Farmer: Packers, Steelers a perfect match

Tradition-rich teams boast 9 Super Bowl wins

February 05, 2011|By Sam Farmer, Tribune Newspapers

ARLINGTON, Texas — If everything works out for them in Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium, the Packers will hit the wall.

Specifically, they want to adorn the wall of their meeting room at Lambeau Field, where photos of every Packers championship team now hang — with players such as Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Willie Davis, Herb Adderley and Brett Favre.

A space already has been cleared for this season's team.

"I thought it would be a cool thing for us to see every day in the meeting room," said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who lobbied for the blank space. The idea was "to be able to think about the entire season, what we're really playing for, by having that empty picture up on the wall."

The Steelers don't need four walls to remind them of their rich history.

Four fingers will do.

That's how many are left bare when all the Steelers' Super Bowl rings are counted. They have a record six and their fans have nicknamed the latest quest "Stairway to Seven."

"Pittsburgh and Green Bay, that just sounds like a Super Bowl," marveled John Madden, reverence in his voice. "That's a damn football game."

As the NFL braces for the possibility of a player lockout — the first potential interruption in play since 1987 — it's simultaneously gearing up for a Super Bowl of epic proportions.

In many ways, the Steelers and Packers are remarkably similar. They both have elite quarterbacks and top-five defenses. They represent two of the NFL's smaller cities — smallest, in the case of the Packers — yet have huge national followings, fans that either will be wearing cheese wedges on their heads or swinging Terrible Towels above them Sunday. The Packers and Steelers are, without question, two of the league's bedrock franchises.

Asked if the Steelers — and not the Cowboys — have the nickname "America's Team," Pittsburgh defensive end Brett Keisel offered: "We have more Super Bowls than anyone, and if you're going off championships, maybe we are America's Team. We consider ourselves America's Team. We love Steeler Nation. That's a big part of what and who we are."

The Steelers are the crown jewel of a city that has won 11 professional sports championships in 40 years.

"It's amazing," Steelers President Art Rooney II said with a smile and a shrug. "We're lucky."

Packers coach Mike McCarthy — a Pittsburgher, by the way — feels lucky simply to be walking the hallowed halls in Green Bay, which memorialize many of the game's legends.

"When you walk in our building and you have pictures of Curly Lambeau, Vince Lombardi, Mike Holmgren — our history is among us all the time," he said. "It creates a standard and expectation that fits right along with our visions."

Now, it's Rodgers' turn. He picked up his first playoff victory this postseason and, over the past two years, has made the Packers look very smart for parting ways with Favre when they did.

It's also Roethlisberger's turn. He already has two Super Bowl rings and can join the likes of Tom Brady and Troy Aikman if he wins a third. The Steelers quarterback already has as many titles as his boyhood idol, the Broncos' John Elway — the reason Roethlisberger wears No. 7.

Roethlisberger will be without Maurkice Pouncey, the outstanding rookie center who suffered a high ankle sprain early in the AFC championship game against the Jets. The Steelers switched to backup center Doug Legursky, a second-year player who finished the game.

"The NFL is made up of lots of players like him — guys who somehow got an opportunity and seized it," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We're completely confident (in him). That's why we're not changing what we do."

Moving the ball on the Packers, particularly through the air, is no simple task. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews is as good as or better than any pass rusher in the league, and the Packers have outstanding playmakers at cornerback in Tramon Williams and veteran Charles Woodson, the onetime NFL defensive player of the year.

Winning that award this year was the Steelers' Troy Polamalu, the incredibly disruptive and unpredictable safety whose range is unrivaled.

Super Bowl experience is on the Steelers' side. Ten of the Steelers were on both the 2005 and 2008 teams that won rings, and 25 Steelers — 14 of them starters — have won it all at least once.

Only three members of the Packers have been on Super Bowl rosters, and only one of those players, running back John Kuhn, actually has a ring — earned as a member of the Steelers' practice squad.

"Maybe later in life when we're all old, maybe we'll sit around and reflect a little bit," Tomlin said. "Like we get an opportunity to watch guys like Franco (Harris), Mel Blount and some of those other guys do. We want to enjoy similar stories."

Stories that will be written Sunday.

sfarmer@tribune.com

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