Monday, January 31, 2011

Survival of the Fittest: Super Bowl XLV

“But oh, what providence!
What divine intelligence!
That you should survive,
As well as me.”

The Decemberists- “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”

Titletown vs. The City of Champions.

My first thought, as I watched the Steelers assume the Victory Formation while time ticked down last week was:

45 years.

How the hell did it take 45 years for (arguably) the two most storied franchises in NFL history to meet on the grand stage?

The road to the Super Bowl is circuitous, often filled with small challenges that when woven together make up the greatest of trials. It proved to be no different for both the Packers and the Steelers in 2010.

The Packers withstood an avalanche of injuries in the early part of the season, none more critical than the losses of star running back Ryan Grant and the dynamic Jermichael Finley. Aaron Rodgers took more head shots than a C-list Hollywood actor, missing time due to two concussions. They’ve been in survival mode for the past month and a half, and it shows.

The Steelers faced a far different path. There’s no need to describe the offseason Ben Roethlisberger saga, as it has played out on televisions and TMZ for the past 9 months. The shadow that it cast over the season, however, was short lived. Helped by the defense and solid QB play from Batch, Dixon and Leftwich, the Steelers got off to a hot start and cruised to a division title. In a manner that has become uncomfortably expected, the Steelers were able to dispatch two great teams in the Ravens and the Jets during their playoff run. Remarkably, the Steelers have now appeared in better than 1 out of every 6 Super Bowls.

There are a ton of story lines, which will be repeated ad nauseum for the next week. However, in my mind, there are only two things worth talking about.

1. If the Packers win, Aaron Rodgers officially bucks all previous trends.

Legendary quarterbacks, quite naturally, leave an indelible mark on a team’s history. Their legacies outlive their tenures, and their departures often send their team into a tailspin. Ask the Broncos how easy it has been to replace John Elway. The Dolphins have won exactly one playoff game since the Marino era. Hell, even Pittsburgh suffered for 20+ years between Bradshaw and Ben. To this point, the sole example of a legendary quarterback replacing a legendary quarterback is Steve Young taking over for Joe Montana in San Francisco. However, even this comparison is problematic, since Young was by no means a youngster when he took the helm (he was 30).

When Brett Favre unceremoniously departed Green Bay, the stage should have been set for disappointment. But rather than adhering to the aforementioned examples; Aaron Rodgers has never shown any pressure passed down to him from the glory of Favre’s reign. It’s difficult enough to succeed as a quarterback in the NFL, but to have the mental strength to acknowledge and deal with the expectations that fans have of their quarterback is something very special. Were the Packers to win, the next Green Bay QB will have to deal with playing in the shadow of Rodgers.

2. If the Steelers win, they are a dynasty, there’s no debating it.

Side note: The above picture totally justifies the existence of Google Images.

On Sunday, if the Steelers hoist that “sticky Lombardi”, that will be three Super Bowls in 6 years. I don’t care how you cut it, that’s a dynasty. Not only that, it would come with several different implications:

First, the Steelers would be the first team to have two dynasties. As rare as these things are, the odds have two different ones in back-to-back generations must be somewhere in between winning the lottery twice in a week and getting struck by lightning in the bathroom of a Taco Bell (a place in which we’re often struck with something else). If it weren’t clear enough already, this would have to put the Rooney family as the greatest owners (or very close) in NFL history. With a league as balanced as this one, winning so many championships in this day and age should be looked upon differently than 50+ years ago.

Secondly, the Steelers will have something that many thought would never happen again: basically a homegrown dynasty. Out of the 22 2010 starters for the Steelers, 19 were drafted/signed by Pittsburgh, with the lone exceptions being Flozell Adams, James Farrior and Ryan Clark. Front office, go ahead and pat yourself on the back. It’s well-deserved.

Third, it makes it nearly impossible to keep Ben Roethlisberger out of the Hall of Fame. I understand he hasn’t even hit his 30th birthday, but the number of three-time Super Bowl Champion quarterbacks NOT in the Hall of Fame equals the number of women that Clay Aiken has slept with: zero. I’ve made my dislike for Ben fairly clear, and my praising of his abilities have absolutely nothing to do with my opinion of him as a person, but they have to be acknowledged. If he wins this week, I don’t know who/what he’d have to sexually assault to keep him out of the Hall.

Before we fall victim to Super Bowl indulgence, as Steeler fans, we should take time to appreciate what we have. If you were to poll people in August, most would have said the Steelers may have an outside shot at the playoffs. I would bet that more people would have bet on the Pirates having a winning season in 2011 than the Steelers making another Super Bowl appearance. We should not let ourselves become spoiled by this team. Getting this far is a tremendous achievement, and we should revel in the atmosphere and joy that it provides us.

There’s simply no place we’d rather be.

And one more thing: we need to stop with the whole “Stairway to Seven” thing. It isn’t cool, it was never cool and it will never be cool. If I were in Led Zeppelin (and still living), hearing that would make me vomit uncontrollably. Please file this in with “One for the Thumb” and other ridiculous, unnecessary phrases.

I love you all. Go Steelers.

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