Matchup fine by any measure
Can you live with this Super Bowl?
With all due respect to my friend Mr. Shaughnessy, I would not be in a good mood today if the Rexies had defeated the Steelers Sunday. It’s not that they wouldn’t have been worthy. It’s that, oh, c’mon, you know. They would have enjoyed it too much, and by they I mean everyone in New York, most of whom conveniently forget that the team actually plays and practices in New Jersey. Most of the Jets (and, for that matter, the Giants) couldn’t find their way around Times Square with a compass or GPS. Anyway, let ’em wait another year. Or two. Or three.
(We won’t mention the fact that plenty of Patriots, if dropped from the sky onto the Common, would be similarly baffled).
But if the question of the day is whether Super Bowl XLV will be one a fair-minded local football fan can sit down and watch without wanting to place a size 11 through the screen, the answer has to be “Yes,’’ doesn’t it?
All season long, trying to determine the best team in the NFC was a flavor-of-the-week contest. Atlanta never had many people convinced, even with its 13-3 record and No. 1 seed. It was a flimsy résumé, the most notable road ventures being a 15-9 overtime opening day loss at Pittsburgh and a 27-24 win at New Orleans two weeks later. True, you can only play the schedule you’re given, but the Falcons were seldom tested by quality teams, home or away, and it’s safe to say they were somewhat exposed when they lost in the Georgia Dome to New Orleans late in the season. Should we have been shocked when the Packers mauled them in the playoffs? I think not.
There were reasons to like many different NFC teams at various points in the season. But nothing was ever certain. I remember anointing the Giants as the creme de la creme when they got on a little roll, so please feel entitled to say, “Um, Bob, what were you thinking?’’
But now it’s pretty clear: The Packers are the best team in the NFC, and it’s really not negotiable. I really hope people appreciate the scope of their achievement. They have 15 players on the injured reserve list, including six who would be considered starters. Ted Thompson has obviously done some pretty fancy GMing, Mike McCarthy and his staff have obviously done some pretty fancy coaching, and the players have obviously done some pretty fancy playing.
And let’s be serious when we discuss who might be the best fans in the league. More than any franchise of our four major team sports, the Green Bay Packers really are the official town team. The Montreal Canadiens would be a distant second, and anything after that is just idle conversation. If any city deserves to have a team in the Super Bowl, it is Green Bay, Wis. (pop. 100,353).
It’s a different matter in the AFC. The Steelers will be worthy representatives, but it’s not at all clear they are the best team. They are in the Super Bowl, fair and square, but the AFC could be equally well represented by the Jets, Patriots, and Ravens.
As far as we know, Jets coach Rex Ryan did not immediately proclaim in the aftermath of Sunday’s 24-19 loss to the Steelers, “We’ll play them again right now!’’ But he could have. He’s going to have a long, unhappy offseason wishing his team could have that opening drive back. Hard to believe, but perhaps they really were flat when the game started. But by the end of the game, did your eyes really tell you the Steelers were better?
But you really have to love the Steelers for what they have come to stand for; namely sanity and stability in an otherwise disorderly sports world. Since Chuck Noll arrived and they made some key early 1970s draft picks, the Steelers have been the league’s most relentlessly consistent brand. For the past 40 years, it’s been a rare NFL season when the Pittsburgh Steelers have not had to be accounted for.
It wasn’t always that way. The Steelers came into being in 1933, and for the next 39 years they were relentlessly awful. Not mediocre: that would have been a dream. No, I said “awful,’’ as in only 12 winning or .500 seasons, “awful,’’ as in an 0-10 in 1944, “awful,’’ as in back-to-back seasons of 2-11-1 and 1-13 in 1968-69. But once the switch flipped with an 11-3 record in 1972, the Steelers have become NFL royalty.
And their fans are pretty rabid, too. There will be some lively confrontations in Dallas, I’m sure.
The quarterback pairing is intriguing. You’ve got a fairly big, mobile guy in Aaron Rodgers (6 feet 2 inches, 225 pounds) against a very big mobile guy in Ben Roethlisberger (6-5, 240), each of whom, as they like to say these days, can “extend the play’’ by escaping the pocket. The Steelers gave up the fewest points in the league (232). The Packers were second (240). You’ve got to love this matchup.
As for which way I’m leaning, let me say this. Only one of these teams has a 337-pound nose tackle from Boston College (B.J. Raji) who has been known to moonlight as Ed Reed in his spare time. But I think I’ll stop short of wearing a cheesehead as I settle back to enjoy, and write about, Super Bowl XLV.