Well we have finally arrived at the climax to the NFL season and the big talking point is the weather. We have two teams who are used to playing in freezing conditions and while we expected to be discussing how they would adapt to the heat of Dallas instead Dallas has snow. I wonder what the odds were of two teams from the frozen north meeting in the Superbowl in Dallas while Dallas was snowbound. Anyone betting on that at the start of the season would have made enough money to get a black market ticket to the game.
You should not confuse Superbowl XLV with Fireball xl5. XLV simply means this is the 45th Superbowl.
This post like the previous one with the badgers and mascara is a joint effort with Kai so although my name appears at the top of the page she deserves at least half of the blame.
We have each profiled one of the teams below but it is worth mentioning a few points about the game beforehand. Naturally as the playoffs are a knock out competition both teams are right at the top of their form just now so we can expect a competitive game. In the past there have been Superbowls which were so one-sided there was no real point in watching the second half but that won’t be the case today. Both teams have excellent defences and you can expect them to be on top for part of the game. However this does not mean they will neuter the game and make it dull. These guys can defend spectacularly so even if there is a spell in the game where the offence can’t make any progress you can expect to be entertained.
The Green Bay Packers
Background - How They Got Here
Historically, this is the team of Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, and The Championship Game of 1967 against the Dallas Cowboys, famously called “The Ice Bowl”. It was -20 F/-28C that day. So they wore long sleeves. This NFL synopsis film of the game is one of those quintessentially American celebrations of a fabled game when men were men, and life was set to an epic soundtrack.
Green Bay is the smallest city to have a National Football League team with a population of about 100,000, but what it lacks in numbers it more than makes up for in heart and dedication to “The Pack”. Wisconsin is known for its dairy farms and cheese production, so you’ll see fans (and players) dressed as Cheeseheads . Originally this was a disparaging term used against Wisconsinites, but they embraced it and now the fans are proud to proclaim they know the “whey”. ;)
This could be a good game. We’ll see two tough, physical teams from hard working communities fighting it out. We’ve got the best defensive players (with the longest hair) in the National Football League, one on each team, and both sides will be going for those quarterbacks.
The Packers arrive having won 10 games and lost 6 this season, including two losses in overtime games. They won their Wild Card Playoff game (which means they got into the playoffs by the hair of their chinny chin chins) and they even beat their bitter rivals, The Chicago Bears, 21-14 to get into the Superbowl. Because they’ve won their last 5 games, the word is that they are slightly favored today, but many Steelers fans will disagree. The Packers have a great track record after a bye week (a week off), so that bodes well for their chances.
Players to Watch
Obviously the Packers have lots of great players or they wouldn’t have made it this far, but here are a few to keep an eye on.
Quarterback: #12 Aaron Rodgers After 2 concussions this season he is healthy. He’s not shy about running and will take off if he has no open receivers.
Receiver: #85 Greg Jennings.
What’s that? 8 catches in each of the last 2 playoff games? Jennings is hot right now. We’ll see if he keeps his streak going.
Running Back: #44 James Starks (Rookie) His teammate, Chad Morton, says “He’s the most genuine person you’ll ever meet.” Starks hurt his hamstring in pre-season workouts and didn’t actually start games until December, so the Steelers don’t have a lot of film to watch to know how he runs. We know one thing: No matter how long he’s been doing this professionally, he can run.
The defense overall has been on the top of its game, limiting points per game to about 12 with plenty of sacks (tackling the quarterback). #52 Clay Matthews is responsible for 3.5 of those sacks in the playoffs. He’s an award winning linebacker with a big personality. Watch for the flowing blond hair. I can’t help but think that hair must be a hazard when guys are trying to bring him down. Ouch. But he’s a big boy, he can handle it.
Cornerback: #21 Charles Woodson - He used to be a ‘wild child’ when he played for the Oakland Raiders. Now he’s a family man living in Wisconsin and loving it. He was the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year.
I’ll include Coach Mike McCarthy in this list because the role of the coach is so integral to the game, unlike in European sports. He has been the coach of the Packers since 2006. In 2007 he was voted Coach of the Year by the NFL Alumni, and is known for his innovative ideas on offense.
For key match-ups to watch, check these:
Steven found a handy dandy “Depth Chart” for the Steelers, so I went rummaging around and found The Packers’ Depth Chart that shows who plays in what position on offense, defense, and special teams.
How They Win
The Packers need to protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers. If they don’t and he needs to pass the ball while trying to escape the Steelers’ Troy Polamalu and company, it could cost them the game.
- Green Bay is the second oldest franchise in the NFL, created in 1919. The Cardinals were the first, established in 1898, but they didn’t play continuously from that year, so some count Green Bay as the oldest continuously playing franchise.
- The Packers are the only non-profit, community-owned major league professional sports team in the United States.
- In the latest, ‘what is going on with the weather?’ news, this week has brought unusually cold temperatures for Texas, and they had twice their annual snowfall in one week. The forecasters say it will be in the 30’s F/ 3 C outside, but they’re playing in a dome, so the cold will only affect Jerry Jones’ parking lot viewers.
- The Dallas area is supposed to make about $350 million by hosting the Superbowl.
- Packers Coach Mike McCarthy was born and raised in Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the 5th oldest franchise in the NFL having been founded on July 8th 1933. They have won 6 Superbowls but these have not been spread evenly over history. They won 4 between 1975 and 1980 and then did not win another until 2006. The Steelers are the most successful team in Superbowl history followed by the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers who have won 5 times each. They won in 2009 so they have many players who know exactly what is need to land the trophy.
Where the Packers have the cheeseheads the Steelers have the terrible towels. These look like yellow face cloths but you can expect to see the Steelers fans waving them in their thousands over their heads on Sunday. It seems odd from the outside for fans of such a physically aggressive sport to wave dish cloths but is it really any stranger than fans of West Ham on a frozen winter’s day in the rain singing “I’m forever blowing bubbles”? The terrible towel was invented by broadcaster Myron Cope in 1975 just at the start of the most successful period in their history. The rights to the towel belong to a school for mentally and physically handicapped people and its sales have raised $2.5 million for the school.
How we got here
The Steelers finished the regular season with a better record than the Packers by winning 12 of 16 games. The NFL structure is a bit odd to European eyes in that it is split into two conferences each of which is split into 4 divisions. So 8 of the 32 teams win their division and those teams plus the two teams in each conference outwith the division winners who have the best win/loss record go through to the playoffs which is a knock out competition. Given this structure there is no need to have a great record over the season to make the Superbowl. A team simply has to make the playoffs and play really well in those matches.
As a result of this system the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons who had the best record in each conference over the regular season have been eliminated in the playoffs. In the post season playoffs the Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens 31-24 and the New York Jets 24-19 to make the Superbowl.
As mentioned in the previous post each team seems to have a couple of hundred players available to them but rather than read the whole list and struggle to make sense check out the depth chart. This shows all the players for each position and lists first, second and third choice. Some players will be listed more than once as they have multiple roles. To make things easier the depth chart has separate pages for offence, defence and special teams.
Those of you who have memorised the positions diagram in the previous post will have noticed that the Steelers defence is slightly different to the one shown. The diagram showed a 4-3 defence with 4 in the defensive line and 3 linebackers where the Steelers play a 3-4 defence. So instead on 2 defensive tackles they have a nose tackle who lines up in front of the opposition’s centre and they have two middle linebackers. The difference in these formations is simply down to the preference of each head coach but there are obviously strengths and weaknesses in each.
Players to watch
Quarterback #7 Ben Roethlisberger
The first player to look out for in any team is the quarterback as he controls all the offence. The Steelers’ quarterback is Ben Roethlisberger who is known as Big Ben because he is 6 foot 5. He has played in the two recent Steelers Superbowl winning teams. Like many professional sportsmen his off-field behaviour leaves a lot to be desired but his crimes are not suitable for discussion here.
Centre #53 Maurkice Pouncey
Despite being in his first season Pouncey has established himself as an important player in the Steelers team but unfortunately will not be able to play due to injury. His deputy #64 Doug Legursky has big shoes to fill and his connection with the quarterback is something to watch out for early in the match. If these two can’t get in sync the game could be lost before it starts. As if that was not a big enough problem starting each play a few inches in front of Legursky is Steelers 340 pound (24 stone) nose tackle B.J. Raji so Legursky has to safely give the quarterback the ball then get into a position to block the man mountain long enough to let the quarterback find a pass.
Wide receiver #86 Hines Ward
Ward is a very experienced member of the team having played 13 seasons since 1988. In that time he has caught 954 passes, gained 11,702 yards and scored 83 touchdowns. As well as being able to find open positions and having great hands Ward is also known as a great blocker. This serves the team well because while opponents are busy making sure they have him covered he can be blocking the opponent and creating an opening for a team mate.
Strong safety #43 Troy Polamalu
There is absolutely no doubt who the star of the defence is. Despite being only 5 foot 10 and weighing only 207 pounds Polamalu can regularly be seen knocking far bigger players out of his way as he homes in on the ball carrier with his long hair flowing behind him. When the Packers have the ball watch out for him.
Blitzing linebackers #92, #56, #94, #51
The four starting linebackers scored 29 sacks between them in the regular season. The Steelers don’t like to wait for the opposing quarterback to pass the ball and then intercept they like to send their linebackers after him before he has identified and open receiver. Aaron Rogers can expect to see these 4 and their back ups in his face regularly.
Just as each team has dozens of players so they have a dozen coaches. These coaches work under the leadership of head coach Mike Tomlin. Tomlin took over as head coach at the beginning of 2007 a year after the Steelers had won the Superbowl. He became the youngest head coach in history to win a Superbowl in 2009 in only his second season. During his time as head coach the Steelers have only met the Packers once with the Steelers winning the match.
So now you know everything you need to know about the game you just need to park yourself in front of a TV with enough to eat and drink for four hours and enjoy the spectacle. Even if you have never seen this game played before this is something you should not miss.