After almost two weeks of waiting, it's officially time to start the countdown to Super Bowl XLV between the Packers and Steelers. We've gotten through media day and an entire week of hype mostly unscathed, and we're almost to the point where everyone remembers there's an actual game at the end of all this.
And on paper, at least, it should be a pretty awesome game. The best offense in the league vs. the toughest defense. Two preseason favorites that took vastly different routes to the top. Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger looking to stake their claim as the NFL's best quarterback. Donald Driver and Hines Ward competing for the "feel good victory in the twilight of their career" that makes everyone smile. Clay Matthews and James Harrison beating the crap out of everyone. Brett Kiesel's beard.
As Super Bowls go, there's a lot to like about this one. Which is why I couldn't leave you with only that Ben Roethlisberger article as a lead-in to this weekend. So without dwelling on Big Ben too much, let's focus on the fun elements of Super Bowl Sunday.
But first, we have to start with a nod to what makes this country great: R Kelly.
R Kelly should be grandfathered into this role at every sporting event, ever. I mean, forget Marvin Gaye at the forum or Whitney Houston at the '91 Super Bowl. For the comedy alone, that's got to be the greatest anthem of all time. I just... I didn't know you could sing it that way.
CLAP YA HANDS, Y'ALL, IT'S SUPER BOWL TIME WITH R KELLY AND JOHN MADDEN.
Onto some of the Super Bowl XLV Frequently Asked Questions.
Who has won already?
That would be Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson, who has enjoyed a nice little victory lap the past two weeks as everyone recognizes once and for all that he made the right choice in getting rid of Brett Favre. The wisdom behind that decision has been pretty obvious for a while now, but that doesn't diminish the significance of making the Super Bowl with the guy he chose over Favre.
Thompson was right about getting rid of Favre, he was right about trusting Aaron Rodgers with the future, he was right about taking Clay Matthews in the first round, he was right about landing Charles Woodson, and ... Are you getting the point? Per the New York Times, this is the image that currently greets the visitors to FireTedThompsonNow.com:
Not bad for the guy Skip Bayless said made "the biggest mistake by a GM in the history of the league." He and the Packers seem to be doing just fine.
But none of this could have happened without Favre, right?
Eh, that's what Adam Schefter says at ESPN today:
Back in 2008, the Packers traded Favre to the Jets for a conditional fourth-round pick that turned out to be a third-round pick. The Packers then traded that third-round pick, along with their second- and third-round picks, to New England for the Patriots' first-round pick -- where Green Bay used the draft's 26th overall selection on USC linebacker Clay Matthews.
... 'Course, if we're going to trace that to Favre, we could just as easily credit Bill Belichick and his pathological tendency to trade down in the NFL Draft. And if we're crediting Favre and Belichick, I think it's fair to guess that Peter King tipped Thompson on Matthews. And we should also thank Art Rooney for passing on Matthews in 2008, and Rodgers two years before that. Also, would Brett Favre's ego have compelled to keep playing if it hadn't been for the constant fluffing from announcers like Joe Buck? I think not.
So credit Ted Thompson if you want, but for my money, like any NFL success, it can all be traced back to Brett Favre, Bill Belichick, Peter King, the Rooney family and Joe Buck. Make sure you guys are seeing the forest from the trees, guys.
Okay, so Ted Thompson's already won. Who's already lost?
Why, the city of Dallas, of course! And the NFL, for having their biggest moment of the year upstaged by cranky columns about the weather and ominous talk of a work stoppage.
The lockout part of that equation was inevitable, but nobody could have seen this weather coming. Yes, nobody likes to hear their hometown columnist complain about getting sent to city filled with beautiful women, celebrities, and lavish parties. There could be avalanches every hour, and being in the host city during Super Bowl week would still be a hundred times cooler than not being in that city. But even as someone that's not there, it seems like sort of a buzz-kill.
It's not to say we can't have Super Bowls in cold cities, but with Mother Nature's menopausal mood swings these days, it's a risk to have it in a place like Dallas, where there's an outside chance that a storm like this can hit, and leave the city paralyzed. So what's the solution? Unless they're going to make colder cities like Chicago and New York an option (in which case people would be ready for cold weather), then the NFL should stop playing global warming roulette and just have the Super Bowl rotate between L.A., Miami and New Orleans. Aren't those are the best host cities, anyway?
Speaking of Dallas chaos, what is a Super Bowl party like?
Nate Jackson weighs in at Deadspin, and it reminds me of every celebrity party I've ever been to:
...once you're in, it quickly becomes apparent what you're dealing with: a lot of fancy-looking people looking around at each other, waiting for something to happen that never does. Dudes in shiny t-shirts and hair plugs and oversized veneers are everywhere, lurking, smirking. The handful of Playmates required to be there are dressed identically, in uniform, and move in packs. They giggle too much and they stay mobile, presumably to avoid the veneers. If they stay in one place too long, the creepers congregate on the outskirts of their conversations, pretending not to pay attention, but ready to pounce.
These parties are 1 percent Playmate, 20 percent wannabe Playmate, 10 percent wanna-not-be Playmate, 29 percent athlete/actor/musician/agent/manager/publicist/financial adviser, and 40 percent creeper. The creepers and the wannabe Playmates are the most eager to make an impression, exaggerating their laughs and their sex appeal, all darting looks and long bites of the lip. No one knows who anyone is, but if they're at the party, they must be someone, right? That guy over there in the fedora — I think that's LeBron's agent. But he's not an agent. He's a friend of the corporate accounts manager for the tarp company that set up the smoking section at the party. But no one needs to know that. Inside these doors, everyone is LeBron's agent. This is how the myth of the Super Bowl party is perpetuated.
It's dead-on. The same thing happened when I was at NBA All-Star Weekend last year. Basically, everyone dresses to look the part, and the rest of us just spend the entire trying to figure who's actually famous. "Hey, I think that's Worldwide Wes!" But no, it's never Worldwide Wes.
Also speaking of Dallas, is Jerry Jones kidding with this stuff?
Win or lose, the Green Bay Packers won't have to worry about being in hot water after Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium. That's because, according to several Dallas Cowboys players, the home locker room hasn't had much hot water for postgame showers.
"You get a little chilly when you get out of there," Jason Witten said. And I just want to be clear, here: Jerry Jones spent A BILLION DOLLARS on that goddamn stadium, and they couldn't spring for a decent hot water heater? That's how Jerry rolls, huh? I would have expected better.
In my mind, the showers in Cowboys stadium come equipped with adjustable water pressure, waterproof massage chairs, and nude, 18 year-old shower attendants, there to shampoo your hair, wash your back, and tend to any other need that may arise. But... No hot water? Turns out, The Greatest Stadium in the World is no better than my broke ass apartment.
What does Marcus Vick have to say about all this Super Bowl hoopla?
From a diary entry that doesn't actually exist (but should):
Ay yo. The Super Bowl's in DALLAS?! I'm out here tryin to network and get on my managerial ish, and I'm like, DOG! Where the party at?! I coulda SWORN Mike said Miami last week.
I gotta stop smokin, man... LOL!
Oh well. All's well that ends, ya know? I'm sayin though, you can't tell the difference out here. In Miami, EVERY WEEK is like Super Bowl week. S**t is wild, mannn. Models everywhere, people buyin bottes for me. They thought I was Mike! It was so dope!!! And yo, I'm pretty sure I saw LeBron's agent out at the club last night. I kicked it to him and put him on to my new social networkin' strategy. We gon' get in touch, for real.
YOUR BOY DOIN BIG THINGS, BABY. Can't be in Dallas, but it's all good though. Too busy out here in South Beach handlin business. Like Obama said. BIG THAAAAAAAANGS.
-- Marcus a.k.a "The Future"
Hey, who invited these guys to the party?
Lockout or not, Roger Goodell did this, and we should never, ever forget.
How insane is the marketing push that accompanies the Super Bowl every year?
Even more insane than you realize. FOX will make $300 million between in-game ads and the commercials they sell during post-game coverage, and at SB Nation, we've spent the week deleting e-mails from PR Firms touting their companies big, awesome Super Bowl commercial.
This one was probably my favorite pitch:
The chimps are back ... The animals work for Yeknom Industries (monkey spelled backwards), alongside one human employee. He gets the brunt of the abuse, naturally. In "Parking Lot," our human employee is the middle layer of a car sandwich. A chimp parks over the line, making it impossible for the human to open his driver-side door. The human decides to exit through the passenger-side door, when "Ron" slams into his car, sandwiching him inside.
Hear that guys? THE CHIMPS ARE BACK.
(See, even when they're terrible, the commercials are the best).
Okay, football. Who is the most enjoyable player on either team?
That would be B.J. Raji, formerly of Boston College, by way of Harlem. This was a nice profile of him, but this exchange is what sealed his fate as my favorite player this Sunday:
"He was just so fat," the father, who cuts a slim figure, says ...
"Dad," he said, "someday this weight is going to make me a millionaire."
Nothing says "future NFL lineman" quite like "He was just SO fat." And bonus points to B.J. for his display of NFL swagger at 8 years old. That's what NFL stars are made of (plus, you know, FAT).
That would be James Harrison, easily the scariest player in the NFL, and the one Steelers defender (including Polamalu) capable of changing the game with a single play.
What's the biggest X-factor on Sunday?
Probably Aaron Rodgers' health, right? It all comes down to whether Green Bay can block guys like James Harrison and keep Rodgers in the game. When he's feeling good, the Packers offense borders on unstoppable, and Rodgers looks like the best player in the NFL. But he's also a little easier to knock off his game than most stars, and between his shoulder and a few concussions, he's been battling nagging injuries all season long.
Even in the NFC Championship Game, after he started with a flawless first quarter, he gradually got beat up, and by the second half, the Packers offense was a mess.
They'll be in a dome on Sunday which should be better than frigid Chicago, but Rodgers will also be facing the most physical defense in the league, with the most insane player in football looking to kick his ass on every single play. I'm not saying Aaron Rodgers will get hurt and it'll wind up deciding the Super Bowl, but ... It wouldn't surprise me.
Why is this such a great matchup?
Well, here's what I said two weeks ago, when we first found out who'd be playing:
With Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger, you have two of the five best quarterbacks in football. Hines Ward and Mike Wallace? How 'bout Donald Driver and Greg Jennings? Between the playmakers and the guys getting them the ball, at any given moment, the Steelers and Packers are capable of breaking a game wide open.
And then there are the defenses. The defensive lines, the linebackers, the secondary—at every level, Pittsburgh and Green Bay grade out with flying colors. In the secondary, it's Charles Woodson, Nick Collins, Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. Linebackers? Clay Matthews, A.J. Hawk, James Harrison, and James Farrior. And then you have the defensive lines, with guys like B.J. Raji, Cullen Jenkins, Brett Keisel, and Casey Hampton.
The teams aren't so much mirror images as they are yin and yang. There are a number of unifying qualities, and every strength from Pittsburgh has a counterpart with Green Bay. But where it gets really good is the differences. Pittsburgh wins ugly, beating you up for four quarters, waiting for Ben Roethlisberger to make a play in the fourth quarter that gives them juuust enough offense to win it. Even when the Steelers go to their four wide receiver sets, it still feels like they're plugging away, grinding things out.
On Green Bay's side, they fly past their opponents with Greg Jennings and Rodgers putting on a show, and then, just when defenses adjust, they can chip away with the running game.
Both teams are similar in personnel-wise, but just different enough to make things interesting, and make it next to impossible to guess which philosophy wins out on Sunday. If there's an advantage for either side, it's probably Roethlisberger's ability to turn broken plays in big gains, and his preternatural knack for making huge throws exactly when the Steelers need 'em. Can Aaron Rodgers do that? We're not sure yet.
Which brings us to one, final point ...
What's at stake in Super Bowl XLV?
If Pittsburgh wins, the Steelers become the NFL's newest dynasty, and if they can get some help on the offensive line this offseason, they'll be set up to dominate again next year, when their young receivers will be more experienced, the defense will be good as always, and they'll have the premier quarterback in football, Ben Roethlisberger. Seriously.
His repulsive past notwithstanding, Roethlisberger's resume as a football player is pretty much beyond reproach. His stats aren't as impressive as someone like Peyton Manning, but as he keeps winning and guys like Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees prove their mortality, it's gotten harder and harder to discount his claims to the QB throne. You may not like him, but nobody said a moral compass is a requirement for great quarterbacks. If he wins Sunday, how can you say he's not the best quarterback in all of football? If he loses, though ...
...then that means Aaron Rodgers assumes the spot we just reserved for Big Ben. He's had the best numbers in the NFL for two years, and in this season's playoffs, he's almost single-handedly destroyed everyone in Green Bay's path, all of whom the Packers played on the road.
He's the heir to the Tom Brady and Peyton Manning generation of superstar QB's, and if Green Bay wins, his reign at the top of the NFL begins Sunday. And the Packers come with him. They've already got the most talented team in the NFC, and save for Charles Woodson and Donald Driver, all of their stars are still young. They aren't quite as entrenched as the Steelers, but like Rodgers compared to Roethlisberger, whatever's lacking in pedigree is made up for with potential. You look at Aaron Rodgers and see a quarterback that could dominate for the better part of the next decade.
We assumed it'd be a few years before the Tom Brady generation yielded to someone like Rodgers. But if the Packers win Sunday, that era begins immediately, Rodgers becomes the torch bearer for the NFL, and we officially start asking whether Green Bay can put together a dynasty under his watch. Those are the stakes.
Will Ben Roethlisberger force us to concede to his greatness and that of the Steelers dynasty, or will Aaron Rodgers announce himself as the league's preeminent superstar, with the Packers starting a dynasty of their own? We find out Sunday, and whatever happens, it should be quite the show.
Wait a second... So who wins?
My heart says Green Bay because Aaron Rodgers is a thousand times more likable, and watching B.J. Raji celebrate would be the highlight of the playoffs for me. My head says Pittsburgh, though, because Rodgers is banged up, the Packers haven't faced a defense this tough, and people have been overlooking the Steelers all year long. So which is it? You already know...