The first year of Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila’s career with the Green Bay Packers in 2000 was underwhelming. His rookie season certainly didn’t suggest that the undersized defensive end would ever develop into a player who might be a threat to break Reggie White’s franchise record for sacks. Months after being drafted in the fifth round, Gbaja-Biamila was released by then-general manager Ron Wolf during the final round of cuts that year and spent the first month of the season on the practice squad.
“I worked hard just to get drafted, and I remember crying; I think I cried a little bit,” said Gbaja-Biamila, who will be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame this summer. “I remember thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ I just got a new apartment, trying to figure out how to get out of the lease so I can go back to California and figure out what I’m going to do with my life and everything because I just got cut.”
The Packers were fortunate that Gbaja-Biamila didn’t leave Green Bay and plan a different path for his life. In his second NFL season, Gbaja-Biamila became a pass-rushing monster, picking up nine sacks in the first four games.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is easy!,’ ” Gbaja-Biamila said. “I remember guys saying, ‘This is not easy.’ Guys had played 10 to 12 years in the league and hadn’t had that many sacks. Obviously, you have your wake-up call after I had a dry spell and realized this is hard work. But I had a great coach to push me when I didn’t want to go through extra practices and I had a lot of vets to look at, like Vonnie Holliday and Gilbert Brown, all these people to see how it is to be a pro. I had a lot of guys around me, good coaching, and just working hard.”
Gbaja-Biamila, now 35, went on to finish the 2001 season with 13.5 sacks, which tied for his career best mark. That was the first of four consecutive seasons in which Gbaja-Biamila had at least 10 sacks. In 2007, Gbaja-Biamila passed White’s franchise record of 68.5 sacks, and Gbaja-Biamila still holds that record with 74.5.
“The way Clay Matthews is looking, he could (break it),” Gbaja-Biamila said. “I don’t know how long (my record) is going to last. I don’t know how long Reggie White’s lasted, probably not as long, I guess. Every record is meant to be broken, so I’m just glad to say I had it at one time and I surpassed the great Reggie White.
“I came in when I was a rookie, not that in no way I didn’t think I was going to do it, but I had something to focus on. I remember when I was in college, I was at San Diego State, and I remember looking at the media guide, looking at the back and saw who the sack guy was; Mike Douglass. He actually played for the Green Bay Packers. But he had the sack record at San Diego State at 24, and my goal was to break that record. It was just a goal, something to shoot for and to chase. And, by God willing, I was able to break Mike Douglass’ record and it’s still holding to this day.
“So, I came here and said I was going to do the same thing I did at San Diego State. I didn’t know who had the sack record at the time, I just looked in the back, ‘Oh, Reggie White.’ By God’s grace, I was even able to break the great Reggie White’s record. It’s truly an honor. I set out to a goal, and it’s kind of cool to be able to accomplish those goals.”
After Green Bay
Gbaja-Biamila never played for another team. He was released by the Packers midway through the 2008 season. At 31, Gbaja-Biamila’s NFL career was over.
“There was a side of me that was pretty content,” Gbaja-Biamila said. “I didn’t have to play to make a living anymore. But, at the same time, I was torn because we were in the process of building a house here in Green Bay, and so I was in the middle of doing that, so I didn’t want to just leave that project. Plus, my wife was pregnant.
“So, I was just going to take that year off because I got released halfway through the season, and then maybe the next year I’d consider it (coming back). That year came, we had the baby, but the house was still not complete, and I couldn’t put that on my wife’s shoulders. So I said, ‘I’m going to finish that project and once that’s done, then I can reassess.’ So that year really didn’t count because it’s halfway through the season.
“I thought I could take a year off, and then I thought about coming back, but as I kept getting further out and we moved into the house and dealing with moving to a new home and everything, I just felt that I wanted to spend more time there. I was seeing my kids a lot more. I got to do Thanksgiving, Christmas and be involved in their school. So there were a lot of things I got to do that I didn’t get to do when I was playing, and you could see the benefit of that and having their dad home, compared to when I wasn’t home as much.
“So, I ended up saying, ‘You know something, if I do pick a team, it has to be somewhere that can incorporate my family.’ To be honest, if the Chicago Bears had asked me, that would’ve been tempting because it would’ve been close. Or even Minnesota, only four hours away from where we live. It had to be somewhere closer for my family. I’m not the kind of guy that can go to another city and have my family behind. If I go more than two days, I’m already getting homesickness. I’m really big on being around my family.”
Gbaja-Biamila never left Green Bay. The home he was building in 2008 when the Packers released him is his current house.
“I feel like Green Bay has been so good to us,” Gbaja-Biamila said. “It’s a great place to raise a family. I had two more kids after leaving the Packers. That makes it number six. I have six boys, so my dad moved in shortly after, maybe two years after I left the game. He moved in with me. He’s from Los Angeles coming to Green Bay, so that’s been tough for him and for us. Trying to adjust and taking care of my father through his health issues (Parkinson’s disease), helping the kids. I’m on the board of my kids’ school. They go to Providence Academy. I’m one of the board members; the vice chair.
“I’m just trying to help that school and establish that school in the community and just try to get more attendance and things of that nature. I’ve been busy, actually.
“I miss football, because in football I felt like it had breaks. I knew my offseason. I feel like this is just non-stop; I’m just working, working, working.”
Football never was Gbaja-Biamila’s only professional interest. Now, he’s getting closer to beginning an entirely different type of career.
“Right now I’m going through some tests to get my credential to become a financial advisor,” Gbaja-Biamila said. “That’s my passion, is to get into that field. I have somebody training me for that and trying to really get into that business and try to pass that to other people to learn how to be good with their finance budget, spending and all that good stuff.”
As a fan
Less than five years after playing his last snap with the Packers and in the NFL, Gbaja-Biamila will be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame this summer.
“So many times people told me how I was too small to accomplish anything, to even play in the NFL,” Gbaja-Biamila said. “So, to be part of an old franchise like the Green Bay Packers and to be a part of the Hall of Fame is truly an honor.”
Since retirement, however, Gbaja-Biamila has avoided football, for the most part. Not because he’s not interested, but he found that there isn’t enough time to sit and enjoy a game.
“The most I do is get a text and then if (a game) is really close, I turn it on just to see just to watch how it’s going to shake out,” Gbaja-Biamila said. “But it’s so hard to watch a game sometimes because it’s so emotional. And I want to just watch it as a fan. I think that’s how it used to be when I was a kid. I forgot what that looked like because I spent so much time studying the game.
“My biggest thing is I just want to be an awesome husband, an awesome dad and just be involved with my kids.”