You want to talk about NFL lore?
Try this on for size: the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers have a combined nine NFL championships and nine Super Bowl wins. There are four Hall of Fame head coaches (including some guys named Vince Lombardi and Chuck Noll), two Hall of Fame owners from the same family (the Rooneys), and thirty seven other players in the Hall of Fame amongst the two teams. That’s almost enough people to start an entire expansion franchise. To say these two teams are intertwined directly with the historical development of the NFL in general would be doing each respective team’s histories a sure injustice.
Coming into this game, you’d have to think, though, that the Steelers are the favorite to win this game (Vegas be damned). Hell, this is their third trip to the Super Bowl in five years. Watching them walk around and interact with
everyone in Dallas during the days leading up to the game, you can just see that there’s a strong sense of a “been there, done that” mentality. They’ve approached this week with a workmanlike, taking-care-of-business attitude, like it’s just another Tuesday afternoon at the office. And why not? To get here, they knocked off their unquestionably toughest division rival in Baltimore (with an assist from Joe Flacco imploding on himself in the second half), and then
withstood a second-half rally from the Jets – the same team to beat the Colts and Patriots on their own home fields – to hold on to the victory in the AFC Title game. So it’s not like they haven’t been tested, either.
In a way, the Steelers are like a guy who is entering his senior year of college, looking to tie up any remaining loose ends and permanently cement his legacy. He’s climbed to the proverbial mountain top, and knows all the ins and outs
of staying on top. It’s just a matter of making sure that he’ll be remembered as the greatest of all time (or at least that era).
And in comparsion, the Packers would be that kid’s extremely talented but wide-eyed younger brother who is just starting his freshman year, looking for new things to conquer so that he can make a name for himself. Here’s what know about the Packers: they were the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs, after finishing the season with a record of 10-6. They won three playoff games, on the road, to get where they are today. But here’s what nobody seems to be talking about:
Counting the regular season and the playoffs, the Packers are 13-2 in games where Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews Jr. start and finish the game.
Just take a look for yourself. As we know, the Packers lost six games this season, with four of those losses coming in back-to-back occurences. In the first pair of losses – right around mid-October, at Washington and then at Miami – Clay Matthews Jr hurt his hamstring by halftime of the first game and was inactive for the second game. For anyone who happened to be watching that Redskins-Packers matchup, they’d know that Matthews Jr. was literally terrorizing the Redskins offense, and virtually the sole reason that they mustered a a grand total of zero points for the first 14 minutes and 45 seconds of the first half. There’s no just coincidence that the Redskins came back and won that game in the second half with Matthews on the bench. That same hamstring injury kept him out of the Packers game in Miami the next week, and look how the Packers fared. In the second pair of losses – at Detroit and at New England – Aaron Rodgers suffered a concussion midway through the first quarter of the Lions game, and couldn’t play in the game versus the Patriots.
So that basically leaves the games at Chicago (week 3) and at Atlanta (week 12) as the only instances where the Packers lost a game despite being “fully manned.” Even discounting the fact that the Packers had a league-high 15 guys on injured reserve (including their Pro Bowl caliber running back and tight end, two starting linebackers, and their right tackle) you’re looking at a team that could’ve been a lot closer to 14-2 than they were to 10-6 if their best two
players played in all 16 games. And when the football gods provided the Packers with the opportunities to go into Atlanta and Chicago for rematches during the postseason, they absolutely took it and ran with it (no pun intended… I
think). They went into Atlanta, a place that was supposed to be one of the toughest venues for road teams to play in, and embarassed the Falcons on national television. The following week, with the added pressures of a Super Bowl plus another chapter being added to one of the most storied rivalries in the entire league, they beat the Bears, in Chicago, for the second time in four weeks.
On the same level, watching the Packers post-season run has given us the chance to see Aaron Rodgers begin cementing his own legacy, and showing how really damn good he actually is. Right now, the Mount Rushmore of elite NFL quarterbacks is already in place: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Ben Roethlisberger. Each of them have a Super Bowl ring. They’re household names, transcending the game of football. Brady and Manning will top this list as long as they’re playing, and will some day be near the very top of the “greatest NFL quarterbacks” list as well. Brees has been the most statistically dominanant quarterback over the last five years, and now has a Super Bowl ring (and MVP) to add to that resume. Roethlisberger has two rings of his own (granted, with a big assist to his defense), but he can still boast a season with over 4000 yards passing (’09) and two seasons with over 25 TD passes thrown (’07 and ’09).
With a win, Rodgers may begin to make an argument that a fifth head should belong on that mountain. The stats are there: in his three season as the starting quarterback, he’s thrown for over 3900 yards passing, 28 or more touchdown passes, and four or more rushing touchdowns. He’s as well-liked and well-respected amongst his teammates as Brady is. He’s as hard working, intelligent, and prepared for every game as Manning is. He’s got that ability to put the entire offense on his shoulders and orchestrate it like a world class symphony conductor, similar to the way Brees does. And perhaps most interestingly, he’s got that “gunslinging swagger” and “riverboat gambler mentality” that was always forever associated with the way his legendary predecessor, Brett Favre, played the game.
It’s really hard not to root for Rogers. Remember, this is a guy that who was passed over by 25 NFL teams before he was taken in the draft. Then he was groomed to be the guy replacing the living legend. Then he was the guy who was never able to get his chance to lead the Packers because Favre kept sticking around. And even when he finally got his chance, he was the guy whom the Packers fans initially never really gave a fair chance to, even when Favre did leave town, just because he wasn’t Brett Favre. But three years later, Rodgers is on the verge of etching his name amongst the super elite NFL quarterbacks in this league, while Favre is at home, battered, bruised, and fending off lawsuits from “hostesses” and massueses whom he couldn’t handle himself around.
Look, I firmly believe that you can only truly love one NFL team. You have one team that you truly love, that you live for and die with. I don’t believe in any of this “they’re my second favorite team” bullshit. You know what happens
when you have a wife and a girlfriend? You end up having neither. But, it’s really hard for me not to like the Packers a whole lot. If there ever was a team that was built the right way, it’s them: whit a cor of phenomenally talented home-grown players (Rodgers, Matthews, BJ Raji, Greg Jennings, Tramon Williams, AJ Hawk, Brian Bulaga, and James Stars, among many others), a splash of grizzled veterans (Chad Clifton, Cullen Jenkins), and topped with the occasional sprinkling of free agent acquisitions (Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett) to round out the squad. And you know they’re coming into this game with all the motivation in the world, considering there isn’t a single player on the Packers roster with a Super Bowl ring.
But then again, my newfound love for the Packers could also very well be my bias against Pittsburgh – or more specifically, their insufferable fans – in disguise. Those fans who just wont shut up when their team is playing well, but will empty those packed Steelers bars at the first sign of misfortune, never knowing what it means to stick with a team through the tougher times (just ask Redskins fans about that: we’re on 18 years, and counting). Those fans who grew up in eastern Ohio, and/ora stone’s throw from Cleveland, but couldn’t waste their time rooting for their hometown team. Those Steelers fans who love Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, but will quickly change the subject when you bring up the Pirates. Those fans who grew up in eastern Ohio, a stone’s throw from Cleveland, but couldn’t waste their time rooting for their hometown team. Yes, the smugness from these fans is only matched by their raging homerism and belief that the entire NFL revolves around “Stiller football.”
No sir. You’ve had your time on the mountain top, and there’s a new sheriff in town. Someone who knows what it means to come in and take the place of a legend.
I’m a Redskins fan through and through, but come Sunday evening, you’ll be hearing me say: “Go Pack, Go!”
I’m taking Green Bay.