close, MVS saw people robbed, stabbed, shot all the time. So, he brings up one more scene. So many times, a verbal argument would break out during a pickup basketball game at the park over something unbelievably minor. The argument would turn to a fight. The fight would turn into one person saying, “I’ll be back.” And then, whoever said those fateful words just may go to his car, pull out a knife and stab someone directly into the abdomen.

Nobody’s using their fists to settle disputes here. They’ve got a weapon.

“And people bring all different types of things to fights,” Valdes-Scantling says. “You don’t know what’s going to happen.”

He’s been in many fights himself — Valdes-Scantling is the first to admit he’s had his “fair share of issues” — but he did not keep a knife or a gun in his glove box. He insists he never crossed over into the street life, too. And the head coach at his high school, Lakewood’s Cory Moore, echoes this fine line. As Moore puts, MVS had something many of his peers did not (two parents setting an example), but everyone living on the south side is bound to see some shit.

“A lot of times,” Moore says, “when people think about St. Pete, they think about the beach. They think about Treasure Island. But there’s another part of St. Pete — South St. Pete. You can choose the good or the bad, the American Dream or the American Nightmare.”

Over time, MVS eliminated all bad influences from his life. Instead of sliding into the backseat of the wrong car at the wrong time with the wrong person after football practice, MVS stuck around to run routes with his quarterback for an extra two hours.

Moore remembers staying at the school until 9 p.m. many nights because MVS did not want to stop practicing.

To MVS, staying alive was as simple as going to the gym instead of going to the party.

“It’s making that decision over and over and over again,” he says. “Because the one time you say, ‘I’ll go to this party,’ you could get shot. You could get arrested. You could be with some guys who have something illegal in their car and everybody gets in trouble. One time. All you need is for a decision to go wrong one time and your whole life is changed.”

This environment is the No. 1 reason he wanted to go to college outside of Florida. He initially attended N.C. State and even though he played right away as a freshman in 2013, something was just off. He believed this scheme was not taking advantage of his talent. So, back home he went. He transferred to South Florida, developed into a true burner, steered clear of trouble and the Packers drafted him with the 174th overall pick in the fifth round. Football, always, was the buffer. The one source of “fun” that separated MVS from, what he calls, “all the shit.”

So, why fret? Why get down at all? This is why he has such remarkable bouncebackability.  

One drop, one fumble, one mistake in a damn game will never get him down after seeing what a real mistake can do.

“It doesn’t matter. Literally doesn’t matter. It will never affect me because I’ve been through real-life shit before.”

And the net result, on the field, is being exactly what the Packers need long term.

A perfect fit

He steps up to the line of scrimmage today and knows, for a fact, he will burn your cornerback.

It does not matter who’s staring into his soul.

“I can go against anybody,” he says. “I don’t think anyone can stop me. That’s the biggest thing: Being able to say, ‘I can go out and beat anyone.’”

No, he sure doesn’t sound like a player who’s had an up-and-down career. Maybe the career of MVS has been a blooper reel to you. At no point has he ever been down, been out, been in a dark place. At all. Rather, he thinks like a receiver who’ll dominate.

Those death threats didn’t bother him one bit.

“If Twitter wasn’t free,” he adds, “people wouldn’t say the things that they say. If it cost you to talk shit to someone, no one would be doing it. No one could say anything worse than what I tell myself.”

And that’s one hell of a quality to have considering who’s throwing him the ball for a living. Aaron Rodgers is notoriously demanding. In his world, it’s pretty simple: You must get on his level intellectually or you could be ignored, phased out, cut, forgotten. And here’s MVS, still making massive plays in massive moments.

The easy thing to say, right now, is that Rodgers needs something… different. Something… better. The easy narrative to regurgitate is that the Packers must go “all in” like the team right here in Valdes-Scantling’s backyard: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. So many talking heads are downright offended that the Packers would commit the grave sin of wasting their quarterback’s prime and all but demand a Thrones-style walk of shame from GM Brian Gutekunst down Oneida Street. The second the quarterback appeared sad in a postgame presser, columns were spit into the atmosphere.

Which, of course, only drags MVS’ name right through the muck.

Which, of course, just has to piss MVS off, right? He’s told this is all a direct shot at him.

He doesn’t hold back.

“We were the No. 1 offense in the entire NFL,” he says. “What more do you want? I don’t care because I know what we’ve got. I know the players we have and what makes the offense work. It’s hard putting guys in — ‘Oh, let’s go out and get this guy and get this guy.’ They don’t know how to operate in this offense, playing in code. They don’t know how to operate playing with Aaron Rodgers. There are two separate playbooks. There’s the one we get written down. And then there’s one that Aaron has. It’s not an easy thing to just come in and play right away.

“You can’t just have a guy who can make a play. You’ve got to be a different level of intelligence to play in that offense.”

No doubt, Rodgers still has his own “playbook” in Green Bay and learning this “playbook” can take thousands upon thousands of reps.

As Valdes-Scantling explains, the Packers typically have two plays called in the huddle. All 11 players step up to the line and if Rodgers believes both plays LaFleur sent in won’t work, he’ll call something else. The QB will change the protection, the play, the routes with an audible and/or a hand signal and… you better as hell know what you’re doing as a receiver in real time.

“You’ve got three seconds,” Valdes-Scantling says. “And the ball’s coming.”

Rodgers has even audibled to pre-LaFleur plays the Packers haven’t run since ‘18.

Such freelancing, of course, posed problems by the end of Mike McCarthy’s tenure. It got messy. The X’s and O’s were staler than stale and the receiving corps was greener than green. Now? MVS is on his quarterback’s intellectual level and the LaFleur-Rodgers partnership sure seems to be working. They’ve managed to juggle these two playbooks, albeit with the Packers handpicking Rodgers’ replacement along the way. As Valdes-Scantling says, Rodgers isn’t changing plays at the line “to be an asshole.” He’s leaning into his 219 games of experience.

He won a third MVP. And, now, he has what MVS calls an “elite” play designer.

“There are times (Rodgers) may say, ‘That might not work’ or ‘We’re going to go no-huddle, I’m going to call the plays,’” Valdes-Scantling says. “Those are things that happen. You’ve got to be able to do that. It’s not super simplistic where some coaches say, ‘This is the play. Run that play.’ And if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. There are teams like that. There are quarterbacks like that who say, ‘I’m going to call whatever’s called.’ … That’s the balance they’ve done a great job of creating. There are times he lets Aaron do his thing. And there are times where Aaron lets Matt call the plays. They always do a great job of communicating. ‘OK, what do you like? What do you not like?’”

And Valdes-Scantling has reached the point where he sees what Rodgers sees. He’ll be exactly where the quarterback wants him.

Granted, it wasn’t always this way. The fourth game of his career — against Buffalo, on fourth and 3 — he sprinted off the line, halted to a stop, turned and Rodgers’ quick pass should’ve been picked off for a touchdown. The QB was irate. Cameras didn’t catch it but Valdes-Scantling recalls Rodgers motioning him over and losing his mind because Rodgers wanted him to run the route one yard shorter.

“I got cussed out,” he says. “There’s not guys who can just take that. I got ripped. He was just spazzing on me.”

Four series later, Rodgers hated the play call McCarthy sent in so he drew up his own on the fly. He told three receivers to line up to the left side and instructed “Quez” to motion to the right side and run a go route. He did. He caught it for 38 yards.

The camera did catch the aftermath of this play, too. MVS looked back at his QB and winked.

Says MVS: “I was like, ‘Man. That’s Aaron Rodgers doing his thing.’”

With more reps, the more you’re able to speak that same code as Rodgers, too. Nobody is able to right away. Hell, remember Davante Adams’ introduction to this Packers’ offense? Once upon a time, everyone wanted him immediately taxied to Austin Straubel International Airport and sent back to California. His 2015 season was an unmitigated disaster — Adams averaged only 3.0 yards after the catch, dropped 12 of the 96 passes thrown his way (12.5 percent) and Pro Football Focus ranked him the 118th best wide receiver of the 119 who played at least a quarter of their teams snaps.

Now? Adams may be the best receiver in football.

MVS is getting there. MVS is reaching that same Adams-like, Jordy Nelson-like, Randall Cobb-like point where he can react to a mere “look” the quarterback gives him. One “look” that says, You see that soft spot in this coverage, too, right? And that’s quite dangerous considering he’s armed with raw speed those three could only dream of.

The long-legged burner embarrassing one defender after another for deep touchdowns in 2020 — Jacksonville’s Sidney Jones for 78 yards, San Francisco’s Marcell Harris for 52 yards, Chicago’s Danny Trevathan for 72 yards — will now be able to hit the brakes and turn precisely where Rodgers wants him to game-in and game-out.

Such is the glorious life as the “X” receiver in a Packers offense, lining up on the weakside of a formation. Take it from one of the team’s best wideouts ever: Antonio Freeman. That’s exactly where Freeman excelled before Ray Rhodes moved him to the “Z” spot in ‘99. Because here, as the “X,” you’re often the lone receiver opposite the tight end side. Here, you’re away from the muck and confusion. Here, you draw 1-on-1’s and your raw ability takes over.

To him, this set-up is perfect. With Adams drawing so much attention on one side of the field, MVS can dominate on the other.

“He could be as great as he wants to be,” Freeman says. “When I look at Davante Adams and I look at MVS, I look at both guys as the same size and physical ability. If MVS can just work on footwork, he’ll destroy bump and run coverage. He’s so big and strong and fast that defenders shouldn’t even think about wanting to bump him.”

Freeman remembers Adams’ struggles in ’15, too. He worked at a radio station in Wisconsin that season — fans wanted Adams gone.

Now, he notes, nobody even talks about that ’15 season.

He believes MVS can ascend just like Adams did, too. Freeman’s advice? Do what he didn’t do himself. Get those extra reps in with his quarterback after practice. Catch another 150 balls from Rodgers. That’s what “the greats” do, Freeman says, and he regrets not working with Brett Favre more.

Of course, that won’t be a problem for the kid once making his high school coach stick around into the night.

The truth

He hasn’t allowed himself to get too comfortable in Wisconsin. He’s still renting up north and his place is actually near the airport, which may become an eerie proximity next season.

This is a contract year for MVS and MVS admits there are many “variables” at play.

One such variable? What the Packers do this offseason. GM Brian Gutekunst could trade for Odell Beckham Jr. He could sign Corey Davis or Will Fuller. He could draft a receiver in the first or second round. He could do something nobody’s even thinking of right now. Many fans sure hope so. Yet the cold-hard truth of the matter is that given the nature of the wide receiver position in a Rodgers-led offense, it’d be incredibly difficult for any new weapon to strut into Lambeau Field and instantly star.

AB! and Gronk! and Fournette! may have the 5.2 million combined Twitter followers but anyone suggesting the Packers are better off with those three players instead of, say, MVS and Allen Lazard and Robert Tonyan (and their 165K followers) is dead wrong.

Bigger names? Yes. Better fits? Hell no.

“We were the No. 1 offense in the world. For a reason,” Valdes-Scantling says. “You can always say there’s a better player somewhere. You never know how that’d turn out. You want the right guys in the building — that you want. The media gets caught up in the names. You want the guys that you want, the guys that fit into your system. Not just fit into what your fantasy team says. I think we’ve got a great group of core guys that we believe in that made our offense what it was.

“It’s not something you walk in and do. I don’t think anybody has just walked in and done that.”

He is blunt. He is confident.

Moore remembers this MVS so well.

“To a person not knowing him, you may think that he’s arrogant, but he’s not,” Moore says. “He knows his value. He knows his worth. He doesn’t have to please people. He’s going to continue to elevate. He’ll continue raising the bar.”

So, expect another hike in those receiving numbers and expect Valdes-Scantling to be exactly what his head coach wants in every other facet of the game, too.

There’s a LaFleur factor to consider here, too. In a LaFleur offense, every wide receiver must be willing to sacrifice his body as a blocker. To fight. He wants this offense to have a gnarly, ass-kicking identity. Thus, the coach’s favorite MVS moment likely came in a 0-catch, 0-yard effort against Philly. Deep into the fourth quarter, the receiver didn’t sulk, no, he sprinted downfield to wipe out several defenders on Aaron Jones’ game-sealing 77-yard touchdown run.

All the kids know AB a hell of a lot more than they know MVS but there’s a 0.0001 percent chance that Brown even considers making this play.

OBJ? That’s dicey, too.

This desire will be valued in Green Bay.

“You can’t just get a guy because he makes some plays,” Valdes-Scantling says. “There are so many things that go into playing in our offense. You’ve got to be able to go out and block for your teammates and give it up. Those are the things people don’t see. There are guys around the league who don’t necessarily do that. That is the unselfish play you’ve got to have to play in that organization. And it comes from everybody.

“You’ve got to have that unselfish player. Those are hard to find in the NFL. A lot of guys are, like, ‘I want my stats. I want money.’ Obviously, everybody wants those things but you can’t get consumed in that when you’re trying to win football games. If you’re not that unselfish player, you’ll never work in our offense.”  

Such are the plays people rarely notice, let alone appreciate. And he’s not alone. He points to Lazard smashing into a defensive end on a third-and-1, inside-zone play at the goal line.

“People are like, ‘Oh, we don’t have the guys,’” he says. “Well, shit, we’ve got the guys who fit into our offense and do what we want to do. There’s not a lot of guys in this league who will continuously do that. And maybe not get 10 catches for 150 yards but we just scored 31 points and won the game.

“There’s one football. When the time comes, you’ve got to make a play.”

For the most part, he has. If anything, Rodgers should’ve targeted MVS more than six times in the NFC Championship. He was far too locked into Adams (15 targets) that day. Anyone claiming the Packers lost to Tampa Bay due to a lack of weapons might’ve had a few too many Miller Lites down at Fox Harbor Pub on Washington Street. Opportunities can be fleeting but when MVS catches the ball it completely changes the complexion of the game and, as MVS puts, “not a lot of guys can do that.”

He’s not angry. Not spiteful. He’s simply spittin’ facts.

When it’s suggested to him that being so honest and so detailed may get people thinking right on this all, he shakes his head.

“I don’t care if they don’t think right, to be honest.

“I don’t care at all.”

What’s next?

A decade before Twitter existed, Antonio Freeman used to cross the goal line and have some fun. He’d high-step. He’d shimmy his shoulders. He’d do a little jig. Nothing was choreographed, either. Whatever emotions flowed through his body — in that moment — he rolled with. So, looking back, you’d assume “Free” was universally beloved.

In ‘96, Freeman broke out as a true star. His 81-yard touchdown busted Super Bowl XXXI wide open.

Yet in ‘96, Freeman was also in MVS’ shoes. He says he received threatening letters from fans all the time.

“I went through it bad,” Freeman says. “I play with emotion. I’m living the dream. And when I scored touchdowns, I got threats. I got threatening mail. I won’t say ‘death threats’ but it got to the point where I had to take it up to our team security. The fans weren’t used to the Green Bay Packers celebrating and dancing and doing the extra things I did in the end zone when I scored.

“Me as a player, I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to let that change the way I play the game or change the emotions I played the game with.”

In the mid-90s, the Lambeau Leap was simultaneously taking off. Fans instructed Freeman to quit dancing and leap into the stands like everybody else. So, no, Valdes-Scantling isn’t the first Packers player to feel the wrath of these intensely-vested diehards. Overall, the line separating players from being loathed or loved is forever elastic here.

One moment, fans cannot stand cornerback Jarrett Bush. By 2010, he’s a hero for picking off Ben Roethlisberger in the Super Bowl.

One year, Adams is an absolute bust. Now, he’s on the fast track to shatter team receiving records.

Greg Jennings has one of the greatest catches in franchise history — in a Super Bowl triumph, no less — yet when the quarterback who threaded that needle calls him “irrelevant” nine years later, he is ostracized. Then, of course, there’s Brett Favre. He morphed from Jesus to Judas to Jesus again over the course of his pro career. I can still remember hanging out with Favre before he was re-embraced by fans. From his home in Mississippi, he was genuinely nervous to return to Lambeau Field.

Making matters worse for a guy like MVS — as Freeman notes — is that the “typical fan” consuming pro football has changed. Gambling has exploded. Fantasy football has exploded. Now, your dropped pass costs that fan money and, Freeman adds, they feel their “last resort” is to send you a death threat.

If you can cross this threshold to become one of the beloved in Green Bay, you’re immortalized. This fan base wraps you in a bear hug for an eternity and the city itself may even name a street after you. At the very least, you’ll never have to buy beer or curds again. You’ll be welcomed back for so many reunions and strut through that tunnel to the tune of 80,000 screaming fans during pregame.

Yet here’s the thing.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling, sincerely, does not care what people think.

Quickly, this conversation takes a sharp turn back to something he does care deeply about: his hometown. The kid who couldn’t wait to leave St. Petersburg as an 18-year-old genuinely wants to bring change to his community. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the league who cares more than MVS, whose own family has been heavily involved in helping the homeless population for years. Each Christmas, MVS fills duffel bags with blankets, toiletries, clothes and other essential needs for the homeless. The logic now is as simple as it was then: The little things matter. MVS learned that himself at 15, 16, 17 — training instead of attending that party — and he’s seeing the little things making a difference right now.

Something as minor as giving a homeless person a blanket can become contagious. He’s sure of it.

“It’s a trickle-down effect,” MVS says. “Let it snowball into something bigger. If I can get one of those people to say, ‘I need to help somebody else out,’ it might change someone else’s life. That’s how you make a whole community better — by one person starting it.”

Homelessness isn’t solved in 140 characters or less, of course. To MVS, one place to start is removing some of the red tape people encounter when they try to rent an apartment. He calls the process a “revolving door of nothingness” and he also saw the effects of Covid-19 up close. When jobs completely shut down for two months, families living paycheck to paycheck were ejected from their homes.

So, he can’t stop. This is how MVS attacks every day he’s back in Florida. Heck, he has even worked the concession stands during Lakewood’s JV games and has provided team meals for everyone.

Says Moore: “He doesn’t do it to get a pat on the back. He does it because that’s his character. He’s a giver.”

By the time, MVS heads back north, there may be a new receiver in town. He isn’t concerned about it. Nor is he setting a specific statistical goal for the 2021 season. Simply, he says he’s aiming to be “the best version” of himself. That’s it. Because the only thing he cares about is winning a Super Bowl.

“I know my guys believe in me,” MVS says. “My teammates believe in me. My parents believe in me. The people I care about believe in me, and that’s all I really care about.”

With that, he picks up his phone, tucks it into his hoodie pocket and we head outside. The crucifix earring in his left ear sparkles in the sun, he slides back into that Jeep and drives away to help somebody else in St. Pete.

Maybe Marquez Valdes-Scantling doesn’t give a damn if anyone loves him or hates him but — whether he knows it or not — he was so, so, so close to flipping everything to 100 percent love last season. The 2020 Packers had the talent to win it all and lost to the team he grew up worshiping. That 31-26 loss to the Buccaneers stung so much that Valdes-Scantling didn’t watch one snap of the Super Bowl.

He couldn’t even look at the stadium, period, when he returned home.

Winning a Super Bowl is what drives MVS and, for the Packers, winning a Super Bowl starts with believing in MVS.

And when he pulls this off, when he’s standing on a podium in Inglewood, Calif., the night of Feb. 6, 2022, there won’t be a bad seed in the bunch, either.

Playing for the Green Bay Packers will be a blessing.

Only a blessing.

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