Why SB XLV might be best ever
They say everything's bigger in Texas.
Super Bowl XLV is no exception.
I'll even take it one step further. When all factors are added together, this won't only be the biggest NFL championship game ever played on Feb. 6 (6:30 p.m. kickoff, FOX). It could very well be the best Super Bowl ever.
Here are the reasons why:
Franchise tradition: These are the two most successful squads in NFL history, yet they have never met in a championship game. The Steelers hold the record for most Super Bowl victories (six) and are now tied with Dallas for most appearances (eight). The Packers have the most league championships with 12 dating to the pre-Super Bowl era. Green Bay's dominance in the 1960s led to the Super Bowl title being named the Vince Lombardi Trophy in 1970 after the sudden death of the ex-Packers head coach.
The Steelers are the AFC's oldest franchise, dating to 1933. The Packers go back even further — to 1919. That also was Brett Favre's rookie season (ba-dum-ba!).
Star power: Speaking of Favre, he's yesterday's news compared to his Packers replacement. Aaron Rodgers was so hot during the postseason that there will be heavy pre-Super Bowl media debate about whether he has surpassed Peyton Manning and Tom Brady as the NFL's best quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger, though, deserves consideration in that conversation, too. Although he isn't as pretty statistically or stylistically, Roethlisberger is on the cusp of a third Super Bowl ring in just his seventh NFL season.
Based on recent jersey sales, the NFL's most popular player also will be on the field. The league's official online store (www.nflshop.com) sold more Troy Polamalu jerseys in the final nine months of 2010 than any other player. That is especially impressive considering the Steelers safety already has played in the league for eight seasons, giving fans ample time to have previously bought his merchandise. Polamalu was the only non-quarterback among the top eight in jersey sales. Rodgers ranked seventh, Packers linebacker Clay Matthews was 15th and Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward finished at No. 25.
The Steelers led the league in jersey sales during that same period. Green Bay was seventh.
Compelling story lines: Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick had the NFL's most ballyhooed redemption story in 2010, but Roethlisberger's own comeback plight will take center stage leading into the game.
Roethlisberger became the first quarterback ever suspended under NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's personal conduct policy after allegations of sexual assault against a then-20-year-old college student in Milledgeville, Ga. After serving his four-game punishment, Roethlisberger has seemingly followed through on his pledge to become a changed man both personally and professionally in his dealings with others. He also is refusing to publicly dwell upon the past, deflecting any media questions related to the subject when asked last week.
That won't deter reporters from bombarding Roethlisberger with inquiries during Super Bowl week. How he handles the situation and whether it becomes a pregame distraction may take on a life of its own.
Player safety is another hot topic. Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison was vilified during the regular season for hits to the head of opposing players that led to $125,000 in fines (the league later reduced the total). Harrison argues the punishment was too harsh. This has triggered debate about whether the league is going overboard in its quest to protect players considering the sport's inherent rough-and-tumble nature.
On the flip side, Rodgers suffered two in-season concussions and might have sustained a third in Sunday's NFC Championship Game against Chicago if not for a new helmet that deflected a blow by Bears defensive end Julius Peppers. Unlike the short-term memories of affected players, the concussion issue in football isn't going away any time soon.
On a lighter note, it's believed Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel will have two interview tables on Super Bowl media day — one for himself and another for the scraggly beard that has taken on a life of its own.
Television ratings: After averaging 37.7 million viewers through the first three rounds of the playoffs, the highest-rated postseason in NFL history will likely lead to the largest Super Bowl audience ever. This also means eclipsing Super Bowl XLIV as the most celebrated telecast in U.S. history. That game drew 106.5 million viewers, edging the audience that tuned into the final episode of M*A*S*H in 1983.
Yes, the cheering you hear in the background is emanating from FOX Sports headquarters in Southern California.
Pop culture: It's Titletown vs. the City of Champions. Cheese vs. French fries. Bratwurst vs. hoagies. Leinenkugel vs. Iron City. Dairy vs. steel. Middle America vs. the Rust Belt.
OK, you get the point. But that won't stop the media from highlighting the cultural differences between the two fan bases ad nauseum.
Attendance: A word of advice for those planning to attend Super Bowl XLV — arrive at Dallas Cowboys Stadium early. Like, you know, Saturday. The Super Bowl XIV attendance record of 103,985 set at the Rose Bowl in 1980 will likely get broken, albeit with a twist. The NFL is going to count $200 "party plaza" tickets that provide viewing access just outside the stadium as part of the overall crowd count.
Ticket sales: The face value of in-stadium seats ranges from $600 to $1,200, but it's not like such ducats are readily available. The secondary market is where fans turn for tickets — provided they can afford them.
As of Wednesday morning, the cheapest single-seat purchase on the NFL's official ticket exchange site was $2,568 — and that was for a spot at the top of the stadium in the end zone.
According to StubHub spokesperson Joellen Ferrer, the online company's average price for a Super Bowl ticket was $3,711. The average was $3,500 before last weekend's conference title games.
"Packers-Steelers is incredibly appealing given the rich history and rabid fan bases behind each team," Ferrer wrote in an e-mail to FOXSports.com. "Fans on both sides are widespread and will absolutely travel for the big game, creating a frenzy for tickets. We’ve already seen buyers from all across the country."
The bulk of StubHub sales since last summer have come from Texas (25 percent paying an average price of $3,445) and California (8 percent at $4,170). Packers fans were initially outbuying Steelers fans at a 2-to-1 rate, but that margin is now about even, Ferrer said.
The average resale value probably won't reach the record $4,004 average for Indianapolis vs. Chicago in Super Bowl XLI. But Super Bowl XLV is on pace to become the company's second-hottest seller ahead of Super Bowl XLII between New England and the New York Giants ($3,536). Even the "party plaza" passes are a hot item, with the StubHub resale value currently averaging $317.
Gambling handle: As with Super Bowl ticket resale pricing, the overall state of the economy affects how much fans are willing to wager. That's why Jay Kornegay, executive director of the Las Vegas Hilton Sportsbook, doesn't believe the Nevada handle for Super Bowl XLV will eclipse the $94.5 million bet for Super Bowl XL between Pittsburgh and Seattle.
"That was the height of the economic boom," Kornegay said. "Three years later, the Pittsburgh-Arizona game (in Super Bowl XLIII) drew $81 million. That's a reflection of the economy. Even though we've made positive movement toward a recovery and two of the most popular teams playing, we've still got a long way to go. I don't think we'll reach a record, but I do think we'll make the $90 million mark."
Should that happen, Super Bowl XLV will draw the fifth-highest Super Bowl handle in Nevada history and the largest total in three years. And that doesn't even count online gambling or your neighborhood bookie.
Precedent: While they didn't play this season, the Steelers and Packers did meet 13 months ago with many of the same players who will participate in Super Bowl XLV. The result was one of the 2009 season's wildest games. Roethlisberger connected with wide receiver Mike Wallace on a 19-yard touchdown pass as time expired to give Pittsburgh a 37-36 home victory. The teams combined for a whopping 973 yards of total offense, including Roethlisberger's career-high 503 passing yards. A repeat performance in a Super Bowl would be an NFL godsend.
Labor strife: Here's a chilling fact — there is no guarantee Super Bowl XLVI will be played. What could be a lengthy work stoppage is looming if the NFL and NFL Players Association can't agree on a new collective bargaining agreement by March 4.
So even if you don't think Steelers vs. Packers will result in the biggest and best championship game of all time, here is something we can agree upon: It might be the last Super Bowl for some time to come.