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Sports Then and Now

Steelers and Packers Recall Prestigious Pasts in First Time Super Bowl Matchup

Posted on February 05, 2011 by Chris Kent

Black and gold versus green and gold. Legacies like the “Steel Curtain” and the “Frozen Tundra.” Past history like The “Immaculate Reception” and the Ice Bowl.

Great moments like the grace of Lynn Swann’s acrobatic catch in Super Bowl X against Dallas and the one-yard plunge by Bart Starr off a key block by guard Jerry Kramer and center Ken Bowman to beat the Cowboys in the famous Ice Bowl. Pittsburgh versus Green Bay. Super Bowl XLV.

Sunday’s Super Bowl matches two of the National Football League’s storied franchises. A past filled with premier players, many who are today’s hall of famers. Steeler icons such as Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, and Mike Webster on offense.

One of the best ever catches in Super Bowl history came from Lynn Swann against the Cowboys in Super Bowl X as shown by this diving catch.

“Mean Joe” Greene and L.C. Greenwood combined with the late Dwight White and the late Ernie Holmes in the trenches to form the vaunted “Steel Curtain” defense. Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Mel Blount, and Donnie Shell teamed with that foursome to create one of the best defenses ever. Super Bowl winning coaches like Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, both who coached Rod Woodson, a hall of fame defensive back and kick returner who played most of his career for Pittsburgh.

The prestigious heritage for the Packers on offense lies in the names of Starr, Jim Taylor, Forrest Gregg, Fuzzy Thurston, Jerry Kramer, Jim Ringo, Don Hutson, James Lofton, and more recently Brett Favre. Green Bay’s defensive history lies behind the likes of Ray Nitschke, Willie Davis, Ted Hendricks, Willie Wood, and the late Reggie White, who was known as the “Minister of Defense.” White shares the Super Bowl record for most sacks in a game with three which he recorded in the Packers’ 35-21 win over New England in Super Bowl XXXI, Green Bay’s first Super Bowl win in 29 years. Coaches like Earl Louis “Curly” Lambeau, Vince Lombardi, and Mike Holmgren.

While the permanent status of today’s Steelers and Packers are still to be determined, each team boasts some of the game’s top players.

Ever since the Ice Bowl game in December of 1967, Lambeau Field has been called the Frozen Tundra.

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is already 2-0 in Super Bowls and a win Sunday would make him 3-0 before he turns age 30. The Steelers’ all-time leading receiver, Hines Ward is a crafty veteran and was the most valuable player of Super Bowl XL.

Second-year wide receiver Mike Wallace is perhaps the fastest player in the league and lead Pittsburgh in receiving with 60 catches for 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns, giving him a 21 yards per catch average. Third-year running back Rashard Mendenhall scored a team-high 13 touchdowns and lead the team in rushing with 1,273 yards on 324 carrries.

Although he has a ways to go to equal Webster, rookie center Maurkice Pouncey had an excellent first season. However his status as to whether or not he will play Sunday is unclear as he suffered an ankle injury in the loss to the Jets in the AFC Championship game on Jan. 23. Second-year center Doug Legursky is Pouncey’s backup.

Although he was considered to be on the downside of his career after 12 inconsistent seasons in Dallas, offensive tackle Flozell Adams has helped solidify the Steelers’ line. Tight end Heath Miller has emerged as a quality receiver and blocker to help give Pittsburgh options on offense. Miller caught 42 passes for 512 yards this season and scored a pair of touchdowns.

Defensively, Troy Polamalu is one of the game’s best safeties and was named the Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press this season. Polamalu tied his career high with seven interceptions this season, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

Troy Polamalu dives toward Ray Rice of Baltimore to make a play in the divisional playoffs this season (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images).

The Steelers’ linebackers are the heart of their defense. Larry Foote, James Farrior, and James Harrison bring 30 years of combined experience while Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley bring youth and athleticism, as four-year veterans. Up front, Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, and Brett Keisel are 12, 10, and 9-year veterans respectively who lend experience on the defensive line.

Pittsburgh has the edge in experience as they are making their third trip to the Super Bowl in the last six seasons during which they claimed victory in Super Bowls XL and XLIII. A total of 13 Steelers have been together for this stretch with all of them having seen game action in one of the franchise’s prior two title games. This group includes Roethlisberger, Miller, Ward, Hampton, Farrior, Foote, cornerback Ike Taylor, Polamalu, Harrison, Keisel, Smith, cornerback Bryant McFadden, and reserve nose tackle Chris Hoke. Nine of these 13 players have started both title games.

While Green Bay can’t match this experience, they do have at least one player who has been to the big game before in cornerback Charles Woodson. The 1997 Heisman Trophy winner out of the University of Michigan was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year following the 2009 season when he had a career-high nine interceptions. He became the first Packer to claim the award since White in 1998 and is the oldest defensive player to ever receive the honor.

Woodson was part of the Oakland Raiders’ team that lost to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII. He has continued to play at a high level in his later years as he has had seven or more interceptions in three of his five seasons in Green Bay. Woodson had 92 tackles and 13 passes defensed this year in addition to recording five forced fumbles, two sacks, and two interceptions.

Veteran cornerback Charles Woodson has been a major part of Green Bay's defense.

Woodson has plenty of help on defense as the Packers ranked fifth in the league in yards allowed per game at 309.1. Second-year nose tackle B.J. Raji is a load at 6-foot-2 and 337 pounds. Named to the Pro Football Weekly and the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Teams following the 2009 season, Raji helped clog the middle against opposing rushers this season and had 6.5 sacks.

Raji’s fourth-quarter interception of third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie with 6:04 left in the NFC Championship game against Chicago gave Green Bay a 21-7 lead. It was one of the biggest plays of the year for the Packers and virtually sent them to the Super Bowl. Ryan Pickett and Cullen Jenkins bookend Raji as veteran defensive ends with 10 and seven years of experience respectively.

While they might not be household names like Farrior, Foote, Harrison, and Woodley are for the Steelers, Green Bay’s linebackers are key players in their own right. A.J. Hawk, Clay Matthews III, Erik Walden, and Desmond Bishop each had multiple tackles in the conference championship win over the Bears with Bishop leading the way with seven. Hawk and Matthews III each had five tackles.

Matthews wreaked havoc all season long and finished second to Polamalu in voting for the AP Defensive Player of the Year award. Matthews, whose father Clay Jr. was a four-time pro bowl linebacker in the 1980’s for the Cleveland Browns, lead the Packers with 13.5 sacks this season, good for fourth in the NFL. Matthews also placed fifth on the team with 60 tackles, including 54 solo.

Complementing Woodson in the secondary are fellow cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. Nick Collins and Charlie Peprah roam at the safety spots. Williams, Collins, and Peprah have each played four years or more. Williams lead Green Bay with six interceptions this season while Collins was second with four. Woodson, Shields, and Peprah had two picks apiece.

Offensively, Aaron Rodgers has emerged as a top flight pro quarterback. The

Aaron Rodgers scores a touchdown against Chicago in the NFC Championship game on Jan. 23.

third-year starter was named the FedEx Air NFL Offensive Player of the Year. Rodgers threw for 3,922 yards, 28 touchdowns, and had the league’s sixth best mark in completion percentage at 65.7. He has a great arm, agile feet, smarts, and a quick release.

After losing Ryan Grant to injured reserve for most of the season, Brandon Jackson has stepped up to carry most of the rushing load. Jackson leads the team on the ground with 703 yards on 190 rushes with three touchdowns.

Greg Jennings leads the Packers in receiving with 1,265 yards on 76 catches, 12 for touchdowns, all team-bests. Donald Driver, in his 12th season out of Alcorn State, made 51 catches for 565 yards and scored four touchdowns. James Jones had 50 receptions for 679 yards and five touchdowns while Jordy Nelson had 45 receptions for 582 yards and two touchdowns.

The offensive line is anchored by 11-year veteran tackle Chad Clifton. Center Scott Wells and guard Daryn Colledge are also veteran players up front that protect Rodgers and open holes for the backs.

So there are the key performers on offense and defense for both Pittsburgh and the Packers. The stage is set for two marquee teams on the grandest stage of them all. Including Sunday’s game, the Steelers and Green Bay have combined to appear in 13 of the 45 Super Bowls which is better than a quarter of the time at 28.8 percent.

Terry Bradshaw eludes pressure from Dallas in Super Bowl XIII.

This will be Pittsburgh’s eighth trip to the Super Bowl which ties Dallas for the most appearances ever. The Steelers are 6-1 all-time in the Super Bowl with their only loss coming to Dallas after the 1995 season in Super Bowl XXX. The Packers are 3-1 in their four trips with their only loss coming to Denver in Super Bowl XXXII following the 1997 season. Thus, these two franchises have a combined 9-2 record in Super Bowls, the most wins ever between teams matching up in the Super Bowl.

While the offenses can hold their own and compete with the other top teams in the league, their defenses are what got them here. Ten of the 13 Steelers who already have two Super Bowl rings are on defense and include guys like Hampton, Farrior, Foote, Harrison, and Polamalu. They evoke images of Greene, Greenwood, Lambert, Ham, and Blount in that dominating defense of yesterday.

For Green Bay; Raji, Jenkins, Pickett, Hawk, Matthews III, and Woodson all recall the 1960 Packer teams that had Nitschke, Davis, and Wood before landing talents like Hendricks and White in later decades. Rodgers, Jennings, Driver, Jackson, Clifton, Wells and Colledge all bring back memories of the Green Bay teams lead by Starr and Favre.

Defense will certainly have a lot to do with the outcome of this Super Bowl. Sunday’s game features the top two defenses in the league in points allowed during the regular season. Pittsburgh ranks first after allowing 232 points or 14.5 per game while the Packers are second, surrendering just 240 points for an average of 15.0 per contest.

Nose tackle B.J. Raji scores a touchdown following his interception against Chicago in the NFC title game on Jan. 23 (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images).

Furthermore, both teams ranked in the top five in the NFL in third down defense during the regular season. The Steelers were second allowing its’ opponents to convert only 34 percent (70-of-209) of the time while Green Bay was fifth at 36 percent (77-of-213). Negating third down conversions means you are eliminating long drives and thus keeping teams from accumulating the advantage in time of possession.

While Rodgers has significantly diminished the shadow of Favre – who he backed up for three years after being the Packers’ first-round draft pick in 2005 – a win over the Steelers would eliminate it. Despite all Favre’s glory, many people – even Green Bay fans – view Favre as a villain for the way he exited the Packers and what has transpired since. Rodgers has remained cool and collect in developing his own talent in taking control of the Green Bay ship and steadily steering it back to the Super Bowl over his three seasons as a starter.

Meanwhile Roethlisberger looks to add to his legacy. A win on Sunday would make him 3-0 in Super Bowls and he would enter into elite company with the likes of Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, and Tom Brady as quarterbacks who have won three or more Super Bowls.

Look for each of these teams to make some big plays on offense. While they are capable of it, neither team really grinds out long drives. Both teams use the pass and run games well and mix in big plays here and there.

Ben Roethlisberger sets to pass against Seattle in Super Bowl XL.

Look for receivers like Donald Driver and Hines Ward to provide turning points with big plays regardless if they are big gainers or just plays that move the chains. More often than not, these types of plays can go either way.

These two franchises have played in some of the best and closest Super Bowls ever. Pittsburgh edged Dallas twice by four points in Super Bowls X and XIII in the 70’s before losing to the Cowboys by 10 in Super Bowl XXX. That game was a three-point game in the fourth quarter with 4:15 remaining before Dallas scored a touchdown that propelled them to victory.

Two years later, the Packers played a memorable game against Denver in Super Bowl XXXII. A close game throughout, the Broncos broke a 24-24 tie when Terrell Davis scored a touchdown on a one-yard run with 1:45 left to play. Green Bay took the ensuing kickoff and drove to the Denver 39 where a fourth down pass by Favre fell incomplete as the Broncos won.

Want even more drama? How about the Steelers’ most recent trip to the big game. After leading the whole game, Pittsburgh fell behind Arizona 23-20 with 2:37 to play in Super Bowl XLIII.

Roethlisberger answered with an eight-play 78-yard drive in 2:02 that he capped off with a six-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes. The Steelers led 27-23 following the point after and although 35 seconds remained, Pittsburgh held on for the dramatic win.

Considering the history of these two franchises and their competitive nature, more drama could be in store this Sunday. One way or the other, one team is sure to add to its’ mystique.

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