For Naaman Roosevelt the season finale against the Jets in Week 17 brought a close to his first season with the Buffalo Bills. Though his team did not qualify for the postseason, Roosevelt has kept a close eye on the NFL playoffs watching a former college teammate excel in helping the Green Bay Packers win an NFC title and advance to Super Bowl XLV.
Roosevelt and Packers running back James Starks were both teammates at the University of Buffalo and part of the 2010 graduating class. Both are also Western New York natives, with Roosevelt hailing from Buffalo and Starks from Niagara Falls.
Starks didn't play his senior season due to a shoulder injury, but was still drafted in the sixth round by Green Bay. Roosevelt was an undrafted signing of the Bills and was elevated to the 53-man roster in the second half of the 2010 season.
The two have kept in frequent contact throughout their rookie campaigns, both of which have had their share of twists and turns.
"We always text back and forth telling each other how each other's seasons were going," Roosevelt said. "We've been talking about his playoff run and how he's just having fun."
Roosevelt made Buffalo's practice squad coming out of training camp and when injuries struck the receiver position he was called up and contributed nine receptions for 139 yards.
Starks also had to bide his time. At the start of the season he was placed Green Bay's Reserve/PUP list to rehab a hamstring injury. He'd miss the first half of the regular season.
Come the second half of the season Starks saw action in three regular season games compiling 101 yards on 29 carries. What's happened since however, has been impressive. Asked to carry the rushing load, Starks responded rushing for 123 yards in Green Bay's Wild Card win at Philadelphia. He also provided solid, if not spectacular efforts in postseason victories at Atlanta and Chicago, including a four-yard touchdown run in the NFC Championship game.
According to Roosevelt his close friend is still trying to process how his rookie NFL season has unfolded.
"It's sort of like a dream for him just for what he did helping the team out running the ball," said Roosevelt. "For him it's unbelievable with how he's helping the team. He's in amazement. It's kind of a like a story book how it's playing out for him. He hadn't played in so long and now he's on the field and he's blowing up."
Heading into his senior season in 2009, Starks was forecast by most draft experts as a second or third-round pick. A shoulder injury however, led him to miss his entire senior season and he slipped to the later rounds before the Packers took him.
But even as early as their junior season together Roosevelt and Starks felt that the NFL was a realistic possibility for both of them. They would often talk about their playing futures.
"We did talk about the NFL generally," Roosevelt said. "In college we were real cool and real close and our lockers were next to each other so we definitely talked about everything and how great it would be to go to the NFL and get there. That was the thing for us just to get here and if we could experience being here it would be a great feeling. We didn't talk about the Super Bowl. We just wanted to get here. So for him to get to a Super Bowl in his first year is just crazy."
Seeing Starks' rookie season cut in half by the Reserve/PUP designation was initially seen as a negative. Now it's widely viewed as a blessing. Heading into the final NFL game of the season Starks has some of the freshest legs on either roster.
"Just with him missing the first half of the season, he's been able to turn it up in the playoffs and he's definitely got fresh legs," said Roosevelt. "He's just been so excited."
Roosevelt said the nature of their conversations is almost never about football. There are a lot of inside jokes between the two Western New York natives.
"I just talked to him a couple of days ago and he's always got a joke for you," said Roosevelt. "He's not going to get too serious or up tight. He's been loose. That's the type of guy he is. He's always loose and loves to have fun. He's obviously going to be nervous because it's the Super Bowl and it's the biggest game of his life, but after that first hit he'll be good and it'll just be football again."
For Western New York, having a hometown player in the Super Bowl with that kind of exposure is huge. Roosevelt has already seen the kind of buzz it has created locally.
"It definitely is a good thing, especially for the kids around here," he said. "Everybody that I see around here they want to talk about James Starks and how excited they are for him and how they are rooting for the Packers and they hope he does well in the Super Bowl. It's good to have a guy from Western New York in that game."
Roosevelt is confident that Starks will perform well and for one Sunday one Buffalo Bill will be pulling for another NFL team.
"He knows what he has to do this weekend," said Roosevelt. "I'll definitely be rooting for Green Bay for a day. I'm a James Starks fan Sunday."