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.
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.