Spin the arguments of defense, running game and coaching all you like. In the end, it’s usually about quarterbacks.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers held off the New York Jets to capture the Lamar Hunt trophy, sending them to their third Super Bowl in the last six years, two things became evident to me.
First, two of the most storied franchises in NFL history would be facing off. Green Bay has won more championships than any team in league history. Pittsburgh has more Super Bowl titles than any franchise since the league merger in 1970.
Number two was the matchup at quarterback. Sometimes the Super bowl features lopsided QB play. Peyton Manning vs. Rex Grossman. Tom Brady vs. Jake Delhomme. Clearly, we knew how this was going to play out. But Big Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rogers is probably one of the most exciting matchups in Super Bowl history.
Neither team was truly expected to be at this position back in September. Pittsburgh was forced to play their first four games of the season without Roethlisberger who served a four game suspension for off the field conduct. Minnesota was favored to win the NFC North. In fact, many picked Green Bay to finish dead last in their division.
Aaron Rogers and Big Ben are similar in many ways. They’re both big, physical quarterbacks who prefer to stay in the pocket but will burn a defense on the ground for a play when given the opportunity. It can be arguedthat they’re both at their best moving outside the pocket and making plays rather than the old Dan Marino “stay in the pocket or die” mentality.
It’s no secret of the two who the pressure would be on leading into the game. Big Ben was a two time Super Bowl champion and boasted a 10-2 career postseason record leading up to SB 45. Both quarterbacks are in their late 20s. Big Ben started as a rookie and was thrust into the spotlight while Rogers sat and watched while the Brett Favre fiasco carried on. In 2009, Favre threw for 33 TDs and a career low seven INTs. It seemed as if Packer GM Ted Thompson might have made the wrong decision giving Favre the boot. Favre never truly embraced Rogers. In fact, many believe Favre viewed him as a threat to his aura of invincibility. Chances are, Favre recognized Rogers rising star long before any of us.
In recent weeks leading up to the big game, Rogers began receiving excessive attention for his championship belt display. Many considered it a fiasco due to the gestures and WWE ties. Some consider it a joke by an athlete excited about making a big play. However, many think Rogers’s championship belt display a mockery considering he had never won anything significant since being selected No. 24 overall in the 2005 NFL draft.
Rogers road to the big game was different from the QBs we have seen win championships in recent memory. He wasn’t thrust directly into the spotlight like Big Ben, Brady or the Manning brothers. In fact, the only individual in this group of recent champions who garners true comparison to Rogers is Drew Brees. Brees was considered a bust after a disappointing rookie campaign and being overshadowed by all world talent LaDanian Tomlinson. Keep in mind San Diego gave up the number one pick with Michael Vick available.
Despite the negative and positive press Rogers may have received for his excessive on field celebrations, I have to give the guy credit. From the early backup days when Rogers would help to create a college like atmosphere with the belt gesture to three consecutive road playoff victories Rogers didn’t change a thing.
After an early touchdown pass by Rogers and a pick-six by Nick Collins it appeared that Green Bay was on its way to routing Pittsburgh and bringing the Lombardi trophy back to its original home. The game would get competitive with Green Bay holding on for a 31-25 victory.
Favre was once considered invincible in the Packer nation. He teetered with retirement since training camp in 2004. Even after breaking the hearts of Packer fans by joining the Minnesota Vikings, some still consider Favre the golden boy in Packer nation. Rogers will likely not break Favre’s touchdown record and he will never come close to 297 consecutive games started. However, Rogers is the first Green bay quarter back to win Super Bowl MVP since Bart Starr. (Desmond Howard and Terrell Davis stole those honors from Favre.)
Yet times have changed. There is no second guessing the Green Bay management now. So Favre is finally retiring? Who cares?
Nine years ago Aaron Rogers was playing quarterback for a junior college in California. Today, Green Bay is Mr. Rogers’s neighborhood.
– Steven Thompson