Written by Mike "the Buzz-saw" Asti
With Super Bowl XLV upon us very soon, I feel it is necessary to put this matchup and the teams involved in the proper historical perspective. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers will square off in one of the most anticipated encounters in recent memory. Over the last decade, several franchises have reached the big game for the first time in their history, Tampa Bay in XXXVII, Carolina in XXXVIII, Seattle in XL, Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII, and of course the Saints last season as the most note worthy. Neither of this seasons representatives will be added to this list. The Steelers and Packers have some of the richest histories in all of professional sports. These two franchises combined for 13 appearances and already 9 Super Bowl titles soon to be 10 regardless of this years winner. That does not even take into account Green Bay’s NFL titles, the Packer franchise has alone captured 12 total NFL titles. These two great franchises go well beyond championships.
First, the Steelers. Pittsburgh has been playing football since the leather strap days of 1933. Unlike Green Bay, it was not immediate roses for the Steeler franchise. Prior to the Super Bowl era, Pittsburgh only accumulated one post-season victory in about 40 years of play. This was during a time that even saw the franchise combined with Philadelphia to form the Steagles, a laughing stock of a squad. The Rooney's rhode the ship until the 70's decade hit. Once the decade turned so did the fortunes of this once miserable organization. Mean Joe Green was drafted, Chuck Noll was hired, and the Steelers were officially on the NFL map. The 70's saw a slew of Hall of Famers and key moments. The first coming in 1972, the immaculate reception game did not take place in a championship season (the Steelers lost the AFC title game to Miami) but is perhaps still the biggest moment in Steelers history. This game winning catch by Franco Harris capped off a victory over another marque franchise, the hated Oakland Raiders. Once this happened and the ball finally "bounced" the Steelers way the trend was set. Just two years later one draft class put this team over the hump. In 1974, Lynn Swaynn, Jack Lambert, John Stalworth, and center, Mike Webster. These players went on make a major impact and deliver the first Super Bowl birth and title right away. Pittsburgh repeated as champions the following season and then remained as a top contender until the decade closed. All in all, the Steelers captured 4 crowns in only a 6 year period defeating arguably the other great teams of the era, the Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams, and twice beating the Dallas Cowboys, Dallas actually appeared in more Super Bowls in the 70's (the Cowboys won 2 out of 5) but lost the team of the decade honor to Pittsburgh due to the head to head victories in the big game.
The success of the 70's was next to impossible to match in the 80's and the Steelers failed to make many deep playoff runs. Pittsburgh only other long season came in 1984 reaching the AFC Championship game before falling to a young Dan Marino and the Dolphins. By this time legends like Bradshaw, Mel Blunt, and Jack Lambert were gone and finishing their careers elsewhere. It was time to pass the torch. The Steelers torch went from Noll to an up and coming Crafton boy, Bill Cowher. He took over this proud franchise with very high hopes and expectations. Despite the fans still in a 70's dream state, it took major rebuilding for Cowher to be on the path to greatness. Cowher made the most of the talent Noll left and sprinkled his own touch becoming the second head coach to ever lead his team to the playoffs in each of his first 6 seasons under the helm. This streak included AFC Championship game appearances in 94, 95, and 1997. Always a contender Cowher was still ringless and having a tough time living up the bling Noll rocked. Super Bowl XXX saw Pittsburgh suffer a devastating loss to their big game rival, the Dallas Cowboys. By the end of Bill's tenure, Pittsburgh would reach 3 more AFC title games and finally award him with jewelry after winning Super Bowl XL. The torch then was passed again, this time to another young defensive coordinator, Mike Tomlin. Tomlin came to town with an impressive resume including already having been a member of a championship staff, he was an assistant on the 2002 Buccaneers. Gone was Jerome Bettis but main stays like Hines Ward and Ben Rothlisberger were there to stay. Going into this Sunday, Tomlin has already set a record, he is the only head coach to ever reach 2 Super Bowls prior to his 40th birthday, Tomlin is also already the youngest man to ever hoist the Lambardi trophy. The success and winning tradition of this franchise single handily catapulted Bradshaw into the Hall of Fame (only 27,989 career passing yards) and may do the same for Big Ben someday. As of now Canton holds 20 primary Steeler players and coaches and will be opening its doors to several more from this current era (Bettis, Ben, Ward, and Tomlin just to name a few all stand a great shot).
From 6Burgh to a place called Title Town USA, Green Bay Wisconsin. The Packers may not have the most Super Bowls, however, certainly are deserving of Title Town label. Green Bay an organization that has been around from the beginning, 1919. Despite tons of success in the post Super Bowl era, nothing compares to the first 50 years of this franchise. Green Bay won 9 NFL titles during this time and was led by arguably two of the best coaches in league history, Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi. The Pack is still the only team ever to win 3 straight NFL titles, this was done twice and once each by Lambeau (29-31) and Lambardi (65-67). Some of the NFL's top legends such as Carl Hubbard, Bart Starr, Paul Hornig, and Ray Nitschke wore the green and yellow. Key games like the ice bowl were made even more famous due to the Packers being apart of them. The Packers represented the NFL in Super Bowls 1 and 2, winning both. Following those victories the Lombardi era came to a close and a dark period began.
Much like Pittsburgh, the 80's were not friendly to Green Bay. Not only did 1992 begin the Bill Cowher tenure in the Steel City but it was the same season that saw the NFL's iron man take over in Title Town. Cowher will forever be linked to the greatest Packer of them all, Brett Favre, as his precious steak started against Cowher's Steelers. Favre came over in one of the worst trades in sports history, at least from a Falcon stand point. From then on Favre and Bill Walsh disciple, Mike Holmgren brought this franchise back to glory. The two led Green Bay to 3 NFC title games and 2 Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl XXXI together along with defensive icon, Reggie White. Favre won 3 MVP's and put up stats that would eventually result in almost every positive and negative quarterback record possible. Holmgren would leave for greener pastures, or so he thought, and even though it was never the same Favre's legend grew year after year.
The franchise and Favre would divorce and the next Packer torch would be regrettable passed to Mike McCarthy (West PA native) and Aaron Rodgers. McCarthy has mirrored Holmgren's early success, both men share identical win percentages and playoff success to this point in their Packer coaching careers. Rodgers, after waiting behind Favre for 3 years, is now embarking on a career that could re-write the record books from a yards and rating stand point. The NFL Hall of Fame currently houses 26 primary Packers. This number will soon grow in 5 years with Favre and who knows from there.
These two franchises are measured by championships and one of these organizations will add another trophy to the case after the Super Bowl. Regardless of who holds the trophy named after the former Green Bay head coach, there is a good chance we may never again see another match up with squads who can both claim to be the greatest the NFL has ever offered. With that said, lets hope for a good game, and soak up the memories....
- Mike "the Buzz-saw" Asti
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