It’s Monday in Dallas, and the Super Bowl teams will be arriving later today. To properly turn the page from a thrilling, hard-fought, heroic Pro Bowl to the ho-hum, mail-it-in, don’t-hurt-me Super Bowl, we decided that a 10-pack of story lines and/or takes and/or whatever came to mind about Super Bowl XLV would be in order.
So here are 10 things that we didn’t deem sufficiently compelling to merit their own posts. Together, though, the sheer volume makes them somewhat interesting.
Or at least more interesting than the thrilling, hard-fought, heroic Pro Bowl.
1. Steelers will keep things quiet. Real quiet.
The Steelers have participated in eight of 45 Super Bowls. And yet the litany of misadventures and embarrassments that have unfolded in the days preceding the some of the prior 44 Super Bowls includes no incident involving a member of the organization.
No solicitation of prostitution. No impromptu trips to Tijuana. No Scarface-style piles of cocaine. Nothing.
Count on that happening (or, more accurately, not happening) again in Dallas. Two years ago, the only drama of Super Bowl week featuring the Steelers involved whether the team was concealing a rib injury to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who secretly had x-rays on the Wednesday before the game.
It’s enough to put those of us who cover the sport to sleep, but it’ll help Steelers fans (and coaches and other employees) sleep much more easily as the team pursues a seventh Lombardi Trophy.
2. Packers P.R. stumble has unexpected legs.
The Bears’ bungling of the Jay Cutler injury ultimately landed, in our view, in the lap of the team’s P.R. staff. On game day, the folks charged with protecting the image of the team and its players failed to be proactive when Cutler was unable to play. Much of the criticism that unfolded would have been avoided if Cutler simply had been sent to the locker room once it was clear he wouldn’t be sent back onto the field.
In the days after the game, the P.R. staff did little if anything to get the situation properly under control and/or to shape the discourse regarding Cutler in the franchise’s favor.
The affliction apparently was contagious. In the past several days, the Packers P.R. staff has failed to anticipate and/or prevent the fallout from the decision to exclude played on injured reserve from the team Super Bowl photo. Ideally, someone from the P.R. staff should have realized that players like Jermichael Finley and Nick Barnett would not have taken the exclusion quietly, and in turn should have recommended — strongly — to the coaching staff that all players be included in all Super Bowl activities.
Then, once the coaching staff decided to do what many regard to be the right thing, the P.R. department should have moved to ensure that the fire was indeed out. It wasn’t. Saturday quotes from quarterback Aaron Rodgers stirred up the embers, prompting Barnett and Finley to respond, again.
It was all avoidable, if the team had decided from the outset to include the players in the photo and all other Super Bowl activities. And that decision could have been made, if someone from P.R. had pulled aside coach Mike McCarthy and explained to him the manner in which this situation could play out, once guys like Finley and Barnett made their displeasure known.
3. Labor dispute will take center stage.
The Super Bowl, obviously, will provide the biggest story of the week. Running a close second will be the ongoing labor dispute between the NFL and the players’ union.
There will be ample opportunities for posturing and rhetoric, as the NFLPA conducts its annual press conference on Thursday, followed by the Commissioner’s annual pre-Super Bowl press conference on Friday. Throughout the week, look for the various players who’ll be selling products and providing sound bites on Radio Row to chime in as to key issues like the 18-game season and the absence of any apparent progress at the bargaining table.
After the Super Bowl, the labor situation will move from No. 2 to No. 1 on the stack of NFL stories, continuing to hold that position until the mess is resolved.
4. Hangover may be less intense for winner, loser.
The possibility of a diminished offseason, a delayed free-agency period, and ultimately rushed preparations for the regular season due to the labor situation will play to the advantage of the Super Bowl teams.
As the Packers and the Steelers are getting ready to square off for the NFL title, the other 30 teams are preparing for a short-term future that may unfold in various different ways. The worst-case scenario for the league — an offseason lost to a lockout and a resolution of the mess in September — could be the best-case scenario from a competitive standpoint for the Super Bowl teams.
The hangover from playing into February, fueled by the complacency that comes from winning and the void that comes from losing, won’t be as bad if none of the teams will be moving forward with free agency and offseason workouts and training camp and the preseason. Apart from the draft, nothing else will be happening, which will make easier for the Super Bowl teams to avoid falling behind.
So if there’s a lengthy lockout and when football resumes in 2011, the Packers and the Steelers may be in great position to get back to where they are right now.
5. Mendenhall needs to hit the hole.
Two weeks ago, Peter King of Sports Illustrated opined in his MMQB column that Rashard Mendenhall of the Steelers will never be a big-time tailback. In an appearance on PFT Live, King explained that Mendenhall is too tentative when the time comes to take the ball and hit the hole.
Though Mendenhall had a big day in the AFC title game against the Jets, he continues to stutter step before shooting forward. The Packers surely will be factoring this side-to-side move into their defense of Mendenhall, anticipating the disruption to the timing of the play that gives him a chance to squirt through the delayed opening that he seems to always find.
That’s why Mendenhall needs to simply make his move when given the ball in the Super Bowl, slamming into the line and surprising Packers defenders who are hoping to slow him down by assuming that he’ll hop around before pouncing.
Though there’s an argument to be made for sticking with what works, the Packers likely have the coaching and the talent to come up with a way to slow down Mendenhall based on his current running style.
6. Steelers wisely held back a spot for Smith.
The Packers’ I.R. Super Bowl photo debacle has been exacerbated by the possibility that running back Ryan Grant and tight end Jermichael Finley may have been ready to go, if their roster spots had been set aside while they recovered from their injuries. Instead, they were promptly relegated to injured reserve.
What’s that, you say? The Packers needed the roster spots?
Tell that to the Steelers, who carried a roster spot for weeks after defensive end Aaron Smith suffered a torn triceps muscle — and who may get Smith back for the Super Bowl.
In 1995, the Steelers did the same thing when cornerback Rod Woodson suffered a Week One ACL injury. Woodson ultimately returned for the Super Bowl, and he played well in the game.
With 53 men on the roster and 45 dressing for games, each team can carry eight extra spots — and up to eight on top of that may be signed to the practice squad. Thus, if the Packers had wanted to hold a place for Grant or Finley, they could have done so.
On Super Bowl Sunday, the Steelers could benefit greatly from the fact that they held a spot for Smith.
7. Playing surface plays into Packers’ hands.
Once upon a time, the Green Bay offense sputtered when placed under a roof. Now, the Packers thrive there.
Since Aaron Rodgers replaced Brett Favre at quarterback in 2008, the Packers have averaged 31.8 points per game, including more than 40 in their two domed postseason games.
During that same stretch, the Steelers have played only two games in domes, struggling to beat a bad Lions team in 2009 and losing to the Saints in 2010.
With the Super Bowl played under a retractable roof that won’t be retracted next Sunday, the Packers gain a clear edge — especially since they’ll be facing a Steelers team that is better suited to open air and whatever that sort-of green stuff is on which their home games are played.
8. History serves the Steelers.
Whatever the surface, the Steelers show up for big games. With nine wins in 10 postseason games played since losing the 2004 AFC title to the Patriots, Pittsburgh knows how to find a way to outscore the opponent when the stakes are at their highest.
In their 2005 Super Bowl run, the Steelers beat the Colts in a dome during the division round and the Seahawks in a dome during the Super Bowl.
The Steelers also know a thing or two about winning Super Bowls, with six victories in seven berths in the biggest game on the planet.
So while the Packers’ offense will likely find a way to move the ball and score points next Sunday, it’s hard to believe that the Steelers won’t score nearly as many — if not more.
9. Big markets be damned.
The Packers facing the Steelers in the Super Bowl is the equivalent of the Brewers facing the Pirates in the World Series.
Though that’s now impossible, given that the Brewers moved from the American League to the National League at some point during the 18 years since I quit paying attention to baseball, the bottom line is that it would be virtually impossible for two small-market teams to square off in baseball’s championship round.
In football, it’s always possible. And not just because of the salary cap. Money can’t buy championships in football, where a team consists not of a pitcher versus a batter with eight spectators who are presumed to be able to field balls hit in their direction. In football, 11 moving parts on offense face 11 moving parts on defense, and having highly-paid players at each of those positions provide no guarantee of success.
Football teams succeed based on their ability at all times to behave like teams, and the presence of highly-paid players can, at times, undermine that vibe.
So take heart, NFL fans. Even if the owners can’t figure out how to share their currently unshared revenues, the Cowboys and the Redskins likely will never become the Yankees and the Red Sox, no matter how much money they spend.
10. Kapinos knows the Packers better than any Steeler.
With all the talk of Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ past connection to Pittsburgh, no one is saying much about the one employee of a Super Bowl team who has the most immediate experience working for the opponent.
Jeremy Kapinos punted for the Packers throughout the 2009 season. The Packers then let him go. After landing with the Colts during punter Pat McAfee’s one-game suspension for public intoxication, Kapinos’ next opportunity came when Steelers punter Daniel Sepulveda suffered his latest ACL tear.
Though Super Bowl XLV is expected by many to feature plenty of points from both teams, Kapinos could be relied upon not only to deliver a key kick, but also to share whatever information he picked up during his one-year stay in Green Bay.
While the punter isn’t privy to much of the playbook, he possibly knows enough about the third phase of the game to help the Steelers better understand what Green Bay will be doing when the punting team and/or the kickoff team is on the field. If you don’t think that’s potentially important, you apparently were still in the bathroom when the second half of Super Bowl XLIV started.