Feb 03, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Do not read this column any further if you want a prognostication for Super Bowl XLV. It’s just too tough to call, too close. Great, reasonable, fact-based arguments can, and will, be made for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers before they kick it off in Jerry Jones’ massive pleasure palace in Arlington, Texas.
Especially refrain from proceeding if you want any analysis of things that just don’t matter in the larger picture. Expensive commercials, party plans, pre-game and halftime entertainment, celebrities on a red carpet – just stop it already. None of that has anything to do with what I really care about.
What we have before us Sunday night is a football purist’s dream. Two franchises of immense history and honor, from places that cherish the game, with fans as loud, passionate and loyal as any in American sports. Here’s hoping they fill Cowboys Stadium with a joyful noise that drowns out all of the Super Bowl’s corporate attempts to stifle them.
This immense devotion was not something that came overnight. You won’t see many bandwagons among the Steelers and Packers faithful. They have both enjoyed plenty of grand moments through the decades – but also a lot of pain.
Given Pittsburgh’s remarkable success in the Super Bowl era, it’s shocking to consider how bad the Rooney family’s cherished heirloom once was. From the start in 1933 to 1972, there was zero, zilch, nada championships. The franchise had to merge twice during World War II just to survive. The long list of personnel mistakes (cutting John Unitas was the worst) made any Steeler fan cringe.
That same story of survival and struggle marked Green Bay’s history, too, as the last of the small-town teams that survived the NFL’s early years. They had 13 straight losing seasons before Vince Lombardi guy showed up. And after he retired, the Packers had to wait a quarter-century for the arrivals of Mike Holmgren, Brett Favre and Reggie White to rise to the top again.
These two teams are here partly because their front offices know how to build a team and, at times, make decisions that aren’t initially popular, but pay off in the larger scheme.
The Steelers have only made three coaching hires in the last 42 years. Each time, they turned to guys under 40 without any head coaching experience. You could say Chuck Noll worked out. So did Bill Cowher.
Same thing with Mike Tomlin, a hire many Pittsburgh partisans questioned in 2007. And some still won’t give him the total credit, saying Tomlin inherited Ben Roethlisberger and defensive wizard Dick LeBeau. But Tomlin is just an impressive coach and man, someone that has become evident over time, and he just may snag a second ring, something Cowher couldn’t pull off.
Then there’s the Roethlisberger saga. Ben was certainly guilty of doing young, dumb things, and to assume anything more without legal proof is wrong. Still, many called on the Steelers to dump him for PR’s sake. They did not, and Ben has begun the slow, painful process of character rehab that, in fairness, will take years, not months, to complete.
Over in Green Bay, the circumstances were different. A whole lot of Packer partisans wanted to run coach Mike McCarthy or, especially, GM Ted Thompson out of town when it had the nerve to say no to the wavering Brett Favre in 2008 and give Aaron Rodgers a chance.
Yes, Favre was a Green Bay legend, but Thompson put the team first, and as Favre’s late-career saga, the good and sordid parts, played out in New York and Minnesota, Rodgers kept his mouth shut and steadily turned into one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, justifying Thompson’s faith in him.
And this season, when a laundry list of injuries could have, or should have, crippled the Pack’s championship hopes, McCarthy kept his team going, and Thompson kept finding guys (think James Starks) to plug the holes. It all led to Green Bay’s first NFC title in 13 years.
In so many ways, this Super Bowl is a fun football game to ponder. Rodgers has put up, at times, incredible playoff numbers, but it’s Roethlisberger that owns the two Super Bowl rings and 11-2 post-season record, plus an uncanny ability to make the big play exactly when it’s needed.
Then you have the two defenses, brilliantly put together by LeBeau and Green Bay counterpart Dom Capers. Both are 3-4, both force lots of turnovers and both, as personified by James Harrison and Clay Matthews, can hit you hard.
For all of the history they have generated, the Steelers and Packers have never met in the post-season until now. What a time to do it, in a Super Bowl where all the pretensions and excesses should just take a one-year holiday. Let us have this game, with these fans, and let’s just enjoy it.