There was joy unconfined in northern Wisconsin, and the sour hangover of failure in Pittsburgh.
But one unwelcome guest intruded at a nailbiting Super Bowl XLV: the nagging thought that Sunday’s season finale might just be the last National Football League game played in calendar 2011.
Yesterday, fans lined the streets of Green Bay to welcome home the city’s beloved Packers after their 31-25 triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Cowboys stadium in Arlington, Texas — the franchise’s first NFL championship in 14 years and only the second since the era of master coach Vince Lombardi ended almost half a century ago.
It was by any standards an epic contest, its outcome in doubt until just 49 seconds from the end when the Steeler’s last drive foundered on a fourth down incompletion. The ball was back with the Packers, and America’s biggest and gaudiest sporting prize was on its way back to ‘Titletown.’
Up to that moment though, the game had fluctuated with stomach churning intensity for the teams and their fans.
The Packers surged to an early lead of 21-3, before Pittsburgh pegged them back with a touchdown on the verge of half time.
After another Steelers score early in the third period, Green Bay was wobbling, only for Aaron Rodgers, to throw an eight yard pass into the endzone to give Green Bay a 28-17 lead.
But Pittsburgh stormed back once more, with a 25-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, followed by a two point conversion.
Green Bay extended their lead again with a field goal two minutes from the end.
Had that final drive succeeded, the Steelers might have pulled out a 32-31 victory that would have sealed the biggest comeback in Super Bowl History.
Instead, the star of the show — and Super Bowl XLV’s most valuable player — was Rodgers, who with three touchdown passes, finally closed the page on his predecessor Brett Favre, and established himself as one of the game’s marquee quarterbacks in his own right.
“I’m so proud of the composure he showed these last few years,” Packers running back Ryan Grant said of the 27-year-old Rodgers. “They might not stop comparing Favre and him or who-ever. But he’s a champion now too, and there are only so many in the game who can say that.”
Green Bay’s other hero was coach Mike McCarthy who kept the team on course through a season fraught with injuries, in which the Packers only made the playoffs as a wild card, and had to defeat each of the three NFC top seeds on the road.
And McCarthy had his players measured up for their Super Bowl victory rings on the day before: “No disrespect to the Steelers, but we expected to win this game. I told them this was their time.” And it was. For the Steelers, though, it was a tale of mistakes, for which they were made to pay dearly. But the NFL’s current collective bargaining agreement expires on March 31, and the players union and the owners are far from agreement on a new one.
All logic suggests a deal will be struck, to preserve a goose that lays such golden eggs. Protracted labour disputes however are far from uncommon in major league US sport, costing baseball the 1994 World Series, and hockey its entire 2004/2005 season.