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Matt Barrie, NBCDFW.com
When the game started, it looked like Super Bowl XLV would go down as one of the worst in history.
It ended with Aaron Rodgers taking his place at the game's highest level thanks to the affirmation that comes with being a Super Bowl champion. Rodgers threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Packers to a 31-25 victory and their fourth Super Bowl title. His performance earned him a well-deserved MVP award, although Greg Jennings also needs to get a mention for his two touchdowns and key fourth quarter catch to set up a field goal. Rodgers got the nod, though, because he kept his head about him as the Packers were losing a huge lead and a couple of key players to injuries.
Charles Woodson and Donald Driver each missed the second half because of injuries and the Packers went from being up 18 points to being in a dogfight during a third quarter that saw them get just one first down. Rodgers led them to 10 points in the fourth quarter on Sunday, and through 15 season-ending injuries in the regular season to confirm once and for all all whether or not the Packers were right to dump Brett Favre to hand him the job.
Rodgers's huge night was a welcome diversion from the comedy of errors that was Dallas's foray into the world of Super Bowl hosts. The weather created one disaster after another, culminating in people getting hurt by ice falling off Cowboys Stadium. Gameday proved no respite as Sunday began with news that 1,250 fans were going to be forced out of their seats because no one with the NFL or the Cowboys bothered to make sure that the seats they sold were actually usable by human beings who spent a lot of their own money to get there.
The league did find seats for 850 of those affected, with the other 400 given triple the face value back along with the chance to watch the game on monitors in Cowboys Stadium. There had to be 400 employees of the league or its member teams at the game, all of whom should have been watching from those monitors instead of fans who made the pilgrimage to the game. The fact that there was so much temporary seating in the first place was because of Jerry Jones's demented goal of having more people at this Super Bowl than at any other. He fell short, even though he counted media members, people watching the game on TV outside and everyone in Texas who is a registered Republican.
Thank goodness for small favors, although we can't thank anyone for being exposed to Christina Aguilera's whack at the National Anthem. It was overlong, oversung and would have been much worse if she had actually bothered to learn the words before stepping up to the microphone. Every fan at the game should get triple their money back for having to sit through that.
Once the game finally started, things didn't get much better. Both teams struggled early, until the Pack finally got on track with a Jordy Nelson touchdown catch. An interception return by Nick Collins made it 14-0 and Jennings got his first score a bit later to make this start to resemble one of the ugly games from the 90's.
How bad did it get? There was a moment in the second quarter when it seemed like half the viewing audience might disappear.
The Steelers were down 21-3 with a Black Eyed Peas halftime abomination looming as a threat to destroy whatever goodwill the NFL has built up over the last five or six decades. Ben Roethlisberger stepped up, though, and led a strong drive that culminated in a Hines Ward touchdown. That kept people watching, even if they flipped channels during the excruciating halftime, and they were rewarded for their efforts when the Steelers made it a one-score game early in the third quarter.
The Steelers comeback was all the more impressive because of the way they kept shooting themselves in the foot. Roethlisberger threw two interceptions, Rashard Mendenhall fumbled and the Packers turned all three into touchdowns. Mike Tomlin also quaked under the pressure of the moment by opting to take a 52-yard field goal with the score 21-17 in the third quarter. He could have pinned the Packers deep or gone for it, but instead tried a long kick with Shaun Suisham. If he was surprised that it was an unforgivable shank, he was the only one.
Thankfully for the Steelers (and the viewing public), the Packers complied with mistakes of their own. Jordy Nelson and James Jones provided both quality and quantity of dropped passes to keep the game closer than it probably should have been. Nelson dropped three balls to greatly mitigate his otherwise effective play while Jones dropped what would have been an absolute dagger of a touchdown in the third quarter. Those drops, combined with the injuries, helped keep Pittsburgh in the game. We should probably be thankful for that, but it didn't make for a sparkling watch.
So, in the end, it wasn't a game that quite lived up to the hype. Too many blunders and errors marred the proceedings to call it one of the best games we've ever seen. It was close, though, and the Steelers had a chance to win on their final drive. You can't ask for much more than that out of a Super Bowl, even one that had as many bad vibes around it as this one.
For a time, it seemed like Roethlisberger might be the one authoring a sterling final chapter. Media members who confused escaping punishment for alleged sexual assault for actually overcoming obstacles had turned him into a redemption story, but it fell short when he couldn't complete a fourth down pass to Mike Wallace with 49 seconds to play. Not sure how that plays into the narrative created for him -- is he now back to being a bad guy? -- but he's not going to be the story.
Rodgers is the headliner because he's now the newest member of the NFL's quarterbacking elite at this hour. His ascent is the defining storyline of Super Bowl XLV and, given the age and talent of the Packers roster, it's not likely to be his last shot at the trophy named after the former Packers coach. If he makes good on those chances, we'll be talking about how he stacks up next to Bart Starr instead of the guy that will hopefully be in Mississippi for the next football season.
All in all, it's a pretty nice way to wrap things up for the 2010 season. The Packers are the champions of the world and 31 other teams are already gunning for them.