14 years in the making.
When you live and die with sports like me, the lows feel like going through a divorce and the highs feel like you hit the lottery, neither of which I have had the pleasure of experiencing. I live for those highs knowing that I'll suffer through at least ten moments that will leave me heartbroken before I reach the pinnacle. On Sunday, February 6th, 2011, I will never forget where I was when I watched a football team that I've rooted for my entire life win Super Bowl XLV. I will never forget grabbing random people that I didn't even know and screaming out in joy in a room stacked full of people in a Madison college house. I will never forget the anxiety...the jubilation...the tears of joy that filled my eyes...every possible emotion the human mind can imagine. Many of you have now trekked through this passage. I may have been seven years old when the Packers were victorious in the first Super Bowl of my lifetime. But this one was clear to me. This was MY Super Bowl.
Saturday afternoon, I embarked on a 101 minute drive to Madison, Wisconsin where I would be watching the Green Bay Packers play a simple game of football on its greatest stage with close friends and total strangers. Saturday night was the Packer fiesta, but Sunday morning offered up chills that I get before something extremely nerve-racking is about to happen...like giving a big speech or carrying a conversation with a really hot chick that approaches me, something I must deal with almost every single day of my life. It's a blessing and a curse. To help take my mind off the inevitable, I watched Gus Johnson begrudgingly announce a blowout in the Kohl Center as Wisconsin romped the Spartans by 26 (by the way, expect more about college basketball in future posts. I haven't given the sport its due). Now it was 2 P.M. and I had nothing left to distract me. As the food was prepared by my gracious hosts and people began to file into 1514 Jefferson, the time was near. Before I knew it, Christina Aguilera was forgetting lines to the National Anthem and all that was left to do...was play ball.
I know it's rather cliche to look back and say "We should have put a camera in the back of the room" because of the crazy reactions people have towards a certain event, but seriously. There should've been a damn camera in the back of the room. It was ridiculous. People were clapping after every first down or any tackle in the backfield, hooping and hollering after a big gainer and jumping for joy while high five-ing everyone in sight when the football crossed the plain of the goal-line. Oh yeah...they were also slamming their hats into the ground after allowing a score, staring a hole through the ceiling after failing to convert a 3rd down and screaming at the television whenever Sam Shields ran into Tramon Williams during a punt (Shields had a rough one, there's no denying that). It was like we were there. I cried. I laughed. I swore. I yelled. I had an aneurysm. Yep...think that just about covers it: have I helped drag you back to Sunday night yet? Good. Let's get to game for Christ's sake.
Clearly, experience did not prove to be much of a difference as the Packers marched into the new Texas Stadium and defeated a Pittsburgh squad that included many two-time Super Bowl champions 31-25. In fact, you could argue that the Packers played with a lot more poise than the Steelers when considering a plus 3 margin in turnovers and an uncanny ability to come through in the clutch, which the team from Steel City failed to do multiple times. In what seemed to become per usual for the Pack, Green Bay jumped to an early lead fairly quickly with an impressive drive that ended with a dime over the shoulder of Bryant McFadden and into the waiting hands of Jordy "the hick from the sticks" Nelson. Green Bay never looked back, but this certainly doesn't mean things didn't get bumpy along the road to victory...here's why:
Road Bump #1 -- Donald Driver's leg injury: Even though this wouldn't end up being the biggest concern for Packer fans, watching Driver's leg bend in directions that would make Ray Nitschke cringe was the first of several injuries for Green Bay. This meant one of two things: Jordy Nelson would have to step up and be the #2 receiver (he beautifully did so...for the most part) and Brett Swain would now be inserted into 4-receiver sets (oh boy). A few drops by Jordy and a "drop" by Swain definitely helped make things a little more interesting.
Donald Driver's first down celebration riled up just about everyone.
Road Bump #2 -- Charles Woodson's broken collarbone: Roethlisberger stepped back and heaved one down the left sideline just out of the reach of Woodson as he laid out for the football. It didn't look all that bad, but Chuck's night was over and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to realize why the entire state of Wisconsin cursed out of mental agony when sideline reporter Pam Oliver announced the dreadful news. The two leaders. Gone in an instant. The Packer youth movement would have to win it for them, not with them.
Road Bump #3 -- James Jones' hands: I don't think I can explain the state of pain and anguish James Jones put the state of Wisconsin in, but I'll try. It's 21-10. The Packers receive the ball first in the second half. Pittsburgh snag the momentum just before the first half. Woodson is hurt. Driver is hurt. Shields is limited. We need to keep our defense off the field. Rodgers fires a dime to Jones who has nothing but daylight ahead of him...dropped. Uh oh. We've got a ballgame.
Thanks to these five plays (as well as a few others), the Packers would be able to overcome these detrimental shortcomings...
The top 5 game-changing plays for Green Bay in Super Bowl 45:
5. Late 4th quarter, :49 -- Tramon Williams plays absolutely perfect coverage and breaks up Big Ben's pass to Mike Wallace on 4th and 5. THERE IS YOUR DAGGER! Obviously a huge play, but we wouldn't have been in this position if not for the four plays in front of it.
4. 3rd and 10, Mid 4th quarter, own 25 -- Aaron Rodgers zips a pass down the middle to Greg Jennings for 31 yards to keep the Packers' final scoring drive alive. If this pass falls incomplete, the Packers have to once again punt the ball deep and don't have the chance to run more time off the clock, let alone put up at least a field goal to force the Steelers to score a touchdown. Big time throw. Big time catch.
3. Late 1st quarter, 3:34 -- After a crucial block in the back penalty against the Steelers special teams unit, Pittsburgh was pushed back to their own 7 yard line. On the first play of the drive, Howard Green hit Roethlisberger's right arm and forced an errant throw to the left side of the field. Nick Collins broke for the ball the moment Big Ben pump faked to that same side...TAINT.
2. 3rd and 7, Early 4th quarter, PIT 40 -- Should the Packers not convert here, we'll more than likely punt and pin the Steelers deep, but it still means Pittsburgh is only within 4. Rodgers zings the ball to Nelson on the right side (the same side that two blitzing DBs are storming through) for a 38 yard gain inside the Steelers 2. Oh...and by the way, this was the play right after Jordy let a first down pass slip through his hands. Talk about trust. Flip flop #4 and #2 if you'd like, but the fact that A-Rod went right back to Jordy speaks volumes about this team.
1. Early 4th quarter, 15:00, GB 33 -- The Steelers are once again in position to put together a game-leading drive as they hand off to Mendenhall on 2nd and 2. As he heads toward the outside (which we failed to stop numerous times), BOOOOM! Clay sticks his helmet to Rashard's right elbow, jarring the football loose. Desmond Bishop does a tremendous job of scooping up the football and is tackled at the GB 45. You CANNOT argue that this was the biggest play of Super Bowl XLV. No way, no how. Clay Matthews...the man, the myth, the legend. A huge reason why my life is still intact.
The 5 Unsung heroes of Super Bowl 45:
Punter -- Tim Masthay: I know he put up a shank-dank punt towards the end of the third quarter to hurt his average (40.5), but if their hadn't been an ineligible man down field (still don't get this call), Masthay's 57 yard boot would have counted, thus making his average a stellar 44.7. When the Packers' offense began struggling to move the football, Masthay was called upon to flip the field and he did just that, keeping the pressure on the Steelers and off the Packers' D. He very well may have ended the curse of the Green Bay punter and earned himself a second year on the Green Bay roster.
Cornerback -- Jarrett Bush: I can't believe I'm including this man...two plays before his impressive pick, I tore into Bush just like I have for the past six years because of his piss-poor performances as a Green Bay Packer. But because of Bush's solid special teams play in the past few years, he earned captain status. Sunday, he had an emergency fill-in at the nickel corner after Sam Shields and Charles Woodson went down with injuries and performed...admirably average. His interception was pure instinct (and ballsy), but he also gave up a rather easy touchdown to Hines Ward late in the first half. Still, Jarrett Bush surprised all of us Sunday evening and for that, I salute him. Step out of the dog house.
Cornerback -- Tramon Williams: Notice how I don't say 'punt returner'. Yikes. Let's try and forget about his muffed punt and idiotic unsportsmanlike penalty. Tramon was an absolute shut-down DB against the Steelers and this cannot be overlooked. Williams was forced into the #1 cornerback role but still remained on Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh's deep threat. Sure, Wallace still got his, but Williams played like a man who deserves quite a pay-raise as well as someone who will eventually emerge as the Packers' #1 corner.
Running back -- James Starks: I know he only carried the ball 11 times, but I've been waiting for a Packer running back who runs with as much purpose as Starks. Behind what was a rather porous offensive line, Starks chucked and ducked for some big gains in crucial situations which also helped keep the play action pass a viable option. Starks will likely back up Ryan Grant at the start of the 2011 season, but with Grant, Starks and Brandon Jackson as a 3rd down back next year (I have my doubts he'll be back, but this is my wish), all of a sudden the Packers will have a formidable running attack.
Linebacker -- Frank Zombo: I'll be the first to admit that I was wrong about Zombo in my last post, but can you blame me? It was Zombo's first action since week 14 against the Lions, so it was hard to gauge exactly how he would perform. Considering these circumstances, as well as Zombo's sack of Big Ben and a solid performance overall, Zombo deserves a lot of credit for stepping in for the injured Erik Walden and avoiding any sort of letdown at the linebacker position opposite of the Claymaker.
"Sung" Heroes: Aaron Rodgers (MVP. 'Nough said) ... Jordy Nelson (9 for 140) ... Greg Jennings (2 TDs, no drops) ... Clay Matthews (strip of Mendenhall) ... Nick Collins (TAINT)
There you have it. Man. What a ride. If you're worried about what I can possibly write about for the next seven months, stop fretting. I'll include a season review for the Pack in the blog sometime in the near future, but we still have college basketball to look forward to, a hopeful late-season push by the Bucks and a promising Brewer team that is soon to embark on their 2011 season.
But how about them Packers?
Super Bowl XLV. Champions.
THAT...is what it's all about.