Commentary

Raji's dance was years in the making

Green Bay's DT has become a cult figure for his dance, which started in his N.Y. home

Updated: February 5, 2011, 8:07 PM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

WESTWOOD, N.J. -- Busari Raji's phone has been ringing nonstop for a week. Many of the well-wishers call to congratulate him, but most want to know about the dance craze that is sweeping through parts of the Midwest and has become a budding Internet sensation.

They want to know all about "The Raji."

When Busari first saw his son B.J. Raji -- the large-and-in-charge, 337-pound Packers defensive tackle -- gyrating in the end zone after his interception return for a touchdown propelled the Green Bay Packers over the Chicago Bears and into the Super Bowl, the Nigerian immigrant laughed and didn't think much about the end zone celebration.

But the dance that inspired fans at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay to create a video called "Teach Me How to Raji" actually originated in a Queens living room two decades ago.

As a toddler, Raji used to lure his grandmother into chasing him around the living room and even then he displayed nimble feet and the moves of a future "Dancing With the Stars" contestant.

Running underneath a dining room table and emerging on the other side, Raji would put his hands on his hips and sway away.

"He would say, 'Granny can't catch me, granny can't catch me,'" Busari said in a sing-song voice while standing with his hands on his hips and swaying back and forth. "She would say, 'Come here, boy!'"

Back then, his dance might've looked more like the "Truffle Shuffle." These days, Raji's patented move represents the Packers' version of the "Super Bowl Shuffle."

Raji's 18-yard pick-six sent the Packers to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1998 with a 21-14 victory in the NFC Championship Game.

While Aaron Rodgers keeps the prolific Green Bay offense humming, Raji is developing into a disruptive force in the middle of the Packers' defense.

If anyone can bring Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger down, it's the Packers' second-year behemoth. Raji -- who became the heaviest player ever to score a postseason touchdown, a distinction previously held by 318-pound William "The Refrigerator" Perry -- has five of his seven-and-a-half sacks in his past eight games, including the postseason.

He also does a pretty good Perry impression. After helping pave the way for a goal-line touchdown as a monstrous fullback blocker against Atlanta, Raji called himself "The Freezer."

Now "The Freezer" again attempts to follow in the footsteps of "The Fridge" by winning a Super Bowl. His parents, Busari and Mamie, will be in the stands somewhere underneath Jerry Jones' gigantic high-definition big screen.

Watching his son in America's most celebrated game is something Busari never envisioned in his wildest fantasies. When he was a kid growing up in Nigeria, Busari (whose name means bliss in Nigerian) used to have to walk more than three miles with a two-gallon container for water.

He came to the United States in 1979 to pursue further education and met his wife, Mamie, at the Bethel Holy Church of Deliverance in Harlem, where the two have been Pentecostal ministers for the church.

The first of their three sons was always larger than all the other kids his age. B.J., short for Busari Jr., also always wanted to act older than he was, as well.

In fact, Busari nicknamed his son "Dad."

"He wanted to be the father, he wanted to be in charge," said Mamie, who has retired after working for a telephone company and who was a minister for 48 years.

Raji grew up in New York playing basketball until someone asked him to try football in middle school. Corey Raji -- a 6-foot-6 senior forward who currently averages 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds for Boston College -- likens his big brother's basketball game to that of Glen "Big Baby" Davis.

When it came to his first taste of football, Raji looked like a big infant. He struggled to do push-ups and sit-ups so badly in his first football practice that his father considered pulling him out of the sport.

"It was like he was being tortured," said Busari, who is a psychiatrist research specialist for the New York State office of mental health and now the pastor at the Bethel Holy Church. "I felt bad for him, I wanted to pull him out. He was big.

"But I said wait, I look at the other children, if they can do it, he can do it. If I had pulled him out, we wouldn't be here right now."

Busari also considered putting his son, who was bigger than all the other kids his age, on a diet, but Raji's pediatrician advised against it.

Raji continued to grow and the family moved to New Jersey, where the budding football star was a standout at Westwood Regional High School. He was developing into an NFL draft pick at BC until he was declared academically ineligible a day before the season opener of what was supposed to be his senior season in 2007.

According to the Raji family, the defensive tackle was told by the university that he needed to take two summer courses to be eligible only to learn he needed three.

With his family at school to attend the game, a devastated Raji visited with his parents at the hotel and broke down crying, asking his mother why this was happening to him.

"Your heart goes out to somebody like that anticipating a game and then finding out before the game that you can't play your senior season," Corey said. "But we like to look at things on a positive level that everything happens for a reason. He now had time to work out and elevate his game to another level."

Before he was ruled academically ineligible, Raji considered turning pro and the Boston College coaching staff told his parents that he should stay in school since he might've been a mid-round draft pick at the time. After working on his game during that redshirt year, Raji returned as an even better defensive lineman and played his way into becoming a top-10 pick in 2008.

Erroneous reports that Raji had failed a drug test for marijuana at the NFL scouting combine temporarily threatened his draft stock. But once those reports were retracted, Raji was drafted ninth overall by the Packers to become the rock in their 3-4 defense.

"We wanted to sue," Mamie said of the failed drug test reports. "[But] he knew the things we had taught him that in spite of what happened, to still go forward regardless of what people say and what they do, you stand tall and you prove to the people that you are not what they say you are."

These days, there seems to be only one thing that people want to talk about when it comes to the defensive tackle.

"A lot of people come up to me and ask me if I gave my brother his dance moves," said Corey, echoing similar questions that his younger brother and aspiring golfer, Ade, fields daily at Westwood High. "I have never witnessed him dancing. Are they going to start making this into a big dance move? It is amazing to see everybody mimic it.

"Before he got this interception, whoever thought that things would blow up like it is now? One play can change your life."

Raji has gone from a toddler teasing his granny by dancing in his living room to dancing on televisions and computers in living rooms across America.

"It is amazing," Busari said. "I just can't imagine that this poor, unknown, African, Nigerian immigrant is now a household name. Imagine that."

Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
Follow him on Twitter »  Ohm's chat archive »

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