If you guessed that Green Bay Packers would win Super Bowl XLV back in August, then you were one of a million people that had Aaron Rodgers pegged as the breakout superstar of 2010. If you still liked the Packers as champs by the time 2011 came around, then you deserve a little more credit.
Running through the NFC as a six seed, surviving three straight road games, then beating a team like the Patriots or Steelers... Come on now, we said in January. That's just insane.
If you guessed the Packers would have a three-point lead in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLV, with the Pittsburgh Steelers having just erased an 18-point first half deficit, then you probably also guessed the Steelers would win on a go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth. After all, isn't that what the Steelers do? It didn't help that the Packers were also missing their best defensive player (Charles Woodson) at that point, but either way, didn't a Pittsburgh comeback just seem like destiny?
If you guessed that the NFL defensive player of the year would be rendered invisible against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, then you'd be wrong there, too. Troy Polamalu wasn't technically rendered invisible. In fact, we saw him get beaten. All. Night. Long.
If you guessed that the most memorable cameo of the 2011 Super Bowl commercials would be Eminem, then you either had inside information, or you are completely insane. And if you guessed those ads would be totally painful... Well, you were only half-right, because that Chrysler Ad was pretty phenomenal.
If you guessed that Lil Wayne would show up as an on-location live-blogger for the Wall Street Journal's coverage of the Super Bowl, then, again, do not pass go and proceed directly to professional help.
If you guessed the Black Eyed Peas would be a nationally televised apocalypse at halftime, then congratulations! So did the rest of us. And yet, the NFL insisted...
My favorite reaction to the NFL's chosen halftime show came here: "If Mubarak was smart, he'd have gotten the Black Eyed Peas to empty out Tahir Square two weeks ago." Because... That's right! The Black Eyed Peas are the musical equivalent to tear gas.
But sometimes, it's as simple as watching the Super Bowl Halftime Show to confirm our premonitions about the Black Eyed Peas being the most apocalyptic ensemble ever co-signed by the NFL.
And then sometimes it's more than that. Like when the Packers run the table in the NFC, a new NFL king is crowned, and the Hall of Fame coronation for his counterpart is mercifully deferred.
That's why we watch. Whether we're cheering for the Packers or the Steelers, roughly half the time, we're dead ass wrong. That's the fun of it. The outcome's better than we could have imagined.
Even if you ask the experts; it's all guesswork. For instance, Joe Posnanski is probably the most widely-respected sportswriter working right now. He's your favorite sportswriter's favorite sportswriter. And he'll freely admit that when it comes to predicting the outcomes of this stuff, we're all on the same level.
"Every day I make predictions that don't come anywhere close to the mark," he wrote at Slate this year. "Maybe [sportswriters] have a little more insight from talking to the players, the coaches—people who are on the inside. But in reality, I don't know that we're wrong any less often."
What makes the Super Bowl so cool is that everybody guesses. America gets 100 million new sports columnists, where everyone has an opinion, and nobody has a clue what's going to happen. It's not just the game, either. We all become marketing critics, grading ads, guessing which one will be most successful the next day. And we're all in charge of the NFL's halftime show, critiquing the amateurs that chose the Black Eyed Peas and put together that ridiculous light show. Then, late in the fourth quarter, we're all NFL coaches.
Every week, diehard sports fans and sports columnists play this game with the games—guessing and grading, basically—but there's no single game that attracts quite as many armchair quarterbacks and coaches as the Super Bowl. Between the commercials, the game, the halftime show... Nothing gives us quite as much to guess at, and there are more people watching and guessing than any other spectacle in American life. And then, in the end, what we get is never quite what we guessed.
Here's Posnanski one more time, this time talking Super Bowl:
The fun of the Super Bowl is the week leading into it ... all these stories and all these angles and all these different version of what could happen—95 percent of those are wrong, yet they constitute 95 percent of the thrill.
What we're talking about with the Super Bowl isn't just a Super Important Football Game.
It's the thrill of being a sports fan distilled into one game, and instead of just the diehards, pretty much everyone gets in on the fun. It happens this way every single year, and it's one of the coolest phenomenons in all of American culture. The Super Bowl always delivers; the only thing that changes are the stories that surprise us. So, who will we remember this year?
Well, other than Lil Wayne in a Cheesehead...
The Packers made us believers. That sounds incredibly hokey, yes, but there's a time and a place for idiotic sports cliche, and, well, here we are. Not only did Aaron Rodgers play what was basically a perfect game—24/39, 304 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT—but Green Bay won the game that Pittsburgh has been winning all year long.
After two straight touchdowns to make it a one-score game going into the fourth quarter, the Steelers had Green Bay exactly where they wanted. Then Aaron Rodgers and the Packers came back with two killer drives, and 10 fourth quarter points that sealed it. And while we're in the Merril Hoge-sponsored cliche zone, "That's what champions are made of."
Really though. Even when Pittsburgh had all the momentum, Green Bay's confidence never wavered, and Aaron Rodgers calmly brought them down the field throughout the fourth. 'Course, they did have a little bit of help...
The biggest play of the game came on the first play of the fourth quarter, when Rashard Mendenhall fumbled on the Green Bay 33-yard line, and a Pittsburgh drive to go ahead became a Packers drive to seal the game. If Pittsburgh scores a TD there, it's 24-21 Pittsburgh. Instead, the Packers got a chance to take back momentum, so Rodgers and the Packers offense went for the jugular, pushing it to 28-17. That was the game.
My girlfriend saw Big Ben on the sideline and said, "He just looks like somebody that was meant to be a deadbeat dad." She later added, "You know who he reminds me of? Andray Blatche. They're both kinda fat, and instead of running, they just waddle all over the place."
God, she knows JUST what to say.
No, but seriously, love him or hate him, Big Ben just wins football games. It's not always pretty, but it always gets the job done, and you can't take that away from him. Earlier this weekend, SportsCenter had a segment on what they called "The Ugly Benny Show," and it was sooooooo perfect. He may not lead the league in style points, but all the guy does is make plays when his team needs them most. Anyone that doubts his legitimacy as a Hall of Fame quarterback is just jealous of Pittsburgh's success. So, don't worry guys, Big Ben will be back on this stage, and when he comes back next time, he's not taking no for an answer.
And how 'bout Nick Collins? It should be more difficult to overlook a guy with three straight Pro Bowls on his resume, but next to Charles Woodson, and with Troy Polamalu on the opposite sideline, Collins was pretty much an afterthought. But then, Woodson got hurt, Polamalu got shredded by Jennings, and if you're looking for the one moment where Super Bowl 45 went from a toss-up to "whoa, the Packers might actually be the best team in the NFL," Collins' pick-six is what changed everything. Time for a much-deserved round of applause, because he kicked ass on Super Bowl Sunday.
For the record, this ad does not make up for the Black Eyed Peas.
As for the rest of the Super Bowl commercials, you should really check out the definitive analysis of this year's ads from Spencer Hall and Jon Bois, because they kicked ass. The writers, not the commercials. Super Bowl ads are like New Years; they never quite live up to the hype, but there's always just enough going to keep you interested for next year.
And in the end, we got left with a story that feels just about perfect. And that's what always happens with the NFL. Year-in and year-out, the Super Bowl delivers. Green Bay is a worthy world champion; it was no fluke, and in Aaron Rodgers, the NFL has a torch bearer for the next generation. As Favre recedes into our memory while Manning and Brady enter the twilight of their careers, we can take solace knowing that, if those guys never get back to what they've been, the game is in good hands. Aaron Rodgers' hands, to be exact.
That's what's so great about football. Even as the NFL machine gets bigger than ever, suffocating us with synergy and burying us in branding, the game is still what sells better than anything in the world.
It's more competitive and compelling now than it's ever been, and every year, there's a story like the New Orleans Saints or Green Bay Packers that leaves us satisfied, and wanting more next year. If nothing else, Super Bowl Sunday was the most emphatic reminder yet of why, exactly, an NFL lockout would be such a terrible thing for sports fans. Without pro football, these thrills disappear for the year.
Just look at what's happened in the past six months. You may have guessed back in August that the Packers would win the Super Bowl, but you never could have guessed it'd happen this way. The story's better than we ever could have scripted. And that's the NFL these days. They do it better than any sport on earth. Teams like the Packers will always keep us guessing, gushing, and coming back for more. Isn't that what sports is all about?