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|01-24-2011, 06:56 PM||#1|
A Son of Martha
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Blue-blooded Pack, Steelers in dream matchup
Blue-blooded Pack, Steelers in dream matchup
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports Jan 24, 1:59 am EST
PITTSBURGH – Heinz Field was literally swaying back and forth, 66,000-plus fans and 53 Pittsburgh Steelers bouncing about postgame as they sang the franchise fight song into this dark, cold, wonderful night along the rivers here.
“Pittsburgh’s going to the Super Bowl,” the refrain says, and there was no more appropriate sentiment after the black and gold stood up and shut up the Jets 24-19 on Sunday with a performance that was equal parts inspired, resilient, ferocious and gutsy.
Jets coach Rex Ryan was inside talking about the most painful loss of his career and out here, where they could see their voices lingering in the air, the singing and dancing and drinking went on and on.
These are the Steelers, barreling toward a record seventh Vince Lombardi trophy, only this time, standing in the way will be the franchise that Lombardi himself made so famous.
The Green Bay Packers had already done their thing against the Chicago Bears, and now what awaits the Steelers is the rare organization that won’t flinch in the face of their history or expectations. Who else except Pittsburgh makes the Super Bowl the refrain of the fight song?
The Packers will be gunning for their fourth Super Bowl title, to go along with nine NFL championships dating back to 1929. And if Pittsburgh starts talking about the glory days of the 1970s, the Packers can see them with their own history of the 1960s. We’ll raise your Terry Bradshaw with a Bart Starr.
Get ready for your grandfather’s Super Bowl.
“The tradition,” Hines Ward(notes) said, gripping a bottle of non-alcoholic Bauser Extra Dry Champayno in his right hand. “Two great traditions, two franchises that do it right.”
Yes, this one is a bit different. There is no bumbling organization that finally got its act together, such as New Orleans, Arizona and Seattle of recent years. There are no starved fan bases seeking their first Super Bowl win, such as Philadelphia, Carolina or Tampa Bay. There is no flash-in-the-pan, hot-at-the-right-time playoff team.
These are the heavyweight programs, the ones that know the way, and they’ll bring to Arlington, Texas, next month powerhouse teams firing on all cylinders. Both expect to win because that’s what the Steelers and the Packers are taught to expect.
This will be the 45th Super Bowl, and Pittsburgh and Green Bay will have won 10 of them combined. You could say they’ve been staring each other down for four or five decades.
“Two very good defenses, two amazing quarterbacks, two [of the most] storied franchises in the NFL,” Steelers cornerback Ryan Clark said. “It’s a good game for the league.”
Clark had just one complaint.
“I wish we were playing them in the snow, sleet, rain,” he said. “It should be on the frozen tundra.”
Well, maybe not the Frozen Tundra, but some neutral patch of frozen tundra, which would be fine for both fan bases who wear their winterization as a badge of honor.
These aren’t movie star kind of towns. And while Cowboys Stadium is a testament to state-of-the-art construction and technology, it seems a bit clean and calm for this kind of matchup.
You can expect Aaron Rodgers(notes) and Ben Roethlisberger(notes) to whip the ball all over the climate-controlled place. The last time the two teams played was last season, Pittsburgh winning a wild, back-and-forth thriller, 37-36, that featured a combined 886 passing yards and a final-play touchdown throw by Big Ben. The NFL can only dream of a return engagement.
Las Vegas installed the Packers as the early favorite by 2.5 points. The over/under is 46. Those numbers will likely bounce back and forth, these being two of the most popular and heavily bet teams in the country.
The Steelers gave everyone a reason to believe in them Sunday, drilling the Jets in a dominating first half where they scored 24 consecutive points. They ran the ball, controlled the clock and made game-breaking plays. New York closed the gap in the second half but never had a shot at the lead thanks, in part, to a dramatic goal-line stand and later two gut-check, championship-icing passes by Roethlisberger.
Back in Chicago, the Packers had laid out the Bears 21-14 and survived the Bears’ own dramatic comeback attempt. It capped a remarkable three-road game playoff run that also saw victories in Philadelphia and Atlanta.
Neither team has a major, obvious weakness at this point. Both have overwhelming strengths, big-play talents and a confidence borne of success. They also have the weight of history driving them along.
Rashard Mendenhall(notes), the Steelers’ young running back who churned out 121 yards and a touchdown, found himself on a postgame podium surrounded by legends Rocky Bleier and Franco Harris. He immediately felt like he couldn’t possibly belong: “I was looking around saying, ‘Why isn’t Troy [Polamalu] or Hines [Ward] up here? Why are you guys asking me?’ ”
Ward may not have felt any more comfortable. This was his fifth AFC championship game, and he’ll soon make his third Super Bowl appearance, the first two resulting in victories. Sunday he caught a pass in his 16th consecutive postseason game – a remarkable accomplishment in most places but not even enough to equal John Stallworth’s franchise record of 17 here.
That’s what being a Steeler is about, he said; you follow a well-worn path to greatness and hope to measure up.
“You don’t feel close to the ’70s,” Ward said of his era’s accomplishments, “but you feel a part of that [history].”
Across the Steelers’ locker room Sunday, there was a sense of excitement about their opponent. Green Bay’s good, they all noted. Really good, which is exactly how they want it. To be the best they want to beat the best.
“We know we’ve got a tough opponent in Green Bay,” Ward said. “They’ve got a tough opponent as well.”
So here comes Titletown vs. the town with the most Super Bowl titles, the seventh-oldest franchise (Pittsburgh) against the third (Green Bay), a fight song that calls for “bringing the bacon back to old Green Bay” and one that proudly expects it’s going to the big game.
Here comes the old-school Super Bowl.
Here we go, the fans here kept singing during another late-January victory celebration, the kind they’ve grown used to for decades now.
Here we go.
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