In the illustration on the cover of the book entitled Home Field Advantage, Lambeau Field is crowned in a halo of sunlight. In fact, the whole scene is heavenly. Author Ken Ruettgers, all shoulder pads and thigh pads, is holding the hand of his seven-year-old son, Matthew. The boy, wearing an oversized Packer jersey with the number 75, barely reaches his father's waist. Matthew gazes up at the handsome figure who towers over him. The subtitle reads: A Dad's Guide to the Power of Role Modeling. There is a blurb on the cover from a pastor named Reggie White.
On the cover of the Packer media guide, the lone image is of an offensive lineman, a left tackle, number 75. His legs are in a wide stance, and his body is hunched like that of a sumo wrestler who is about to attack his opponent. His wrists and hands are mummified in strips of white tape. There is a scowl behind the face mask. This picture is unlike the angelic scene on the book cover. Yet when it comes to left tackles, there isn't a better role model.
Ruettgers decided to write the book after a 1993 incident in the Packer locker room. Matthew had approached one of the team's stars whom he revered, and was crestfallen when he was ignored. Writes Ruettgers, "I grew up believing that athletes have a responsibility to people in society who look up to them. But the value of that role had never become so real to me until my son reached out to a fellow athlete and grabbed nothing but air.... I knew one role model Matt could always rely on...someone who had a 'home field' advantage.... Me."
This past off-season, Ruettgers worked on the book daily. He interviewed more than 50 professional athletes and wrote enough material for three books. Co-author Dave Branon edited Ruettgers's work into a 221-page paperback. Proceeds from the book, which sells for $10.99, will go to a charitable foundation that Ruettgers says will focus on the father's role in parenting. In Home Field Advantage, Ruettgers offers advice on how to be a better role model. Each chapter concludes with sections entitled Personal Time-Out, which lists review questions, and Ruettgers Reflections, which are "football truths that also work in real life." For example: "Hard work always overcomes shortcomings."
The prototypical offensive tackle is a strong player with quick feet and long arms. "Kenny has none of the above," offensive line coach Tom Lovat says with a laugh. "He's not a smooth athlete, but he makes up for that with hard work and preparation."
Ruettgers's value was never more evident than during the Packers' opening 17-14 loss to the Rams, which he sat out with four broken transverse process bones in his lower back. In the first half, quarterback Brett Favre was sacked four times.
Ruettgers had sustained his injury the previous week in a preseason game against Washington. "It felt as if someone took a baseball bat and hit me across the back," he said. He was expected to miss at least three weeks, but he started the next game, against Chicago, a 27-24 victory.
A 1985 first-round draft choice now in his 10th season as the starting left tackle, Ruettgers, 33, has become a role model for his teammates. "I'm the young pup on the line," says left guard Aaron Taylor, a first-year starter. "He has helped me a lot, especially with my confidence."
The two teammates constantly kid each other about their respective alma maters. Ruettgers is a USC graduate; Taylor played at Notre Dame. Asked about his teammate's book venture, Taylor responds, "I didn't even know he could read, being from USC and all."
"Seriously," he adds, "that's the type of person Kenny is: a role model on and off the field."