ARLINGTON, Texas » Forget Lombardi on Broadway. Green Bay has the newest Super Bowl hit: Aaron Rodgers.
Capping one of the greatest postseasons for any quarterback, Rodgers led the Packers to their first NFL championship in 14 years yesterday, 31-25 over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Packers reclaimed the Vince Lombardi Trophy, named for their legendary coach who won the first two Super Bowls and is making his own star turn in New York these days in the play named after him.
Rodgers, the game’s MVP, thrilled his legion of Cheesehead fans with a spectacular six-game string that should finally erase the bitterness of the Brett Favre separation in Green Bay. He’s now equal with Favre in Super Bowl wins, and he extended the Packers’ record of NFL titles to 13, nine before the Super Bowl era.
"It’s what I dreamt about as a little kid watching Joe Montana and Steve Young," Rodgers said, "and we just won the Super Bowl."
The Packers QB threw for three touchdowns, two to Greg Jennings, and the Packers overcame even more injuries, building a 21-3 lead, then hanging on to become the second No. 6 seed to win the championship. Coincidentally, the 2005 Steelers were the other.
Rodgers threw for 304 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown to Jordy Nelson, who had nine catches for 140 yards to make up for three big drops. Rodgers found Jennings, normally his favorite target, for 21- and 8-yard scores.
"Wow! It’s a great day to be great, baby," Jennings said.
Then the favored Packers held on as Pittsburgh stormed back.
"We’ve been a team that’s overcome adversity all year," said Jennings, who noted injuries to Charles Woodson and Donald Driver. "Our head captain goes down, emotional in the locker room. Our No. 1 receiver goes down, more emotions are going, flying in the locker room. But we find a way to bottle it up and exert it all out here on the field."
Few teams have been as resourceful as these Packers, who couldn’t wait to touch the trophy honoring their greatest coach — and their title. Several of them kissed it as Cowboys great Roger Staubach walked through a line of green and gold.
"Vince Lombardi is coming back to Green Bay," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said as the silver prize was handed to the team.
After sitting for three seasons, Rodgers took the Packers to two late-season victories just to make the playoffs as a wild card. Then he guided them to wins at Philadelphia, Atlanta and arch rival Chicago before his biggest achievement — against a Pittsburgh team ranked second in defense.
They barely survived a sensational rally by the Steelers, who still own the most Super Bowl rings — six in eight tries. But Pittsburgh failed to get its third championship in six years with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whose season began with a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. It ended with Roethlisberger standing on the sideline, his head down, hands on his hips, feeling something he never experienced: defeat in a Super Bowl.
"I feel like I let the city of Pittsburgh down, the fans, my coaches and my teammates," Roethlisberger said, "and it’s not a good feeling."
Not even a decidedly black-and-gold crowd, with Terrible Towels swirling throughout the $1.2 billion stadium, could make a difference for the mistake-prone Steelers. Their two biggest defensive stars — Defensive Player of the Year safety Troy Polamalu and outside linebacker James Harrison — were virtually invisible. The offense didn’t seem to miss outstanding rookie center Maurkice Pouncey, who was out with an ankle injury, but Roethlisberger only occasionally made key plays until the second half.
The biggest plays were left to Rodgers, Nick Collins with a 37-yard interception return for a TD, Jennings, Nelson, and the rest of the guys in green and gold. In the end, they gave coach Mike McCarthy his first Super Bowl victory against the team he rooted for while growing up in Pittsburgh. Besides Lombardi, Mike Holmgren won a title in 1997 with Favre.
"This is a great group of men here, a lot of character," Rodgers said. "We went through a lot together."
Even yesterday, they did. Woodson went out late in the first half with a collarbone injury, a few plays after Driver was sidelined with an ankle problem.
"It was very difficult to watch," Woodson said, "but it feels good now."
Woodson saw the Steelers, who rallied from a 21-7 halftime hole against Baltimore three weeks ago, show the same resilience. A 37-yard catch and run by Antwaan Randle El — an almost forgotten figure during his return season with just 22 receptions — sparked a quick 77-yard drive. Hines Ward, the 2006 Super Bowl MVP, had 39 yards on three catches during the series, including an 8-yard TD when he completely fooled Jarrett Bush.
A quick defensive stop and a 50-yard drive to Rashard Mendenhall’s 8-yard touchdown run made it 21-17. But with Pittsburgh driving for perhaps its first lead of the game, Mendenhall was stripped at the Green Bay 33 by Clay Matthews — one of the few plays the All-Pro linebacker made. The Packers recovered, and Rodgers hit Jennings for 8 yards and the winning points.
Pittsburgh’s last gasp was on a 25-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace and a brilliant pitchout by Roethlisberger to Randle El for a 2-point conversion.
Mason Crosby added a 23-yard field goal for the Packers and the Steelers had no more comebacks in them.
"You play to be world champions," Matthews said, "and that’s what we are today."
PACKERS 31, STEELERS 25
GB—Nelson 29 pass from Rodgers (Crosby kick), 3:44.
» Drive: 9 plays, 80 yards, 4:33. Key Plays: Starks 8 run on 3rd-and-1; Rodgers 14 pass to Jackson.
GB—Collins 37 interception return (Crosby kick), 3:20.
Pit—FG Suisham 33, 11:08.
» Drive: 13 plays, 49 yards, 7:12. Key Plays: Roethlisberger 18 run on 3rd-and-9; Roethlisberger 13 pass to Sanders on 3rd-and-13.
GB—Jennings 21 pass from Rodgers (Crosby kick), 2:24.
» Drive: 4 plays, 53 yards, 2:04. Key Plays: Bush 1 interception return to Green Bay 47; Rodgers 16 pass to Nelson; Starks 12 run.
Pit—Ward 8 pass from Roethlisberger (Suisham kick), :39.
» Drive: 7 plays, 77 yards, 1:45. Key Plays: Roethlisberger 37 pass to Randle El; Roethlisberger 14 pass to Ward on 3rd-and-10; Roethlisberger 17 pass to Ward. Green Bay 21, Pittsburgh 10.
Pit—Mendenhall 8 run (Suisham kick), 10:19.
» Drive: 5 plays, 50 yards, 2:20. Key Plays: Crabtree 15-yard face mask penalty; Mendenhall 17 run; Redman 16 run on 3rd-and-1.
GB—Jennings 8 pass from Rodgers (Crosby kick), 11:57.
» Drive: 8 plays, 55 yards, 2:53. Key Plays: Bishop 7 fumble return (Mendenhall); Rodgers 12 pass to J.Jones on 3rd-and-7; Rodgers 38 pass to Nelson on 3rd-and-10.
Pit—Wallace 25 pass from Roethlisberger (Randle El run), 7:34.
» Drive: 7 plays, 66 yards, 4:23. Key Plays: Roethlisberger 11 pass to Wallace; Roethlisberger 14 pass to Wallace; Roethlisberger 15 pass to Ward.
GB—FG Crosby 23, 2:07.
» Drive: 10 plays, 70 yards, 5:27. Key Plays: Rodgers 31 pass to Jennings on 3rd-and-10; Starks 14 run; Rodgers 21 pass to J.Jones. Green Bay 31, Pittsburgh 25.
|Total Net Yards||387||338|
|Time of Possession||33:25||26:35|
RUSHING—Pittsburgh, Mendenhall 14-63, Roethlisberger 4-31, Redman 2-19, Moore 3-13. Green Bay, Starks 11-52, Rodgers 2-(minus 2).
PASSING–Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger 25-40-2-263. Green Bay, Rodgers 24-39-0-304.
RECEIVING—Pittsburgh, Wallace 9-89, Ward 7-78, Randle El 2-50, Sanders 2-17, Miller 2-12, Spaeth 1-9, Mendenhall 1-7, Brown 1-1. Green Bay, Nelson 9-140, J.Jones 5-50, Jennings 4-64, Driver 2-28, Jackson 1-14, Quarless 1-5, Hall 1-2, Crabtree 1-1.
MISSED FIELD GOALS–Pittsburgh, Suisham 52 (WL).