Jerry Green: Dallas my new No. 1


Jerry Green

Years and years ago, in another century, when all this Super Bowl stuff started as a shotgun wedding between two enemy leagues, the football games were duds and the arrangements were colossal.

We’d tool off for Los Angeles, or New Orleans, or Miami — and the league functionaries would synchronize their NFL watches. Everything worked — the media interview sessions, the daily bus ventures to the team hotels to grill the athletes, the restaurants, the parties. Even the service in our jammed hotels.

All was hunky-dory — except for the football games, the primary reason for the overflow of hype.

You could walk on the sidewalks of the Super Bowl towns without the danger of skidding onto your bum — except for New Orleans on Bourbon Street. No sidewalk. There, the mobs congested across the pavement, every individual lugging a plastic cup containing some amber liquid.

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Even Detroit — cursed by my colleagues from coast to coast — excelled.

Twice!

And every human being with the wherewithal to purchase a game ticket was admitted into the Super Bowl stadium and could sit down to watch the game.

Midweek during the countdown to Super Bowl XLV in North Texas, Roger Goodell asked me to account for my good fortune to have covered all 45 of these extravaganzas.

“Timing and survival,” I responded to the Lord High Commissioner of the NFL. The truth as I see it.

“Timing and survival?” Goodell repeated.

Yep, The Detroit News promoted me to pro football beat writer late in the 1965 season. Then the merger occurred six months later, just before my actual rookie season. Super Bowl I was the result of the forced alliance between the National and American Football leagues.

And the survival — well, The News has seen fit to keep assigning me to Super Bowls, even in unofficial retirement.

I normally throw nothing away, particularly the memories. So, having covered 45 Super Bowls and having been witness to the festivities before every football game, I am asked frequently about my choice as to the best host city. Quickly praising Detroit and the marvelous work of Roger Penske and his assistant, Susan Sherer, I then mention New Orleans as a favorite town to visit.

Nobody ever considered asking me the worst Super Bowl city.

Jacksonville wins

This could stand as an apology to Jacksonville, Fla.

Li’l old Jacksonville has emerged from the cellar.

You could walk on the sidewalks there — once we were bus-lifted into town from the boonies.

Dallas, with its Texas delusions of grandeur, has flopped into last place. On my personal list, anyway.

Soon after my conversation about timing and survival had ended, it was an appropriate time for dinner. We went out to a hot steakhouse. Over-priced, too.

The walk from the hotel and the Motorola Media Center — the NFL, so needy, is selling naming rights to large press and radio rooms, too, now. It was a four-block walk. Every step was treacherous Dallas could not control the weather — and neither could Goodell — during the last days of January and the first days of February. But after the snows hit North Texas the result was civic bewilderment.

The city officials in Dallas and the preening bureaucrats throughout North Texas just don’t know how to melt ice. They lack the fundamental knowledge about how to clean snow off the streets and pavements.

Dallas has flopped into last place because walking to restaurants there during the Super Bowl — a supposed festival attracting visitors from across the globe — was flopping dangerous.

No matter what, Detroit is capable of melting ice off the streets and sidewalks without imperiling drivers and pedestrians. All of Michigan has this knowledge without any delusions of grandeur.

We cheer just when Eminem appears in a Chrysler commercial with glowing cityscapes — imported from Detroit.

Then there was the super Super Bowl snafu.

People who purchased tickets and expected to watch a football game in Jerry Jones’ Cowboys Stadium were turned away at the gate. Their temporary seats were not approved by the fire chief in the Dallas suburb of Arlington. Some of those deprived already have filed lawsuits.

The NFL took responsibility for this failure. But Jones, swaggering, delusional owner of the Cowboys, and his helpers did not have his stadium ready for a seating emergency, according to Arlington city officials.

And ice chunks dropping from the roof of the stadium injured workers preparing the joint before the game.

There have been freezes and snow at New Orleans and Florida Super Bowl sites in the past. Those places coped with the results of the foul weather.

Keep on keeping on

Then came one more example of the Texan delusion of grandeur as I was making my escape from Dallas the other day — for California. I came upon the lead editorial in the Dallas Morning News.

Headline: “Let’s Do It Again.”

Then paragraph 5: “If you believe in North Texas as one of the nation’s premier locations to put on a big show and have a great time while doing it, you’re darn right it was.”

Well, gild the lily.

The editorial then admitted to all the mess-ups in the North Texas Super Bowl and pleaded for the NFL to ignore the failures. The editorial begged for the NFL to consider North Texas as a premier site for Super Bowl L, No. 50, in 2016. That is Jerry Jones’ newest delusion.

And that could be Goodell’s delusion, also.

The NFL is rolling forward at an overdrive speed. It is cutting corners in an economic malaise, with pro football at its peak popularity. Last Sunday’s Super Bowl hit the top rating of any TV show ever. The Nielsen ratings fact-finders announced that the game was viewed by 111 million zealots. The past four Super Bowls fit into the five highest-rated TV shows in the history of the medium, according to Nielsen.

And the NFL with its blunders in North Texas and worse, a possible lockout of the players next month, is racing into a cement wall. Contract meetings with the NFL Players Association and with the NFL owners have been canceled in the few days after the fiasco in Dallas.

This after Goodell’s annual State of the League news conference in Dallas.

“We need to have intense round-the-clock negotiations to address the issues and find a solution,” he told us.

Super Bowl XLV, despite the environment, turned into another colossal pro football game. I’m proud to be one of the nine media survivors — four writers, four photographers and the head of NFL films — who have covered all XLV of them.

I just hope there is a Super Bowl XLVI a year from now and hope to cover it.

For the NFL — and for Goodell — it’s a matter of timing and survival.

Bob Wojnowski: Big Bad Ben will beat the warm, fuzzy Packers


Bob Wojnowski

The Green Bay Packers are a nice, warm story straight out of the cold. Aaron Rodgers is a freshly minted star, clean-cut and sharp-throwing.

Fans like the Packers. Experts love the Packers to beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. One ESPN survey of national prognosticators had 31 of 45 picking the Packers.

I’m not here to spoil anyone’s Super fun. You’ll probably ruin it anyhow by serving too many vegetables and not enough meatballs at your party. I’m here to tell you the newest American Anti-Hero is about to be Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, like it or not.

Hate Big Bad Ben if you wish. Some of his alleged off-field behavior has been deplorable. I don’t know if he has become a better person, but it doesn’t really matter today. The man is as tough and clutch as any quarterback ever, and the Steelers are the nastiest bunch in football, which is why they’ll beat the Packers.

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This should be a classic because both teams belong, both play great defense and both have tremendous quarterbacks. The Steelers will win 31-24, and that should set up an entertaining dilemma for Disney, which always tapes a post-Super Bowl commercial, asking a star player where he’s going next. To Disney World? Uh, not sure that’d be Roethlisberger’s choice, but if you want your sports stars wrapped in neat, tidy packages, sorry.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are the NFL’s shiniest long-time stars. Rodgers, playing in his first Super Bowl, probably is next. But guess what? Roethlisberger’s playoff record (10-2) is better than all of them, better than Brady’s 14-5 and way better than Manning’s 9-10.

As you know, the Lions have steadfastly declined to participate in Super Bowls, and the popular theory is, it’s because they’ve never had the quarterback. We don’t know if they have him now, with Matthew Stafford’s shoulder woes. But it’s not that simple. You must have the defense too, and Pittsburgh and Green Bay have the league’s best.

The AFC has been dominated for years by Roethlisberger, Brady and Manning. But you know how many different NFC quarterbacks have reached the Super Bowl the past eight years? Eight. The Lions certainly aren’t ready for that yet, but eventually, it’ll be there for the taking, and it doesn’t just take a great quarterback.

When the Steelers beat the Seahawks 21-10 in Super Bowl XL at Ford Field, Roethlisberger was mostly miserable — 9-for-21 for 123 yards and two interceptions. That was five years ago, and even though he was outstanding beating the Cardinals two years ago, it’s as if Super Bowl XL somehow tainted him.

If the Steelers prevail now, Roethlisberger, 28, officially would rank among the all-time elite, only the fifth quarterback to win three Super Bowls, joining Joe Montana (four), Terry Bradshaw (four), Troy Aikman (three) and Brady (three).

At 6-foot-5, 241 pounds, Roethlisberger sometimes is unorthodox, sometimes inaccurate. But he makes clutch plays and shakes off tacklers better than anyone, and he’ll need to. This won’t be easy, with standout rookie center Maurkice Pouncey sidelined, further weakening Pittsburgh’s offensive line. The blitz-happy Packers, led by Clay Matthews, had 47 sacks in the regular season, second only to — naturally — the Steelers’ 48.

The Steelers’ defense is slightly better, and more punishing. Linebacker James Harrison, who rang up $100,000 in fines this season, spent part of the week mocking commissioner Roger Goodell for cracking down on brutal hits. Harrison’s classic: “I just want to tackle them softly on the ground, and if ya’ll can, lay a pillow down where I tackle them so they don’t hit the ground too hard. OK, Mr. Goodell?”

Niiiice. And nasty.

The Steelers’ ground game, with underrated Rashard Mendenhall, is better. Green Bay won’t be able to run on Pittsburgh, and one dimension just isn’t enough.

That’s my dime-store analysis, and I’m sorry if it’s not as in-depth as the biggest story this week out of Dallas: “Roethlisberger took teammates to a piano bar Tuesday night, warbled a Billy Joel song and ran up a $1,000 tab! Oh no!”

Oh who cares? It’d only truly be a story if Roethlisberger belted out a Josh Groban tune.

Actually, it’d only be a story if Roethlisberger displayed more ugly behavior. He has been accused of sexual assault twice in two years, and although he wasn’t convicted of anything, he was suspended four games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

No one’s brushing aside disgusting behavior. But just as Michael Vick is entitled to rebuild his image, so is Roethlisberger. He tried mightily during Super Bowl week, answering critical questions with charm and humor.

People shouldn’t be fooled by that, either. Perceptions rightly are forged on the field, and Roethlisberger is one of the toughest, grimiest ever to play quarterback. That’s who he is, who the Steelers are, who they’ve always been. A vivid, vicious reminder is due.

bob.wojnowski@detnews.com

Jerry Green: Hines Ward is Steelers’ latest big catch


Jerry Green

Former News staff writer Jerry Green is one of only four sportswriters to cover every Super Bowl. Read Green’s columns all week from Super Bowl XLV in The Detroit News.

Fort Worth, Texas — The Pittsburgh quarterback dropped back, then fired a cannon shot. Way downfield, the receiver tooled into overdrive, leaped and twisted in flight. The football struck his fingertips and stuck. Without losing a step the receiver stepped onward for a touchdown.

Lynn Swann from Terry Bradshaw, 64 yards — Super Bowl X in Miami’s Orange Bowl.

Again, four years later, the Pittsburgh quarterback dropped back, then fired another cannon shot. Downfield, the receiver ran from the slot, with two defenders attached, hooked, pirouetted and escaped in a gallop downfield.

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John Stallworth from Bradshaw, 73 yards — Super Bowl XIV in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.

Again, now 26 years later, the Pittsburgh quarterback dropped back and fired another shot, this one looping. Along the sideline the receiver caught the football in flight, and kept going for the touchdown.

Hines Ward from Ben Roethlisberger, 43 yards — Super Bowl XL in Detroit’s Ford Field.

Three imperishable Super Bowl flashbacks. Three plays vivid in my memory.

Swann, Stallworth and Ward. They are joined.

“What do they mean to me?” Hines Ward told me with a laugh and a huge smile. “Man, they epitomize what the Steelers wide receivers are.

“It’s a big honor to have my name mentioned with them. Those guys won four Super Bowls. I have the opportunity to win three.”

This was at another media session, in the Steelers’ practice facility here on the campus of Texas Christian University Wednesday morning five days before their Super Bowl XLV matchup with the Packers.

Hines Ward faced a jungle of video cameras and he was prepared for the event.

His own man

Two caps — a Pirates cap and then a Super Bowl XLV cap — for a bit of variety for the photos. They replaced the black Stetson cowboy hat he wore Monday for a press session.

Already Ward has surpassed Swann and Stallworth — both in the Pro Football Hall of Fame — in career catches.

“I don’t try to emulate anybody,” he told the media. “I don’t try to be like any other receiver. When I’m long gone away from this game, when they mention Hines Ward, I just want them to say, ‘He’s a helluva football player.’

“That’s really what I want to be, just a great football player. I don’t get caught up with who catches the ball or whatever. If my opportunity is there, I want to come up big for my teammates . . .

“We’re just a bunch of resilient guys who stood up together — band of brothers, really. We came together and here we are.

“Our third Super Bowl in six years.”

The Pittsburgh Steelers — in the same manner as Green Bay — are ingrained in pro football history and tradition.

“Every time we get to walk into our offices we see six Lombardi trophies,” Ward said. “Expectations are very high in Pittsburgh.

“I remember winning the second Super Bowl and the question the next day was if we were going to win it again next year. Every year we go into training camp, that’s all we preach: the Super Bowl.

“Some teams talk about the Super Bowl. But they’re just pretenders. Every year we have a legitimate chance of making it to the playoffs and we all know that once you make the playoffs and make a run, you get the opportunity to go to the Super Bowl.”

Special talent

The names change. Ward’s fellow receivers change. This season, Mike Wallace actually caught one pass more than Ward. Heath Miller, the tight end, is one of Roethlisberger’s favorite targets. Rookie receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, out of Central Michigan, have been contributors in the postseason.

“There’s only one ball for everybody,” Ward said at TCU.

Sunday, on many plays, it will be Ward against Charles Woodson, who played and starred at Michigan and is one of just two Packers with experience in a Super Bowl. It will be a featured matchup between a receiver and a defender, both bound for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. A Super Bowl XVL subplot.

“I was a big fan of Charles in college,” said Ward, who played at Georgia. “We both made the All-America team. He can play corner, safety, nickel, linebacker, strong safety. He can pick the ball off, make you fumble. He’s a great tackler.

“He’s definitely a special player.”

So is Hines Ward.

Super Bowl XLV

Who: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Green Bay Packers

Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas

TV/radio: Fox (Channel 2 in Detroit)/WXYT

Records: Steelers 14-4; Packers 13-6 Line: Packers by 2 1/2

Super Bowl histories: Eighth game for Steelers (6-1 record); fifth game for Packers (3-1)