- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Rodgers's first completion was to Driver, the tough, 12-year-veteran possession specialist who was soon out of the game with a high-left-ankle sprain. At halftime the entire Packers receiving corps visited Driver in the trainer's room, where he told them, "I can't go." He heard a voice from the group: "We're going to win it for you."
Jennings caught two touchdown passes, but the breakout star of the passing game was 6'3", 217-pound third-year receiver Jordy Nelson. Although he had three of the Packers' numerous drops, Nelson made nine catches for 140 yards (both career highs), including the game's first touchdown and a 38-yard grab on a deep cross in the fourth quarter to set up Jennings's second TD. "It was all just opportunity," said Nelson, who blossomed into a major NFL prospect when he caught 122 passes as a senior at Kansas State in 2007; Green Bay took him in the second round in '08. His Wildcats quarterback, Josh Freeman, is now Tampa's promising starter.
In the Super Bowl's aftermath Nelson walked through the catacombs of Cowboys Stadium holding his son, Royal, whose first birthday was three days before the game, and hugging his wife, Emily, whom he began dating when both were freshmen at Riley County High in Kansas, where the senior class had 65 students.
Mike Nelson watched the Super Bowl from near the top of the upper deck of Cowboys Stadium. Three days earlier he had left with his family for the 500-mile trip from Leonardville, Kans., down to Dallas, a normally eight-hour drive that treacherous roads turned into a two-day, 11-hour odyssey that included an overnight stay in Norman, Okla. Mike and his younger brother, Jordy, grew up on a 3,000-acre farm, where their parents raised purebred Angus cattle. The boys played basketball on the concrete floor of a machine shed and tackle football in the snow.
Mike was every bit the athlete Jordy was, "but then Jordy just kept getting bigger and faster," says Mike. In high school, where Mike was a year ahead, Jordy was a 6'3", 200-pound shotgun option quarterback and a state class 3A champion in the 100, 200 and 400 meters, a dead flat burner. "I was so proud of my brother tonight," Mike said late Sunday night. "In high school he was just so intimidating, and then I'm watching him win the Super Bowl. It's amazing."
Dom Capers has been coaching football for 38 years, with stops at 15 college and professional teams. Twice he took over an NFL expansion team, the Panthers from 1995 to '98 and the Texans from 2002 to '05. The Packers' defensive coordinator takes pride in the fact that he travels with crates of spiral notebooks full of schemes, which an assistant logs into a computer. It was Capers who would be charged with slowing a Steelers offense that had pounded the Jets for 166 rushing yards in the AFC Championship Game and that counts on Roethlisberger's playmaking when games are on the line.
And it was the defense that gave Green Bay a 14--0 lead in Super Bowl XLV. Safety Nick Collins picked off a pass by Roethlisberger, who was under pressure from nosetackle Howard Green, and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter. But Woodson, the 13-year veteran and inspirational leader of the Packers, and rookie nickelback Sam Shields were both injured just before halftime. Shields would return and play sparingly; Woodson spent the second half watching from the sideline, his arm in a sling.
It was a huge loss, not only because Capers had transformed Woodson from a Hall of Fame--caliber cover corner into a blitzing, run-support inside defender ("It's been refreshing for me," Woodson said in mid-January) but also because it's Woodson's voice that the Packers players hear. He was the last man to talk to the team before the Super Bowl, ditching a long-planned speech he'd written when Lloyd Carr, his coach at Michigan, texted him and said, "Remember, just win." That is what he told the Packers before the biggest game of their lives. Just win.
"It was pretty emotional," said kicker Mason Crosby. It was even more emotional when Woodson spoke to the team at halftime, knowing he was finished for the night. "Charles said, 'You don't know how bad I want this,' " said fourth-year linebacker Desmond Bishop. "That was all he got out. Then he got choked up. It was tough."
So were the Steelers after the break—Pittsburgh scored on its first drive of the third quarter, and a game that had had the makings of a blowout was suddenly 21--17. But on the first play of the final quarter, with Green Bay still clinging to a four-point lead, defensive tackle Ryan Pickett and All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews sandwiched running back Rashard Mendenhall, Matthews forcing a fumble that the Packers recovered. On the ensuing possession Rodgers hit Jennings for an eight-yard touchdown pass. And in the final two minutes, with the Packers leading 31--25 and Roethlisberger seemingly poised to reprise his Super Bowl--winning drive from two years earlier against Arizona, Green Bay forced three straight incompletions to seal the victory.