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Lombardi Trophy returns to Green Bay
Every day inside team headquarters, Green Bay players passed by three shiny mementos commemorating the franchise's previous Super Bowl victories.
It's time to make room for a fourth after Sunday night's 31-25 Super Bowl XLV victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers before 103,219 fans at Cowboys Stadium.
"It's a great day for the Green Bay Packers," coach Mike McCarthy said afterward. "The Lombardi Trophy is finally going back home."
Finally — after 13 seasons without winning a Super Bowl title.
Finally — after all the drama stemming from the controversial 2008 departure of iconic quarterback Brett Favre that almost tore the franchise apart.
Finally — after having to win three road playoff games because they qualified for the playoffs as a No. 6 seed.
And finally, by dispatching a Steelers team that almost mounted the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
Yes, the late Vince Lombardi would be proud.
"No disrespect to the Steelers," McCarthy said. "We respect their team, the way they play. But we fully expected to win this game."
Those expectations became reality after a last-minute defensive stand.
Last season in Pittsburgh, the Steelers trailed Green Bay by six with 2:01 remaining until quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led them 86 yards for the game-winning touchdown. He faced almost the exact same situation again Sunday night. This time the Steelers needed to march 87 yards in 1:59 for the chance to win.
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But this wasn't the same Packers secondary that folded 14 months ago. Green Bay was more talented and better prepared to handle the pressure even with star cornerback Charles Woodson on the sideline with a broken collarbone. The Steelers only reached their 33-yard line before a fourth-down Roethlisberger incompletion ended Pittsburgh's hopes for a third Super Bowl title in six seasons.
"Another year in [defensive coordinator Dom] Capers' system and the maturation, that's what you saw," Packers strong safety Charlie Peprah said. "There's no way we were going to let it go the other way this time."
After two kneel-downs by Aaron Rodgers, the Pack officially was back atop the NFL. The Green Bay quarterback raised his arms while clutching the football as red, white and blue confetti fell.
Rodgers should have relished the moment. Besides filling the gigantic shoes Favre left behind, Rodgers has blossomed to the point that he was voted the game's Most Valuable Player. Rodgers completed 24 of 39 passes for 304 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His statistics would have been even gaudier if Green Bay's receivers — including Super Bowl standout Jordy Nelson (nine catches for 140 yards and a touchdown) — hadn't dropped five passes.
"This is just like our season — a lot of adversity," said Rodgers, who also was referring to the in-game injuries that sidelined Woodson and wide receiver Donald Driver (ankle). "A lot of high-character guys stepped up and played huge roles."
That was especially true on defense as the Packers forced three turnovers. The first was especially costly for the Steelers. Packers defensive end Howard Green drove past Steelers guard Chris Kemoeatu and into Roethlisberger, forcing a wobbly long pass that was intercepted by Nick Collins. The free safety weaved his way into the end zone on a 37-yard return as Green Bay took a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter.
Roethlisberger then threw a second-quarter interception that the Packers also converted into a touchdown, putting the Steelers into a 21-3 hole with 2:24 left before halftime. Toss in a missed 52-yard field-goal attempt by Shaun Suisham in the third quarter and Rashard Mendenhall's fumble inside Packers territory to open the fourth quarter, and the Steelers committed enough errors to make fans forget about singer Christina Aguilera flubbing the national anthem.
"Personally, I feel like I let a lot of people down," said Roethlisberger, who finished 25 of 40 for 263 yards and two TDs. "You've got to give them a lot of credit. They're a great defense. They got after us. I turned the ball over. You can't do that."
Roethlisberger almost made amends. He helped the Steelers pull within 28-25 midway through the fourth quarter on a 25-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace and a successful 2-point conversion option pitch to Antwaan Randle El. The Packers, though, answered with a 10-play, 70-yard drive that consumed almost 5-1/2 minutes. A 23-yard field goal by Mason Crosby forced the Steelers to try for a touchdown on their final possession with only one timeout remaining.
"We talked about it at halftime," McCarthy said of finishing the game strong. "We said, 'This is a heavyweight fight. They've delivered a bunch of blows. We've cut them. Good fighters, you keep pounding away at the cut.' "
McCarthy had another message for his team just before taking the field.
"This is our time," he said.
The Lombardi Trophy is proof.