Cheeseheads, game’s drama save this spectacle
ARLINGTON, Texas – The game started with 400 fans getting forced out of their rickety seats in a ticket disaster, continued with Christina Aguilera butchering the national anthem and finished with the Green Bay Packers batting away a final-minute, fourth-and-desperate Ben Roethlisberger(notes) pass to seal a 31-25 victory.
From calamitous to classic, football saved the day, as it seems to always do in the NFL. For every off-field scandal and personal life soap opera, the game remains the game, in this case the Pittsburgh Steelers and Packers going back and forth, tackle to turnover to create 60 more minutes of gut-check emotion.
And to think, we’re a few weeks of news conferences and posturing from a work stoppage that threatens the greatest show on earth.
Force commissioner Roger Goodell and union head DeMaurice Smith to rewatch Aaron Rodgers(notes) and Mike McCarthy embrace under a confetti shower before every negotiating session. Let the sound of Cheeseheads from Arlington to Appleton screaming in joy ring in their ears as they prepare to bargain. Make them be reminded of the spent Steelers, playing through pain, who wouldn’t give up in face of the longest of odds.
You want to screw up sporting perfection?
Here were the steady Packers in that final minute, Big Ben threatening to reenact his title-winning drive from two years ago. Here was Green Bay staring down one more challenge like they had all season, playing tough, sound, steady and mostly mistake-free football.
Here was a bunch of Packers, shaking off injuries to push back the dangerous Steelers in a game that saved the day and ought to save future seasons.
The Packers had jumped the Steelers early, carrying a 21-3 lead. They then watched three teammates – including heart and soul cornerback Charles Woodson(notes) – fall to injury. The Steelers stormed back to make it 21-17 and then with what seemed like the whole world falling down on top of them, the Packers did what the Packers do, they just got tougher.
Clay Matthews(notes) forced a critical fumble to stem momentum – “solid hit,” he said, “right on the football.” Game MVP Rodgers led a final touchdown drive – “dream come true … [like being] a little kid watching Joe Montana and Steve Young.” And the Packers’ defense stepped up to do what so few can, keep Roethlisberger from delivering a final-minute miracle.
And so here was a fan base like no other, fan ownership, state pride, the title returning to Titletown, which in nearly any other sport would be too small, too cold and too obscure to field a franchise. Now it’s raising the trophy named after its iconic coach for the fourth time.
“Coach Lombardi’s trophy is coming back home,” said coach Mike McCarthy.
Just about every NFL franchise has its sizeable and committed fan base, but there’s no bond quite like Green Bay and its Packers. Just over 100,000 people call this little burg on a frozen bay home and it’s a shared commitment to each other that’s held onto a team that probably should’ve left for a bigger city generations ago.
Places like Green Bay are pro sports dinosaurs. Only it keeps working here.
It was an end to a Super Bowl Sunday that appeared doomed from the start. Horrific planning and poor construction in Cowboys Stadium left the local fire officials declaring some 1,250 already sold seats unsafe for use. Fans that had paid big money (face value was $800-$900 and the price on the secondary market was far higher) and traveled great distances were left scrambling.
The NFL relocated some 850 of them to other seats in the massive domed stadium, but 400 were left watching on television inside the facility or told to battle for standing room only spaces. The NFL’s offer to compensate them at triple face value didn’t ease the disappointment.
“Ridiculous,” Steelers fan Ron Soncini told Yahoo! Sports. “The game is what I came here to see, not to be rejected.”
Soon afterward, Aguilera fumbled through a heavily panned version of the national anthem, skipping the line “O’er the ramparts we watched” and then editing “What so proudly we hailed” into “What so proudly we watched.”
Things didn’t appear any better when the Packers appeared on the verge of turning the game into an injury- and mistake-filled blowout, the first lopsided contest since 2003, when the Buccaneers embarrassed the Raiders.
That isn’t how the NFL has constructed its game though. Over and over through this season of record ratings and soaring interest, contests come down to the final minute. Comebacks are common place. Unheralded bench players step into starring roles and show the depth of talent.
Across America and – increasingly – the globe no one can turn away.
And yet now we might have a work stoppage? The only threat to the NFL’s sporting and entertainment dominance is itself, billionaire owners and millionaire players unable to carve up a rapidly expanding revenue pie.
Amid a still struggling national economy, the NFL keeps surging for a simple reason. The game is too good.
And Sunday was the latest, the artistry of Greg Jennings’(notes) leaping touchdown grab, the ferocity of Matthews’ vicious hit that separated Rashard Mendenhall(notes) from the football, the passion of all those green-clad Packers fans who stayed and shouted throughout Cowboys Stadium long after the game was over.
Another superb Super Bowl, another night of heroics and hype, another moment when the game that everyone loves so much, triumphed over a series of mistakes that threatened to ruin everything.
Now can it overcome two teams of suits bargaining with its future?