Rick Reilly Go Fish: Super Bowl XLV

A few moments with Fergie

February, 7, 2011
You meet the strangest people in a giant cargo elevator after a Super Bowl.

A lady pushing a giant trash can. A giant guy with a dolly full of Bud Light.

And Fergie.

Yes, that Fergie -- lead singer of the hip-hop super group the Black Eyed Peas, her five-inch heels spiking trash as she walked in. She was there -- much shorter than you'd think -- among the debris and crates in a giant elevator leaving the top floor of Cowboys Stadium on Sunday night, not two hours after she'd performed at halftime.

She was drunk with relief at having gotten through it without a major catastrophe. At least that's what I think she was drunk with. Whatever the reason, she was pain-free and loving life.

"I really have no idea how we did," she gushed. "I'm just SO glad it's over and nothing horrible happened."

Did she know about the problems with sound cutting out on her mike?


Did she know about Christina Aguilera remixing the lyrics to the national anthem.

"No!" she said. "She did?"

Fergie was with her husband, actor Josh Duhamel, and her dad, Jon, which is what made her next question a little awkward.

"Did you like my outfit?"

It was a tight, low-cut, Tron-like black-and-silver number that lit up electronically to the music, part of an elaborate technological light show that looked stupendous in person but washed out on TV.

"Absolutely!" I said.

"Did you know they had to make a plaster cast of my chest for that?" she giggled.

I looked at Duhamel. He's 6-foot-3 and used to play quarterback at Minot State (N.D.). I looked at her dad, who used to coach football in Santa Barbara.

They awaited my reply.

"Did you get to keep it? Because you could get a lot for that on eBay."

She laughed. Duhamel seemed satisfied. Then her dad came up and asked if I thought the NFL would use the Black Eyed Peas again for halftime.


"Because I'd like to come every year. That was really fun."

Hey, at least one family enjoyed North Texas.
Aaron Rodgers is the MVP of this teeth-grinding, palm-sweating Super Bowl, and it has nothing do with how he throws or how he runs. It has to do with how he lives.

In 50 years, when they write Rodgers' life story, they won't praise so much his freakish arm.

They won't write about his Houdini feet.

They won't go on about his grace under pressure, his rifle-scope accuracy or his courage while the land around him burned.

No, they'll write about his unlimited capacity to forgive.

Through all the hell Brett Favre put him through, through all the yo-yoing Favre did with Rodgers' career all those years, Rodgers never lost his patience. He never lashed out. Instead, he forgave and got to work.

Fast-forward to the biggest moment of his life -- Super Bowl XLV -- and teammates started turning on him again.

They started dropping the ball. Literally.

Five different perfect passes went begging. One to Brett Swain and one to James Jones that would’ve been a touchdown.

The main perpetrator, though, was Jordy Nelson, a third-year kid who dropped not one ... not two ... but three wide-open, room-service, pretty-as-you-please passes.

But did Rodgers lose patience with him? Did he lash out? No, he did something more amazing.

With the game in the balance and Pittsburgh trying to pull off the greatest come-from-behind Super Bowl win, Nelson dropped a spiral that could've iced the game.

Anybody else might've bit a hole in his helmet.

What did Rodgers do? He threw the very next pass to him. He ignored his safety-valve receiver and waited for Nelson to cross.

This time, Nelson's hands were true. He caught it for a colossal first down. Two plays later, Green Bay scored the winning touchdown.

To err is human. To forgive is divine.

To forgive in the Super Bowl, even better.
It's so cold in Dallas, the windows in my rental are frozen shut. Had a drink in the hotel bar last night next to a guy wearing a stocking cap, scarf and gloves. It's snowing again as I write this and 70 degrees in San Diego.

After a week like that, you want to drop rocks in blind men's cups. You snark and snarl. And every quote you come across on Super Bowl week starts to sound dumber than fur sinks.

All the more reason to collect them:

“I think it’s one of the greatest organizations I have been around."

--Green Bay TE Andrew Quarless, who's a rookie

"Who was your favorite player growing up?"

--Reporter, to Green Bay LB Clay Matthews, whose dad played 19 years in the NFL

“I think for me, I mean, obviously, we have to try to score more points than they do.”

--Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger, on how to win this game.

“When you say the name Hines Ward, everybody knows exactly who it is."

--Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh RB

(An ID also works.)

“They’re good players. They’re basically all the same guy, except for Jordy Nelson is Caucasian."

--Ryan Clark, Pittsburgh S, on the Green Bay receivers

“I’m not that prima donna kind of receiver. I don’t have that personality. ... Some of the guys do it just as a publicity stunt to get themselves out there, which is a good strategic plan, but there are other ways to do it. I chose the humility role. This is not a front. It’s just who I am."

--Green Bay WR Greg Jennings, who went on to refer to himself in the third person and complain about how annoyingly early the interviews were and how suffocating his jersey was on Media Day: “I want to ... let people know who I am and what I’m all about and get a feel for Greg Jennings, not the football player, what I like to do. I’m trying to get myself out there so I can be in a movie this year."

(Hopefully, some director can cast him in the humility role.)

"He’s not a guy that’s going to go out there and say a lot of gibberish. He’s going to say what needs to be said."

--Pittsburgh NT Chris Hoke, on teammate James Farrior's pregame speeches. Then Hoke added this: "A lot of times you don’t hear everything he’s saying, because he’s screaming and yelling ..."

(In other words, gibberish.)

"I have always had cake and no one ever took the cake away from me."

--Oddly serious Green Bay WR Donald Driver, who celebrated his birthday Wednesday and, we're assuming, did so with cake.

"I'm tired of chewing on my mustache when I eat."

--Pittsburgh DL Brett Keisel, whose beard is otherwise magnificent. It looks like it should be on a cough drop box or running against Chester A. Arthur. It's the greatest looking beard since Kimbo Slice. Santa Claus' beard aspires to this. It's inspired T-shirts and websites, if not musicals. It stole the hair hype away from Troy Polamalu and Matthews, locks, stock and barrel. NFL Network ranked it the greatest facial hair in NFL history. Better yet, Keisel's musings on it were equal to the moment:

"The beard is why we're here. It's unleashed Super Bowl powers on our whole team, and hopefully it can win us one more."

And ...

“Steeler Nation is strong. They’ve accepted the beard. They believe in the beard, and we believe in them.”

At one point, Keisel tweeted:

"My beard's getting too caught up in this media attention, basking in the glory. It just need to focus on the game."

Greatest beard tweet ever.

Roethlisberger, who is bearded himself, is in awe of it: "It's its own entity. He hides everything in there. We go hunting, and he hides his decoys in there."

Keisel hasn't shaved since June and says he'll shave it after Supe 45.

Hello? Letterman bookers?

Then there was Polamalu, who is a unique blend of humility, commerce and pure physical genius.

"When he gets an interception, he doesn’t let us congratulate him. Casey Hampton tried to congratulate him by jumping on him and [Troy] moved. Casey fell, that’s a lot of man falling to the ground."


Polamalu steadfastly refused to accept congratulations for winning the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year award, saying just about everybody in the league should've won it except him:

"I was not deserving of this honor."

Did you know Polamalu practices in tennis shoes so putting on game cleats Sundays feels like a huge advantage? Clark:

"He’s really smart. He sees things. He can cover so much ground. He practices in tennis shoes on a grass field and still makes every play."

Talk about smart: In the first half hour of media day, Polamalu mentioned his sponsor, Head & Shoulders, three times.

He also said the coolest thing of the week when asked about the Steelers' talent and the Packers' youth:

“Our strength has never been in our talent. It’s always been in our virtues, of our hard work and most importantly our camaraderie, our humility and how we respect the game and respect our opponents. That’s something youth can never have."

The dumbest thing anybody said all week came from much-fined Pittsburgh LB James Harrison, who was a warehouse of contradiction and illogic all week, alternately ripping the NFL's attempts to curb concussions and ruing his own mental future over being the NFL's leading distributor of them. For instance, when asked how long he intends to play, Harrison issued this circuitous journey:

“I won’t sit here and say that I want to play as long as I can. That’s not true. I want to try and play out my contract, and if I get that done, I’m through. Like I said, everybody has to take into account their own health and think about things. With all the concussion stuff that’s out, I’d walk away right now and say, 'Here, take it. It’s not worth it and I’m more worried about my health.' But, right now, I’m going to take my chances and live with whatever I have to live with later on down the line and hope I come out of it better than most. I’m not going to sign another contract. ... I want to be able to run around and play with my kids.”

(Insert sound of America slapping its forehead.)

This is exactly what the NFL is trying to do -- protect anvil-heads like Harrison from themselves -- and it seems to suddenly be getting through to him, intermittently.

Here's a player who fought every dollar of his $125,000 in fines this season for helmet-to-helmet hits, for leading with his head, for endangering the brain pans of not just his opponents but himself. Harrison threatened to retire over Goodell's fines, remember? Was supposedly distraught over them? Set off an avalanche of protest from players and analysts who sided with Harrison and accused Goodell of trying to turn the game into "touch football" and "soccer" and sports with "dresses"?

Still, it's not as dumb as what he said after Super Bowl XLIII, when he refused to go to the White House at the invitation of President Barack Obama:

"If you want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, invite us when we don’t win the Super Bowl. As far as I’m concerned, [Obama] would’ve invited Arizona if they had won.”

Apparently, Harrison is unclear on the whole winner-gets-to-go-to-the-White-House concept.

Lastly, there was this from Steelers CB Bryant McFadden, who seemed to issue a kind of oddly casual public prayer to random gods:

“If I can have the best game of my life Sunday, I would really appreciate it.”

We'll get back to you.
You say you can't decide whether to root for Green Bay or Pittsburgh this Super Bowl Sunday?

No wonder.

They're the exact same team!


Both teams have no cheerleaders.

Both teams are named after local industries -- Packers and Steelers -- the only two left in the NFL.

Both teams wear yellow pants.

Both teams come from lunch-pail, small-market, beer-and-pretzel towns.

Both teams have ownerships that have never changed. Pittsburgh has always been owned by the Rooneys and Green Bay has always been owned by, well, Green Bay.

Both teams are famous for linebackers with missing teeth. Green Bay had Ray Nitschke and Pittsburgh had Jack Lambert. Both men must've hated to eat corn on the cob.

Both teams have fans who don't get dressed without team-logo underwear. And nobody travels better, or more friendly, or in greater numbers, than these two fan bases.

All-time playoff winning percentage? Green Bay is first at 63.6. Pittsburgh is second, at 63.5.

Green Bay was the Team of the '60s. Pittsburgh was the Team of the '70s.

Pittsburgh was first in scoring defense this season, Green Bay second.

Pittsburgh was first in sacks, Green Bay second.

The Green Bay coach, Mike McCarthy, was born and raised in Pittsburgh. He has nine coaches on his staff who have Pittsburgh connections. Gee, you think he looks for that on résumés?

Both teams play the same 3-4 blitzing defense, which was installed by the teams' best-buddy defensive coordinators -- Dom Capers (Green Bay) and Dick LeBeau (Pittsburgh) -- who perfected it when they were both coaches under Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh.

Both teams were led this season by bearded, Christian, mobile quarterbacks -- Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers -- who play in the shadow of legends they don't particularly admire. For Roethlisberger, it's Terry Bradshaw. For Rodgers, it's Brett Favre.

Both teams have superstar defenders who would make very good Chia pets. Pittsburgh's is Troy Polamalu, who won the AP Defensive Player of the Year award this season. Green Bay's is Clay Matthews, who finished second. They both went to USC.

For headline writers, Pittsburgh fits perfectly on top of Green Bay. Or vice versa.

And finally, you have to pull a hammy to find a way to hate either team.

There's no way to choose. They're identical. It's like picking your favorite Olsen twin.

Which is why Super Bowl XLV won't be played in either of the twin cities of Dallas OR Fort Worth.

It will be played in Arlington, square in the middle.