In Super Bowl XLV, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in a game that closely resembled a battle between a golden steel rod and an engorged meat patty from the hind parts of a steer reared by Vince Lombardi Himself. That is to say, it was a good but not great game.
It was the Packers’ fourth Super Bowl victory and their first since Brett Favre retired from being good at football, and, after overcoming numerous obstacles over the course of the season, it was clear that they deserved to be crowned as the best football team in America. In the brutal game of football, it is often a team’s relative attrition, rather than their relative talent that determines success. This was not the case for the 2010 Packers. They lost over 200 player-starts this season to injuries. Starting linebackers Brandon Chillar and Nick Barnett, starting tight end Jermichael Finley, and starting tackle Mark Tauscher, along with 12 other players, all finished the season on the injured reserve, and star quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed time due to concussions. Ultimately, the Packers displayed incredible resilience and depth in the face of such an injury crisis, but they certainly felt the impact of missing so many key players. The Packers finished 4-3 in their last seven regular season games to back into the last seed in the NFC.
In some respects, having to play three road playoff games to reach the Super Bowl bolstered the Packers’ championship credentials. Beating the Eagles in Philadelphia, walloping the Falcons in Atlanta, and crushing the Jay Cutler Experience in Chicago sent a message that this team could meet and overcome almost any obstacle. The Week 15 loss to the Patriots was a harbinger of things to come: despite Aaron Rodgers’ absence and facing the supposed cream of the NFL crop, the Packers were one freak kick return by 300-pound lineman Dan Connolly away from pulling out a victory in a game the experts expected would be a blowout.
And it wasn’t just their resilience that impressed. The Packers were able to win games in a variety of ways. The Patriots of the past few years have had some tremendous regular season successes, but it seems that they only have one type of game they can win. The Patriots have been great at building quick leads and then taking advantage of mistakes teams make while trying to come back, but they can’t seem to win those grind-‘em-out, kick-‘em-in-the-knees, face-full-of-mud-and-man-stink games that would have given Vince Lombardi a Vince Lombardi Trophy in his pants. I bring up the Patriots because I am familiar with them, and they provide a good contrast with this year’s Packers team, who were malleable yet hard, like freshly smelted steel.
The Packers won a fairly sloppy, low-scoring game in Philadelphia, where they held the NFL’s most vicious running dog Michael Vick to 32 rushing yards and forced a crucial interception on the Eagles’ final drive. The offense got its turn to have the spotlight in Atlanta, where they seemed to drive at will on the Falcons and were still completing 20-yard third-down throws in the fourth quarter of a blowout. In a game that could have easily been confused for a high school matchup, they beat the Bears in Chicago by making fewer mistakes and by having fewer Jay Cutlers. The AFC was supposedly the stronger conference this season, and the Steelers were impressive throughout the regular season and the playoffs, showing some resilience themselves by coming back from a 21-3 deficit to defeat the Ravens in the AFC Divisional Round. Yet the Packers entered the Super Bowl as favorites. This team just oozed a kind of quiet determination, rather than the oozy determination that gets texted to massage therapists, and Las Vegas recognized this.
The Super Bowl provided a sort of microcosm for the Packers’ season. They opened up a quick 21-3 lead over the most crucial six series of the game. Following an Aaron Rodgers touchdown throw, Ben Roethlisberger forced an ill-advised pass under pressure that led to a pick-six for the Packers. On the following drive, the Steelers got into the red zone, only to stall and settle for a field goal to make it 14-3. At this point, it was clear to me that the Packers’ defensive game plan was to force Ben Roethlisberger to make throws he didn’t want to make and corner him into small spaces. By halftime, the Packers held a comfortable 21-10 lead. In the second half, they had to suppress a Steelers charge that brought the game to within three points, all while battling some crucial injuries, having lost cornerback Charles Woodson to a shoulder injury and ageless receiver Donald Driver to a leg injury. The Packers were able to hold out for the 31-25 win, in large part due to Roethlisberger’s poor performance.
For Roethlisberger, his Super Bowl showing was in line with his previous two Super Bowl games. His Super Bowl per-game averages: 1 TD, 1.7 INT, 214 yards, 68 QB rating. The real problem for the Steelers was not their inability to stop Aaron Rodgers, it was that their quarterback transforms into Rex Grossman when it comes to the Super Bowl. Part of me took joy in seeing Roethlisberger fold under the pressure, but part of me also wanted to see a Ben Roethlisberger victory speech. The stock response athletes give—thanking God, family, and God again—would have been replaced by Big Ben thanking his lawyers, the Milledgeville District Attorney’s Office, and the principle of innocent until proven guilty. I am not too disappointed to have missed this, though, because I can now imagine him in a smoking jacket with a pipe explaining, “I don’t always throw interceptions, but when I do, I prefer to throw them … in the Super Bowl.”
Roethlisberger’s flop stands in sharp contrast with the stellar effort of Aaron Rodgers, whose performance solidified his position in the top tier of NFL quarterbacks with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Rodgers was mistake-free and calm throughout, as he has been his whole career. It is fitting that, in Rodgers, the Packers have found a successor to Brett Favre who knows when to keep his gunslinger in his pants and when it is appropriate to whip out the fastball. Rodgers holds both the Cal and NFL career records for lowest interception rate, and it was the Packers’ ability to avoid beating themselves that ultimately separated them from the Steelers and the rest of the NFL.