• It wasn't the prettiest of football, and turnovers and injuries dictated so much of what unfolded in this one, but if this was the last NFL game we get for quite some time, Super Bowl XLV wasn't a bad way to go out.
Six-point game, in doubt to the final minute, and the first big confetti shower for Green Bay in 14 years.
The Packers never trailed, but it sure felt like they did for most of the third quarter and early in the fourth. But when the game was there for the taking for Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers took it back, producing two long fourth-quarter scoring drives that never let the Steelers complete the long climb back from that second-quarter, 18-point deficit.
It was a strange game in a lot of ways. With plenty of momentum changes, but no lead changes. The Packers raced out to that 21-3 lead, got staggered by a wave of injuries that hit players on both sides of the ball, and then looked all the world like the first-time Super Bowl club that was wilting beneath the pressure and Pittsburgh's greater Super Bowl experience.
But there's a reason the Packers never trailed by more than seven points at any time this season. They have proved over and over again they can take a punch and then deliver one of their own.
The two most obvious game-savers for Green Bay came from Rodgers, when he completed a 38-yard, third-down pass to Jordy Nelson -- the game's leading receiver -- on a third-and-10 from the Pittsburgh 40 early in the fourth quarter. Rodgers then followed that up with another monstrous third-and-10 completion to Greg Jennings, picking up 31 yards with just under six minutes to go.
The Steelers largely did themselves in with three turnovers that Green Bay turned into 21 points -- two Ben Roethlisberger interceptions and that game-changing Rashard Mendenhall fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter. But you can't say that Green Bay didn't deserve its Super victory, because the Packers took advantage of every opportunity the Steelers gave them.
And now, maybe the worst is to come, with the ugliness of the league and its players locked in combat on the labor front. If the 2011 regular season really is in jeopardy, at least the Packers and Steelers gave us one last taste of why the NFL is so wildly popular and beloved.
• With the multitude of injuries in the first half, rest assured this won't be the game the NFL uses to prove that the 18-game regular season makes sense. Talk about a war of attrition for a couple teams playing their 19th (Pittsburgh) and 20th (Green Bay) game of the long NFL season.
Steelers who suffered injuries included cornerback Bryant McFadden (hip pointer), left offensive tackle Flozell Adams (shoulder) and receiver Emmanuel Sanders (foot). Only Sanders left the game for good.
The Packers saw almost their entire secondary wiped out at one point, and it made a clear difference in how the momentum of the game shifted toward Pittsburgh. Green Bay cornerback and team leader Charles Woodson left late in the first half with a broken collarbone and didn't return. Safety Nick Collins went to the locker room for an IV just before the half, and play-making rookie cornerback Sam Shields was forced out temporarily with a shoulder injury.
And don't forget the loss of veteran receiver Donald Driver, who left with an ankle injury in the first quarter, depriving Rodgers of one of his favorite targets.
"We had injuries, they had injuries," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. "But they executed their plan better than we did ours."
• The irony of it all, of course, is that Cowboys Stadium was supposed to be the real star of the show for Super Bowl XLV, upstaging even two legendary teams like the Packers and the Steelers. Everyone knew that the two-year-old Jerry World, with its $1.2 billion price tag and 100,000-plus capacity for the first Super Bowl ever played in North Texas, would be a big part of the story of this game, and boy, were they ever right.
But not in the way anyone hoped. The NFL may well again play another Super Bowl here some day, but I wouldn't advise Jerry Jones to call Roger Goodell first thing on Monday to get back in line for another Super Bowl for his home ballpark. I'd give it a little time. Say three years or so, just to let Sunday's pregame seating debacle to simmer down.
Suffice to say, Cowboys Stadium wasn't ready for its big close up.
The ice storm that all-but-paralyzed the Dallas area early in Super Bowl week was an act of God that no one can be held responsible for. But not so with the seating debacle that unfolded before the game, which resulted in some 400 people winding up with nowhere to sit, albeit in addition to being handed some lovely parting gifts (three times the face value of their tickets, or $2,700).
Even though the league was able to relocate more than two-thirds of the original 1,250 displaced ticket holders (around 850) to other seats in the stadium, it was still an embarrassing and very un-NFL-like gaffe for a league that usually runs the Super Bowl like a well-oiled machine.
Though I couldn't get anyone to reveal much in the pre-game hours on Sunday, I'd be shocked if the NFL didn't know all about the problem with the seating long before Super Bowl Sunday. It just stands to reason that the Arlington fire marshal didn't make his first trip to the site of Super Bowl XLV on the morning of the game. No way. The fire code access problems that those temporary seats presented wouldn't just materialize on game day. But the NFL did a very good job of keeping the story quiet, choosing, I believe, to take its dose of bad publicity in the hours before the game, knowing the story would be overwhelmed by the game once kickoff rolled around.
Any way you spin it, some fans were seriously inconvenienced, and that's putting it mildly. And then there were those who were shuffled around, eventually being given other seats than the ones they thought they held in sections 425A and 430A. One of the sections was largely populated by members of the Steelers organization and their family members. Some of those fans were marched around the stadium for up to three hours before being relocated, a development that couldn't have made Steelers owner Dan Rooney too happy.
Cowboys Stadium may indeed get a second Super Bowl shot in the years to come. But by any standard, it was a rough and mistake-pocked first effort at the House that Jerry Built.
• Chalk up another one for the infallibility of the Super Bowl experience factor. The Steelers might have been here and done that recently, but it sure didn't look like it early on against Green Bay. Pittsburgh played like it had a case of the big-stage jitters in the first quarter, committing penalties, throwing the ball wild and high, and generally looking a little overwhelmed by the moment.
Not so for the Super Bowl novice Packers, at least after they dodged a bullet by recovering that early muffed punt by Tramon Williams. Green Bay settled into the game quickly, and its 14-point first quarter ended up tying a Super Bowl record.
Between what the Giants did to the Patriots three years ago, the Saints did last year to the Colts, and the Packers did to the Steelers, we should finally start to realize that Super Bowl experience can be overrated.
Pittsburgh's playoff experience made a showing in the second half, but in the end, that 18-point deficit was too big a hole for the Steelers to climb out of.
• Earlier in this postseason, David Maraniss, the author of that great Vince Lombardi biography, When Pride Still Mattered, told me he thought the legendary Packers head coach would love this particular Green Bay squad because it's a team in ever sense of the word.
I think I know what he means now. When receiver Jordy Nelson, safety Nick Collins and Greg Jennings all scored touchdowns in the first half, the Packers became first team in NFL history to have 11 different players score a touchdown in the playoffs.
• The Steelers didn't play their A game by any stretch of the imagination, but Hines Ward somehow always shows up when the spotlight is brightest. Ward caught a team-high four passes for 43 yards in the first half, including the lone Pittsburgh touchdown of the opening two quarters, from eight yards out.
That was Ward's 10th career postseason touchdown catch, making him the sixth player to hit that plateau in league history. Ward finished with seven catches for 78 yards and that touchdown, second only to Mike Wallace's nine grabs for 89 yards.
• I'd pay way more than a penny for Brett Favre's thoughts tonight. I wonder if No. 4 watched the game with ambivalence, or already feels retired enough to root for some of his old teammates in Green Bay?
Whatever the case, the Packers' victory finally and fully justifies their decision to move on from Favre and toss the keys to Rodgers in mid-2008.
• I thought referee Walt Anderson had a pretty good night, but that was a really costly phantom face mask penalty on Packers tight end Tom Crabtree on the first punt of the second half. Crabtree didn't have the face mask, he had the jersey of Steelers punt returner Antonio Brown. Instead of Pittsburgh starting on its own 35, the Steelers got to set up shop at the 50, and they wasted little time taking advantage of the gift. The Steelers needed just five plays to cover those 50 yards, staying on the ground the whole way, and cut the Green Bay lead to 21-17 on Rashard Mendenhall's 8-yard touchdown burst.
• Wouldn't want to be Mendenhall heading into this long offseason of uncertainty. His fumble, caused by ,Green Bay's great outside linebacker, Clay Matthews, was the key mistake of the game. And that's even with Roethlisberger giving up a first-quarter, 37-yard pick-six to Packers safety Nick Collins.
Mendenhall was carrying the ball rather cavalierly all game, and it seemed like only a matter of time before he coughed one up. It just happened at the worst possible time.
• What a beast of a player Matthews has turned into. His forced fumble was clutch, and he almost picked off Roethlisberger earlier in the game, jumping high to deflect the ball and nearly twisting into a pretzel to catch the rebound.
How is it exactly that this guy was forced to walk on and couldn't earn a scholarship at Southern Cal?
• This one might have set a Super Bowl record for dropped passes. Green Bay especially kept killing itself with drops. James Jones dropped what could have been a touchdown pass early in the third quarter, and then Nelson dropped a potential chains-mover on the next Packers drive. Second-year receiver Brett Swain had one third-down pass sail through his hands, and dropped another key third-down pass that could have given Green Bay a much-needed boost of momentum.
And that was the winning team that made all those mistakes.
• Though the Steelers made a run at the record books, there's still never been a comeback in the Super Bowl bigger than 10 points, which the 2009 Saints and 1987 Redskins accomplished in their Super Bowls. Pittsburgh was down 18 late in the second quarter, and got as close to three points in the fourth quarter.
• Pretty impressed with both teams in the aftermath of this Super Bowl. The Steelers were classy, praising the Packers instead of solely blaming the defeat on their own mistakes. As for Green Bay, Mike McCarthy's team struck all the right chords as well, using its postgame platform to laud their dedication to the ideal of teamwork and resilience in the face of the adversity they encountered.
• Watching tonight, I recalled that I covered the Packers' regular-season opener this season, when they beat the Eagles in Philly despite losing several starters (running back Ryan Grant among them).
And now they've completed the circle with a season-capping win over the other NFL team from Pennsylvania, the Steelers. Again, they lost a couple starters in the process.
I love symmetry.
• Once again, it helped to have a Super Bowl rookie at quarterback. Rodgers winning over Roethlisberger made it seven of the past 10 years in which a first-time Super Bowl quarterback won the game, a streak that began when Tom Brady's Patriots beat Kurt Warner's Rams after the 2001 season.
The list now includes: Brady in 2001, Tampa Bay's Brad Johnson in 2002, Roethlisberger in 2005, Indy's Peyton Manning in 2006, the Giants' Eli Manning in 2007, New Orleans' Drew Brees in 2009 and Rodgers this season.
In four of those cases, including the most recent three, a newbie Super Bowl quarterback has beaten an opponent with multiple Super Bowl starts: Rodgers over Roethlisberger, Brees over Peyton Manning last year; Eli Manning over Brady in 2007; and Brady over Warner in 2001.