One Last Time, Gritty Packers Overcome Unexpected Adversity
The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year and leader extraordinaire had a broken collarbone and would not finish Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I couldn't do it," Woodson said. "I was just too emotional."
As if the sight of a speechless Woodson, 34, wrapped in a sling wasn't deflating enough for the second-youngest team in the NFL, across the locker room was wideout Donald Driver, the club's all-time leader in receptions and an offensive stalwart, hobbled and done for the night with a high ankle sprain.
"It started to get crazy in there," Driver said. "But we knew we had a bunch of young guys who would be ready when called on."
In other words, why should their Super Bowl have been any different than the rest of the season?
Green Bay's stirring 31-25 defeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers was basically a blueprint of how the Packers got here in the first place.
Their season in a microcosm.
The Packers lost six starters through the course of the regular season, yet leaned on the second-youngest roster in the NFL to sneak into the playoffs, win three road games and advance to the league's grand spectacle against a battle-tested bunch of blue-collar Steelers armed with two dozen players with Super Bowl rings.
But it was the Packers who did not turn the ball over (the Steelers coughed it up three times), whose quarterback converted huge plays in clutch situations (Aaron Rodgers was named MVP while Ben Roethlisberger threw two picks and stalled on the game-winning drive), and collectively stood at the podium amid a rain of confetti holding the trophy named after their legendary coach of all those championships.
"The Vince Lombardi Trophy is coming home," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
"We're going back to Titletown, baby," beamed cornerback Nick Collins, who returned a Ben Roethlisberger interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. "This is big."
Green Bay's first Super Bowl title in 14 years gives the Packers four all-time -- two behind the Steelers and their league-best six -- and also served as a championship coming-out party for Rodgers, who went 24 of 38 for 304 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a masterful passer rating of 111.5.
"This tells the world that Aaron Rodgers is for real," center Scott Wells gushed. "Hopefully, this will silence all the critics out there who want to make a bunch of comparisons between him and his predecessor."
Now, who would that be?
"It's a dream come true," said Rodgers, who grew up in Northern California and cheered while some pretty good San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks held up MVP metal, too. "It's what I dreamed about as a little kid watching Joe Montana and Steve Young. We just won a Super Bowl."
They won it with some timely plays after the Steelers got the partisan crowd back into the game by storming from a 21-3 deficit with back-to-back touchdowns -- one with 39 seconds left in the first half to seize momentum after Woodson went down; the other on their first possession of the third quarter.
Woodson, whose pregame speeches helped ignite his teammates during the postseason, managed a couple motivational words before sending his Pack back to the field.
"I told the guys before they went out there how much I wanted it," he said. "I didn't get a whole lot out, but told them to get it done."
In the midst of being pounded by Pittsburgh's right-side power running game, the Packers defense bowed up after that second Pittsburgh touchdown, forcing two straight punts. Then came linebacker Clay Matthews and his timely forced fumble on tailback Rashard Mendenhall that was recovered by linebacker Desmond Bishop, one of those at-the-ready backups who replaced a starter way back early in the season.
"It's just the way this year's been," said wideout Jordy Nelson, who moved up in the receiving pecking order when Driver went down. "Guys just stepped up."
On the possession following Mendenhall's fumble, facing third-and-10 in Pittsburgh territory, Rodgers fired a dart across the middle that Nelson took to the 3. Rodgers then hit Greg Jennings for his second touchdown of the game for a 28-17 lead.
The Steelers needed just seven plays to draw within a field goal on a Roethlisberger-to-Mike Wallace touchdown of 25 yards and a two-point conversion with half the fourth quarter to play. The Steelers-heavy crowd -- part of an attendance of more than 100,000, more people than in the entire city of Green Bay -- were alive and very much in the game.
Then came another wicked third-and-10 conversion -- a 31-yard laser to Jennings -- from the Green Bay 26, sparking a drive that eventually netted a field goal and six-point lead with just over two minutes to go.
The Steelers, and their two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, had one more chance, but five plays netted just 18 yards and Roethlisberger's final incompletion set off a wild celebration on the Green Bay sideline.
"There are so many ups and downs the course of the season," Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "It just feels really good to come together like this."
Knowing the blueprint for conquering adversity helped.
"You just keep playing," McCarthy said. We've had a lot of practice in that situation and definitely paid off. We'd done it all year, but to do it on the biggest stage, at the most important time, just speaks volumes of our football team."
That's just what Woodson would have said.