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|Mike McCarthy did his best Rex Ryan impression before the big game, then got the Gatorade treatment at the end of Super Bowl XLV.|
This isn't going to be a one-and-done season for the Packers, who are built for the long haul. With a terrific coach in McCarthy, and with a 27-year-old, Super Bowl MVP quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have the potential to break the flavor-of-the-year trend in the NFC.The Packers were the 10th different NFC team to reach the Super Bowl in the past 10 years, but that stops now. This is a talented, tough-minded team that has the right to dream of more Lombardi Trophies in the future. Finally free from the whims of Brett Favre, who held the organization hostage until 2008 with his annual retirements and unretirements, the Packers have what every franchise longs for -- stability at the quarterback position. Rodgers shredded a very good defense, passing for 304 yards and three touchdowns. When it got tense in the fourth quarter, with the pressure starting to affect the Packers, he made the throw of his life -- a 31-yard strike to Greg Jennings on a third-and-10. It led to a field goal and, more importantly, allowed the Packers to milk valuable time from the clock. "This," Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward said of Rodgers, "was a great coming-out party for him." Rodgers' effort culminated one of the greatest postseasons in history for a quarterback -- nine touchdown passes and 1,094 yards. As long as he's around, the Packers are going to be a power in the NFC -- and he's going to be around for a long time.
"It's a dream come true," Rodgers said. "It's what I dreamt about as a little kid, watching Joe Montana and Steve Young -- and we just won the Super Bowl."The Giants have more to worry about than just Rodgers. The Packers finished the season with 15 players on injured reserve, including six starters. We're talking about key players such as running back Ryan Grant, tight end Jermichael Finley and linebacker Nick Barnett. They won a championship without those cogs; imagine when the team is healthy. The Packers are young (average age: 26.2) and they're not going to get ripped apart anytime soon by free agency. Barring something unforeseen, they have the ability to -- dare we say it? -- stage a Lombardi-esque run.
But this team has more than talent. It has attitude. It has toughness. The Packers lost cornerback Charles Woodson (broken collarbone) and wide receiver Donald Driver (ankle sprain) in the first half, and they refused to give in. They subscribe to the "Next Man Up" philosophy.
"That's the story of our season," McCarthy said.At halftime, Woodson, knowing he was done for the night, stood up in the locker room and made a tearful speech, imploring his teammates to finish the job. He had been chasing a Super Bowl ring for 13 seasons, and now he was asking -- pleading -- his teammates to carry him home. "I shed a lot of tears," said Woodson, cradling the Lombardi Trophy after the game with one arm. "I haven't cried that much in a long time. ... It doesn't matter now because I'm a champion."
Woodson's speech lasted only a few words, according to teammates, because he broke down. Didn't matter, the message was sent. The Packers turned to a seldom-used cornerback named Pat Lee, who was forced into a prominent role in the second half.Lee did the job, because it seems like everybody does the job for the Packers -- from GM Ted Thompson to McCarthy to Rodgers to the last guy on the roster. McCarthy has instilled that resilience in this team. It's a rare quality. Plenty of teams say they have it, but only a few really do. The Giants say they have it, and they talk about how much they believe in Tom Coughlin, but they squandered a once-promising season with a late fade. Their December collapse was punctuated with a loss in Green Bay, and that was no coincidence. They're going to be chasing the Packers for some time now. Green Bay has its first championship since a young Favre won it with Reggie White in 1996, and the rings are coming. The measurements are done. "I'm a size 17," said defensive tackle Howard Green, noting a busted knuckle. "My ring is coming soon."