Super Bowl XLV Could Be Legendary; So Could a Lockout
DALLAS -- It is the lockout Super Bowl -- even though it will be played. Super Bowl XLV on Sunday night, if it proves the last NFL game for unchartered time, is high-stakes theatrics, a resolute finale, an in-the-moment joy while a brooding futuristic pall creeps and lurks.
Like a last spoon of ice cream or a last step over the finish line, the end can be both sweet and bitter. NFL owners and players have been wrangling for more than a year over a fresh labor deal. The old one expires on March 3. Impasse is possible. An owners' lockout is foreseeable.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers saw this coming. Every NFL team did. The owners did. The union did. Among the many union strategies discussed included some players across the league insisting on a boycott of Super Bowl XLV. Just walk out. Lock them out. But it never gained muster. The game will be played.
Every team, every player entered this season with the notion that, hey, if this is the last certain Super Bowl to be played for however long, we especially want in this one. We want this ring, this year. It became a focal point among players and among teams. A battle cry.
And in what seemed to be an even field for both conferences, with no super, extraordinary or dominant team to be found, the dream seemed plausible to many. The championship chances real. Get hot, get on a late roll, tip-toe to Texas.
Dallas thought it could do it and become the first team to play the Super Bowl in its stadium. Minnesota thought it could do it, revive Brett Favre's wonder one more time and create music and magic. But each team won only six games and each saw its coach fired in-season. Arizona believed it could live without Kurt Warner, get back to the big game and win it -- but the Cardinals shipped out starting quarterback Matt Leinart early and crashed throughout, winning only five games. Even Carolina thought with a lockout looming, with a balanced field, that it could send coach John Fox out right and shock the world. Instead, the Panthers won two games and gained the ultimate loser's ribbon, the draft's first pick.
Only Pittsburgh and Green Bay successfully navigated the burdensome course. Only the Steelers and the Packers could enter this historical realm of glorious Super Bowl presence mixed with ugly league ambiguity.
A team that reaches this precipice must rise from being floored, from being seemingly knocked out. Pittsburgh was forced to do that, reassemble from a 39-26 loss to the New England Patriots on Nov. 14 in Pittsburgh. The game was deflating and embarrassing for the Steelers, who fell to 6-3. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said afterward: "We've got to get better. If we get better we get the opportunity to fight and put ourselves in position to play this kind of game again."
He was talking even bigger games, even bigger moments -- like Super Bowl XLV.
The Packers hit the floor in a 7-3 loss to the Detroit Lions in on Dec. 12 in Detroit. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was knocked out, literally, due to a concussion. The future looked murky. Green Bay's record fell to 8-5 and Packers coach Mike McCarthy said afterward: "That's not cutting it."
McCarthy got his quarterback back after he missed the team's close loss at New England and the Packers have not flinched since.
It is the lockout Super Bowl, Steelers and Packers, the big game and possibly the last game until ...
Somebody in this Super Bowl's pre-game buildup and banter asked Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison if he expected a lockout?
That was Harrison's simple and pointed reply and an indication of where things stand, regardless of promised and increased discussions by both sides.
One man the players have going for them in terms of fighting the lockout model is, believe it, commissioner Roger Goodell, who happens to work, foremost, for the owners.
Goodell has been a commissioner of change. He has exhibited a remarkable gift behind closed curtains to tug just enough owners' coats, to coalesce just enough votes to get business done and, more importantly, create change. Goodell seems himself as an innovative commissioner. He does not want his league stuck.
He does not want his leadership stuck.
He is building his legacy daily and in no part of it wants a work stoppage. If it happens on his watch, it will be an undeniable stain that will never be cleansed. He is a major agent for change in the tone and success of these upcoming bargaining chats.
For now, we kick off Super Bowl XLV with the game full of splendid anticipation. And the immediate moments afterward a crash, hand-wringing, the threat like that of a merry, marathon, child playground game that suddenly halts when one sulking kid takes the ball and goes home.
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