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Lombardi trophy returns home to Titletown

February 7, 2011

Photo by Benny Sieu

On the NFL’s biggest stage, its smallest city was victorious.

It was a victory that was three years in the making, dating back to when the Packers chose to go with Aaron Rodgers as their starter in 2008. That summer, they set the ball in motion for a return to glory.

In front of 103,219 fans — some 2,000 more than the population of Green Bay — Rodgers sealed the deal Sunday in Dallas. The quarterback, who replaced longtime fan favorite Brett Favre three years ago, led the Packers past the Steelers, 31-25, to claim Super Bowl XLV.

Even better, he won an honor, Super Bowl MVP, which Favre never did.

“It’s what I dreamt about as a little kid watching Joe Montana and Steve Young,” Rodgers told the Associated Press, “and we just won the Super Bowl.”

The MVP trophy wasn’t the only hardware Rodgers took home Sunday, either. Finally, after three years of putting an invisible one around his waist, Rodgers got his championship belt.

Since becoming a starter, Rodgers’ signature touchdown celebration has been “the championship belt.” After the Super Bowl victory, with the Vince Lombardi trophy held high in his left hand, Rodgers had a replica WWE championship belt over his right shoulder.

Rodgers was more than deserving of MVP honors for his efforts both on the sport’s biggest stage against the Steelers, and throughout the Packers’ impressive run through the playoffs. Behind his nine playoff touchdown passes Green Bay became the first sixth-seeded NFC champion, and as Rodgers added three more Sunday night, the Packers claimed their fourth Super Bowl victory and record 13th NFL championship.

And for the first time in 14 years, the Vince Lombardi trophy is headed home to Green Bay.

“I’m just so very, very proud of these guys on this team,” Packers general manager Ted Thompson said during the trophy presentation. “They stood up when everybody thought they were down, they never quit trying, they never quit believing. This is a tough business, but I’m very, very proud of this team.”

Early on, it was all Packers as Rodgers found Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings for touchdown passes of 29 and 21 yards, and free safety Nick Collins took an errant Ben Roethlisberger pass 37 yards for the score. But just as its road to the Super Bowl wasn’t easy, Green Bay would have to fight through some more adversity to come out on top.

Shortly before the end of the first half, Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson went out with a collarbone injury and would not return. Before his departure, the Steelers had managed just a field goal through nearly two quarters, but with Woodson sidelined, Roethlisberger led back-to-back touchdown drives on their next two possessions.

As if losing Woodson weren’t enough, the Packers offense would play the second half without veteran wide receiver Donald Driver as well, who left with an ankle injury.

“We’ve been a team that’s overcome adversity all year,” Jennings said. “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.”

Having just seen their lead cut from 21-3 to just four points by an 8-yard Rashard Mendenhall touchdown, the Packers battled through a tough third quarter to keep the Steelers at bay.

While punting away three straight times themselves, the Packers forced the Steelers into a missed field goal from 52 yards, a punt, and finally, on the first play of the fourth quarter, a turnover in their next three defensive possessions.

With the Steelers facing 2nd-and-2 at the Green Bay 36-yard line, Mendenhall was stopped in the backfield by Clay Matthews and the helmet of defensive end Ryan Pickett popped the ball loose. Linebacker Desmond Bishop recovered the fumble, setting up yet another Rodgers to Jennings touchdown connection.

Eight plays after starting at their own 45-yard line, Rodgers hit Jennings over the middle, who withstood a big hit from Troy Palamalu as he crossed the goal line for the score.

“It’s a great day to be great baby,” Jennings said. “To God be the glory.”

Jennings’ second touchdown of the game would prove to be enough for the win, but less than five minutes later the Steelers made things interesting as Roethlisberger hit Mike Wallace for a 25-yard touchdown and followed it with a perfectly executed pitch to Antwaan Randle El for the two-point conversion.

With 7:34 to play in Super Bowl XLV, the Packers’ lead was just three points. And two plays into the next drive, Green Bay faced 3rd-and-10 at their own 25-yard line, on the brink of letting the Super Bowl slip away.

Instead, it was a defining moment for Rodgers, who delivered perhaps his best pass of the night to Jennings, a 31-yard completion that not only kept the drive alive, but put the Packers in Steelers territory and within striking distance of the end zone.

They would be forced to settle for a field goal, but Rodgers had done his part.

“That was a big one,” Rodgers said of the 31-yard strike. “I wish we could have finished it off there, but I’ve got to give credit to our defense. This is a great group of men that we put together here. A lot of character, we’ve been through a lot together, and it’s just great to be able to share it with them.”

Thanks to the defense, which forced Roethlisberger to turn it over on downs with 49 seconds to play, Rodgers would take the field one more time.

In the victory formation.

“You play to be world champions,” Matthews, who presented Rodgers with the belt, told the AP, “and that’s what we are today.”

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