ARLINGTON, Texas - Aaron Rodgers at long last casts his own shadow.
All it took was a Super Bowl victory for the Green Bay Packers.
Capping one of the greatest postseasons for any quarterback, Rodgers led the Packers to their first NFL championship in 14 years Sunday, a 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Packers recaptured the Vince Lombardi Trophy, named for their legendary coach who won the first two Super Bowls and is making his own star turn in New York in the play named after him.
Rodgers, the game’s MVP, thrilled his legion of Cheesehead fans with a spectacular six-game string that should finally erase the bitterness of the Brett Favre separation in Green Bay. After sitting for three long years before Favre left in 2008, Rodgers is now equal with Favre in Super Bowl wins, and he extended the Packers’ record of NFL titles to 13 — with nine of those coming before the Super Bowl era.
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“You can stop it now,” veteran receiver Donald Driver said. “Aaron’s proved that he’s one of the best, if not the best quarterback in this game today.”
The favored Packers managed to overcame key injuries, building a 21-3 lead, then hung on to become only the second No. 6 seed to win the championship. Coincidentally, the 2005 Steelers were the other, beating the Seattle Seahawks.
“Wow! It’s a great day to be great, baby,” said Greg Jennings, who caught two of Rodgers’ three touchdown passes.
Rodgers threw for 304 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown to Jordy Nelson, who had nine catches for 140 yards to make up for three big drops. Rodgers found Jennings, normally his favorite target, for 21- and 8-yard scores.
“We’ve been a team that’s overcome adversity all year,” Jennings said, who noted injuries to Charles Woodson and Driver. “Our head captain goes down, emotional in the locker room. Our No. 1 receiver goes down, more emotions are going, flying in the locker room. But we find a way to bottle it up and exert it all out here on the field.”
Woodson was in so much pain from a broken left collarbone that he could barely address the team at halftime in the locker room.
Few teams have been as resourceful as these Packers, who couldn’t wait to touch the trophy honoring their greatest coach — and their title. Several of them kissed it as Cowboys great Roger Staubach walked through a line of green and gold and up to the massive stage on the 50-yard line with the silver prize that is headed back to the NFL’s smallest city.
“That is where it belongs,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said.
Rodgers led the Packers to two late-season victories just to make the playoffs as a wild card. Then he guided them to wins at Philadelphia, Atlanta and archrival Chicago before his biggest achievement — against a Pittsburgh team ranked second in defense.
The Packers barely survived a sensational rally by the Steelers, who still own the most Super Bowl rings — six in eight tries. But Pittsburgh failed to get its third championship in six years despite several valiant efforts by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger’s season began with a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. It ended with Roethlisberger standing on the sideline, his head down, hands on his hips, feeling something he had never experienced: defeat in a Super Bowl.
“I feel like I let the city of Pittsburgh down, the fans, my coaches and my teammates and it’s not a good feeling,” said Roethlisberger, who later buried his head in a towel and wept.
Not even a decidedly black-and-gold crowd, with Terrible Towels swirling throughout the $1.2 billion stadium, could make a difference for the mistake-prone Steelers, who had three turnovers to none for Green Bay.
“You play to be world champions,” said Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews, who forced a fourth-quarter fumble that led to the Packers’ final touchdown, “and that’s what we are today.”