For two teams from opposite conferences, the Steelers and Packers have a great history to look back on. The obvious is obvious, as our most recent Super Bowl opponent, it’s always felt like Pittsburgh has had their fate intertwined with ours. Since Super Bowl XLV, the two storied franchises have had very similar stories. For the most part, both teams have seen promising seasons and rosters wasted on subpar units–typically on the defensive side.
They are both offensive powerhouses (when healthy) year in and year out, led by HOF quarterbacks that have their own claim to greatness. Big Ben may never be the equal to Rodgers, but there are also none who are like Big Ben. Both teams have a habit of starting out weak and ending strong–when it comes to both regular season records and actual games. There’s a great deal of familiarity, here.
However, when thinking about what to write for this piece, I came across a great article by ESPN writer Rob Demovsky, available here. Other than being a solid piece of writing, it spotlights Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s relationship with his late younger brother and their childhood in Pittsburgh. It’s likely, given it’s a night game, that Mike will be spending some time there before the game–paying his respects and visiting old haunts.
Reading the story of his brother’s death seems to be even more striking than usual, for me. My heart hurts thinking about the pain and struggle his family went through after he died of a heart attack playing racquetball. I think it’s the time of the year. It seems like the holidays have a way of reminding you were you come from–especially as we get older. It’s not just that you go home to where you grew up, you revert back to the old you–the one you remember from days past. It’s hard not to, even if you have horrible holiday memories, they always seem to be unshakeable.
So, if you have any memories worth remembering, try to be thankful.
When the Packers traveled to Seattle for the 2014 NFC Championship Game, Joe (McCarthy’s brother) couldn’t make it with his usual entourage of his two young sons. Mike assured him it was okay because he could go to the Super Bowl in a couple weeks. As the article mentions, Mike never spoke to his brother again and the Packers didn’t go to the Super Bowl.
For all the criticism this coaching staff and front office deserve for this season, I am very thankful that Mike McCarthy is okay. I am thankful that the team he coaches is in a city that allows him to be the family man he is, deep down. I am thankful that, even though he’s hurt, we still have the loyalty of Aaron Rodgers and that he has the loyalty of the his #gbfamily. We’ve got some good people on this team and that’s a big deal.
Can you tell we were shutout last week? This plea for patience may be a little too obvious. Let’s look back on some fonder memories, to another time it was wise to be thankful–even though our heart’s were breaking.
Green Bay Packers at the Pittsburgh Steelers
December 20th, 2009
This was the game that told the world that Packers were going to be around for a while. After 2008, the team was on the up-and-up, lead by hot new talent Aaron Rodgers. But, after going 6-10 from 13-3, there were going to be doubts about his staying power. 2009 was the answer to that question and this game was the proof. Rodgers stood his ground against the predecessor to Steeler’s murderous 2010 defense and amassed 383 yards and 3 TDs with no picks.
It was the Packers’ defense that did them in. When Rodgers started the game cold, (due to tremendous A-gap pressure from Pittsburgh’s athletic linebackers that stunted the first 4-5 plays to great effect) Roethlisberger took advantage, launching a 60 yard bomb to Mike Wallace on the first play from scrimmage for their offense. Wallace made CB Jarrett Bush look silly when he burned him so bad that he was able to stay 5 yards in front of him even when the ball was under-thrown. I’m not going to watch the tape to prove this, but I bet they didn’t leave Bush on an island with Wallace after that.
The Packers responded quickly with a beautiful post route by Jennings that Rodgers hit with an absolutely perfect dime. Jennings turned the safety around like a top and took it to the house. The game had officially begun.
When the dust cleared, these two offenses would put up a combined 973 yards against two premier defenses. The score stayed close for most of the game, until the Steelers pulled away–up 10–in the 3rd quarter. This set up one of the most exciting 4th quarters in recent regular season memory. You want to see what a good 4th quarter looks like?
After 3 quarters in which the Steelers stayed ahead, the script was flipped and Roethlisberger was forced to respond. Of the 73 points scored in this game, 35 of them were scored in the final 15 minutes. The Packers had the ball in Steeler’s territory to begin the quarter and scored quickly with a 50/50 ball thrown to Jermichael Finley. When the Steelers were unable to score more than a field goal the next drive, the Packers marched down and took the lead, 28-27.
Again, the Packers defense held Pittsburgh to a field goal and gave Aaron Rodgers another chance to pull away. He took it and ran with it, scoring with two minutes left and putting the Packers up 36-30 after a really weird decision to go for two. I guess there’s no downside and it gives your defense a chance to block an extra point, but the odds seemed really super duper low on that one. Whatever.
That’s when the Biggest Benjamin took over and showed a young Aaron Rodgers a vision of his future. The next drive was a classic Roethlisberger drive in its purest form. The Packers defense played well, even getting an interception when Jarrett Bush got revenge on Mike Wallace–unfortunately it was overturned. The Packers got them to 3rd down twice and even forced a 4th down play early in the drive. However, each time their backs were against the wall, the Steelers hit a player deep to bail themselves out.
3rd and 10 at the GB 19 with 3 seconds left, one play to go, and Roethlisberger finds Wallace again in the back of the endzone. It was a walkoff victory that broke the upstart Packers’ hopes at a high seed for the playoffs. They would, of course, go on to lose to Arizona in the Wild Card on the road while the Brett Favre Vikings got a bye with just one more win (and the tiebreaker). So it goes.
It was a great game and I was grateful for it. Let’s all hope that the SNF matchup can live up to 1/4 of the greatness in this one. Either way, let’s be thankful for the Green and Gold. I know my life is better off thanks to them. How about you?