February 6, 2011

Super Bowl XLV - Perspective

There are precious few slices of cyberspace out there today that do not contain sincere, in-depth X and O breakdowns of the who, what, how and why of what's going to happen in Super Bowl XLV.

You found one.

Let's get right to it.

Who I Want to Win

Green Bay. 

Why? I like 'em better. 

I like QB Aaron Rogers--the man looks like someone we all played pick-up ball with as kids, both in appearance and the semi-awkward (but damn effective) body language on the field.

I like the fact no one has the slightest idea who head coach Mike McCarthy is or where the hell he came from.

I like the traditional, almost quaint uniforms. For NFL fans of a certain age they just look right.

I even like the stupid cheesehead thing now that Brett Favre's gone. Don't ask me why they correlate. They just do.

I do not like the term "Dynasty" getting bandied about before a team has earned it. More on that below.

And because, like the (Damn) Yankees have to win the World Series, the Canadiens have to win the Stanley Cup and the Boston Celtics have to win the NBA Championship, every once in a while the Green Bay Packers simply have to win the Lombardi Trophy.

It's in the fine print of the universal fabric.

Who I Think Will Win


Why?  It's what they do, dammit.  They win the big game once they get there ... even if they're not always the best team that day. 

To be clear, I'm not talking about the four-title, Dynasty Steelers of the '70's. Those Steelers won four titles in six years and put half their team in the Hall of Fame. They practically defined the NFL 70's.

No, I'm talking about the two-title (and counting?) Big Ben Steelers of the '00's. Today's Steelers have so far defined something too--I'm just not sure quite what yet.

In 2005, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's rookie year, Pittsburgh got hot down the stretch after a pedestrian 7-5 start, made the playoffs as a wildcard and opened the eyes of the football universe, winning three straight road game to run the table in the AFC playoffs.

In Super Bowl XL, they faced an average NFC foe in the Seattle Seahawks that, while game enough, was self-destructive and seemingly blinded by the light until it was too late. They may well have also been on the short end of the most painful officiating sticks in Super Bowl history.

What do you remember about that game? Me, I remember being a bit outraged at the feeling that the wrong team won that day.

Seattle out-gained Pittsburgh 396-339 in yards, out time-of-possessioned (!) them, 33:02-27:58, and even won the turnover battle, 2-1. Wasn't enough.  The gridiron gods saw to it.

Some of the most gut-wrenching penalty calls you will see in a lifetime of championship football went Pittsburgh's way that day, giving them one disputed touchdown at the end of the half and possibly taking another away from Seattle later. The combination was enough to let the black and gold walk away as world champions, 21-10.

So sayeth the history books.

And it wasn't like I was viewing it with a prejudiced eye; I actually went into that game pulling for the Steelers. Why? Because I didn't think that Seahawks team had paid its dues or was worthy of the Lombardi Trophy.

Fast forward to three years later, and Super Bowl XLIII. Again, Pittsburgh swept into the big game ... and again they faced a team I just didn't feel belonged there.

The Arizona Cardinals.

No one will ever confuse the 2008 Cardinals, future Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner notwithstanding, with a great NFL team. They were the very definition of a sports cliche: lighting in a bottle, one-and-done, even the slightly more derogatory flash in the pan.

How do history and memory record Pittsburgh winning another title? With two miracle plays.

One, a play that will defy belief for as long as they show NFL replays, saw 242 lb. linebacker James Harrison rumble 100 yards with an interception, in glorious slow-motion, through the entire state of Arizona, for a back-breaking score right before halftime. Arizona had been at the Pittsburgh one-yard, line, first and goal, with 18 seconds left in the half, looking to head into the locker room with a 14-10 lead, or at worst a 10-10 tie.

Yeah right.

I've been watching pro football since Super Bowl III. Never seen anything like it. 100 yards and an interminable replay session later, the Steelers owned another of all-time, shake-your-head highlight and a 17-7 lead. Tell me you didn't say "game over" right then and there.

I mentioned two miracle plays. The other one came after the Cardinals actually came back to take a lead into the final two minutes of the game. You knew it wasn't going to end that way though. Not with the Steelers. Not in the Super Bowl. This time the miracle took the form of a "you just can't throw that ball in that situation" pass by Roethlisberger into triple-coverage in the far back corner of the endzone, to a stretching, tip-toeing Santonio Holmes. The impossible throw meets the impossible catch.

Another interminable replay. Another upheld miracle touchdown. Another world championship.

Another opponent history will soon forget.

So ... does winning ugly, with a little (okay, a lot of) help alter the fact history records the Pittsburgh Steelers won those two Super Bowls in four years? Of course not. They are a great organization. They are a great playoff team. They GET there. And they found a way to win both games.

But I'm not convinced they're a great Super Bowl team. And unlike some of the breathless talk I've heard on the radio and TV shows the past two weeks, I'm not quite ready to anoint the Steelers of the 00's a Dynasty quite yet.

What they need to do is beat a worthy opponent, and do it without the hand of the pigskin deities nudging them to glory.

Why Pittsburgh Needs to Win

See above.

Because they need to validate the Big Ben Steelers in the eyes of those a little more discrimating about annointing Dynasties than the mainstream press, rabid internet fans and those loud guys at the end of the bar.

The 70's Steelers helped define the early post-merger NFL.  They are iconic.  Rushmorian.  The 00's Steelers are a few close calls and a couple miracle plays from 0-2 against historically pedestrian opponents.

Green Bay is not pedestrian.  They may or may not play well in the Super Bowl, but heading into the game they look and feel like the real deal  in a way neither Seattle or Arizona did in playing the "opponent" to the black and gold.

These Steelers need to beat a worthy championship opponent.  They also need a "statement" Super Bowl win if they and their loyal fans truly want to be considered one of the great teams of an era.  If they miracle and squeak their way to yet another trophy in the big game--which is what my gut tells me is precisely what is going to happen--it will be tempting to annoint them, at least one day, as one of the "great" teams. Three titles in five years?  That's not too shabby.

Personally, I say we'd have to come up with another way to define them.  Clutch?  Cold-blooded?


How Pittsburgh Will Win

By doing what they always seem do at the biggest moment. Something that ends up on every NFL highlight reel from Sunday night through eternity. 

The Immaculate Reception. 

Swann's catch. 

Harrison's preposterous romp through every gasping, grasping Cardinal ever born.

Big Ben's impossible throw finding Santonio Holmes' impossible catch.

You'll know it when you see it. 

Bottom line, until and unless the football gods see fit to turn their misty eyes away from the Pittsburgh Steelers on the biggest stage, I refuse to bet against them.

Sometimes even the fine print just isn't enough.

Pittsburgh 26
Green Bay 24

1 comment:

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