The 21-yard touchdown toss to Greg Jennings looked and felt oh-so familiar, so retro, didn’t it?
It was one of those hold-your-breath, squint-your-eyes and grit-your-teeth darts down the middle, the one that, an inch this way, an inch that way, and the post-game conversation very well might’ve centered on goat and gaffe instead of gutsy and great.
But Aaron Rodgers let it fly. The kid from Cal cocked his right arm and did his best Brett Favre. Rodgers didn’t do cautious. Not even in the Super Bowl, which was ballyhooed as a referendum on whether the Packers did the right thing three seasons ago, when management against an aging gunslinger’s wishes said farewell to Favre and gave the promising kid a chance to ditch the clipboard. That was the risk. Last night came the reward.
Rodgers led the Packers to their first Super Bowl title since you know who in 1997, doing just enough to outscore the mistake-prone Steelers, 31-25, in front of more than 103,000 spectators at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Fittingly, the game ended with the ball in the hands of Rodgers, who was named the Most Valuable Player after completing 24-of-39 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns. Favre won exactly one Super Bowl for the folks of Green Bay, a team owned by faithful fans that drive on snowy thoroughfares named for their football heroes.
These Packers have a strong nucleus led by a quarterback who’ll never have to answer another Favre-related query. Never again.
‘Showed His Mettle’
Players and coaches from both teams were asked about Rodgers. Professionals understand pressure. And they recognize and respect when a player erases doubts, fulfills potential and stakes his claim.
“He showed his mettle,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “I tip my hat to him for that.”
Bart Starr. Brett Favre. Aaron Rodgers. Yes, the kid belongs.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Rodgers, who clutched the, yup, Vince Lombardi Trophy in one arm and a wrestling-type belt in the other. “It’s what I dreamt about as a little kid watching Joe Montana and Steve Young.”
It was Young who sat on the bench behind Montana, the legend. It was the promise of Young that forced the hero out. It was Young who won it all, cementing his stature as one of the game’s best quarterbacks.
It was Young who, after winning his first Super Bowl, could be seen talking about the monkey no longer residing on his back. The 49ers were his.
These Packers now belong to Rodgers, who time and again put the passes right where they needed to be. Pinpoint. Like, say, the 31-yard, third-and-10 toss to Jennings that kept the chains moving, the clock ticking and, ultimately, put another three points on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter.
“Huge,” Jennings said.
Even Tomlin felt compelled to comment.
“That ball down the middle of the field to Jennings,” he said, his eyes going wide, “that’s big time.”
It’s the kind of superlative the football cognoscenti used to lob at Favre, who, it’s worth noting, didn’t reach out to his former understudy in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. No good luck. No atta boy. Nothing. And we all know that he’s familiar with text messaging.
Unlike Rodgers, who committed no miscues, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tossed a pair of interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown. Hard to win that way.
In all, there were three Pittsburgh turnovers, including a fourth-quarter fumble by running back Rashard Mendenhall that halted a Steelers drive in which they could’ve taken the lead.
There’s a tendency in all sports to focus solely on the superstars. Football is a team game, though. Packers Charles Woodson, Donald Driver and Sam Shields got hurt last night. Others performed.
Jordy Nelson, for instance, a walk-on at Kansas State -- on defense, no less -- caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. Rodgers threw. He caught. Again and again.
“You always dream big,” Nelson said.
Rodgers got a ride on the shoulders of his teammates. The ultimate honor, really. They more than anyone know what Rodgers has had to endure, the burden of replacing a legend.
Packers’ executives spent much of Super Bowl week answering questions about their former quarterback. Oh, how that tiny town loved No. 4, his howitzer, reckless abandon and childlike enthusiasm for the game.
Nobody, team President Mark Murphy said, wants to be known as the one that traded Favre. Except, it now seems, if the addendum states that it was to make room for Rodgers.
Back in 2005, when the Packers drafted a promising quarterback and asked him to sit, watch, listen and learn, Rodgers told them they wouldn’t be sorry. In 2008, when the team was his, Rodgers promised to repay management’s trust.
“He’s pretty special,” General Manager Ted Thompson said last night of his 27-year-old quarterback. “Even though he’s done so much, he’s still just kind of getting started.”
Favre, meantime, is finished.
Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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