ARLINGTON, Texas – Brett Favre finally leaves the picture. He began to vanish the moment Aaron Rodgers completed his first pass in Super Bowl XLV on Sunday night, and with every bullwhip crack to another receiver, Rodgers fattened and Favre thinned until, by the end, there was barely a wisp of No.4 left.
The last of his shadow was erased on a single play that forever will be known in Green Bay as “Third-and-10” – the Packers breathing hard, clinging to a lead that had once been 18 and now was three. They were injured and exhausted, missing star players on both sides of the ball.
Third-and-10. Under six minutes left in the game. Ball at their 25. Everything had been tilting Pittsburgh’s way in the second half, and you knew, you just knew, that if the Packers punted they’d lose the lead and not see it again.
On such moments are careers made. Favre built his legend turning drives like this into victories. Now, finally, it was Rodgers’ turn. The 27-year-old out of Chico, Calif., who had defined the word “waiting” in the NFL, stepped to the line. He had been sacked two plays earlier. The stadium sounded like a Steelers pep rally.
Yet somehow Rodgers took the snap deep in his territory and planted with the poise that a guy with no Super Bowl experience is never supposed to have. Then he whipped a perfect pass smack down the middle, over the outstretched fingers of a Pittsburgh defender and into the waiting arms of receiver Greg Jennings, who didn’t go down until 31 yards later.
Third-and-10 became First-and-Glory. And while there was still time left, that was the deal-breaker, the brass ring, the moment that a No.6 seed went over the hump and, as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would later say, the “smallest city won the biggest game.”
Lombardi goes home. Rodgers gets his due.
About time, no?
Just like Montana and Young
Green Bay can let go now, let go of the whispers that maybe Favre should have stayed longer, that Rodgers, who sat before Favre and had to deal his retirement and non-retirement, was promising but still uncrowned.
He’s crowned now. MVP of the Super Bowl – something Favre never achieved – and with the same number of rings as Brett. And the way Rodgers did it Sunday night? With all the things conspiring against the Packers in the second half?
“It’s what I dreamt about as a little kid watching Joe Montana and Steve Young,” Rodgers said after the Packers’ 31-25 victory. “We just won the Super Bowl!”
Uh, yeah. And you’re going to Disney World. It’s true that, until that Third-and-10, Rodgers seemed destined to be some kind of Moses, overlooking the Promised Land but denied entrance. The Packers’ longtime star receiver, Donald Driver, had left the game injured, as had star cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Sam Shields. Pittsburgh, after trailing, 21-3, was rolling – and Ben Roethlisberger had mastered championship comebacks before.
Which is what made that pass to Jennings such a backbreaker. “Huge!” Jennings would say. Once he caught it, the Pittsburgh fans quieted, the Packers stood up taller, they chewed up a drive that finished with a field goal and left just over two minutes on the clock. Pittsburgh never scored again.
“Bart Starr, Brett Favre, now Aaron Rodgers,” Driver gushed afterward.
That’s the song in Green Bay this morning.
Not a case of what-ifs
Now, of course, one player doesn’t win it by himself. Green Bay’s defense was terrific. You could also argue that, on a day that Roethlisberger doesn’t throw two dumb interceptions and Rashard Mendenhall doesn’t fumble the ball away, the Steelers win this contest comfortably. And Troy Polamalu? Did he suit up, or just his hair? But that’s a make-believe game. We only have the real one. And the most important statistic of that real one was this: Green Bay turned all three Pittsburgh turnovers into touchdowns – two of those on Rodgers’ passes.
Without Rodgers, the Packers’ ship sinks. “We put it all on his shoulders,” Mike McCarthy, his coach, admitted. Rodgers completed 24 of 39 passes for 304 yards, had three TDs, no picks. Most important, after a season of adversity, injuries, some weird losses and four straight playoff road games, he had the W. Let’s face it. You earn Packers kudos when you play well, but legend status only if you win it all.
“I’ve never felt like there’s been a monkey on my back,” Rodgers said. That’s because it just flew away. Brett Favre, like Bart Starr, is officially now part of Green Bay’s past. The present belongs to Rodgers. So does the future.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/mitch.