The mane event for the Super Bowl was amplified a notch when Head & Shoulder's Troy Polamalu was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, edging out Suave's Clay Matthews. Polamalu captured 17 of the 50 first-place votes compared to 15 for Matthews.
The result was a mild upset but hard to argue. Both players made a ton of plays but Polamalu had more of the game-changing variety. Polamalu finished with seven interceptions and made the season's defining play with his sack-strip of Baltimore's Joe Flacco, which allowed the Steelers to win the AFC North and earn a first-round bye. Matthews finished fourth in the NFL with 13.5 sacks.
Polamalu, who missed two games this season, sat out last year's Packers-Steelers shootout, which Pittsburgh won 37-36 on the game's final play.
"He's obviously the chief of that secondary, of that defense, really," receiver Greg Jennings said. "He's what makes those guys go. You can prepare only so much because a lot of his game is kind of instinctive play and just veteran savviness. Watching him on film, he does a lot of unique things that you don't see a typical safety do. A lot of safeties aren't given the amount of freedom that he has, and rightfully so. He deserves the freedom he has because he makes plays when the ball is snapped."
A shout-out to Brett
Aaron Rodgers holds court.
Without specifically being asked about Favre, Rodgers was asked if it was in any way advantageous for him to spend the first three years of his career watching the action rather than leading it.
"There's a number of advantages that I was able to enjoy not playing right away," he said. "I got to learn the game from probably one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever lace them up. I got to learn the offense, study the offense and become an expert of our offense. I got to study myself in the offseason and work under an incredible quarterback coach and really hone my fundamentals and become a lot better player during those offseasons. Got to get healthy for three years, got my body in really good shape. So when my time did come, I expected to play well."
The Packers have only two players on their roster with Super Bowl experience. Fortunately, one of them is Charles Woodson.
When Woodson helped the Raiders to Super Bowl XXXVII almost a decade ago, center Barret Robbins infamously went AWOL two days before the game. Without Robbins and his expertise in making the calls at the line of scrimmage, Tampa Bay throttled Oakland 48-21. Woodson said the team just couldn't recover from the episode.
"I talked to a few guys," Woodson said, "and kind of reminded them of that story and just let them know, ‘Just be careful, man.' You know guys are going to have fun. That's just the nature of it. Whatever's in your power, just stay out of that and don't be that guy."
Are you experienced?
The Steelers have 19 players with at least two Super Bowl rings. The Packers' only Super Bowl ring belongs to John Kuhn, who won his while on Pittsburgh's practice squad. So, the Steelers have a huge advantage when it comes to experience in this game.
But does it really matter?
Clearly, the Packers are saying it doesn't matter. But what about the Steelers? "We don't get caught up in the experience in that we have more experience," receiver Hines Ward said. "You still have to play the game. For us, it's a comfort level of being here before. A lot of guys have experienced this. At the end of the day, it doesn't give us an advantage or disadvantage. You still have to play the game. If you look at the Giants, a lot of their players, when they played the Patriots, had never played in the Super Bowl, but they went out there and got the job done. I just think the familiarity of what we go through in the Super Bowl, it just depends on how each person can take it. Some people can get overwhelmed by it. Some people are comfortable with it. I think we have a lot of guys who are comfortable with it."
Leader of the Pack
Woodson likes to joke that he didn't get a say in being anointed the team's vocal leader for the playoff run. True or not, what is certain is it's a role he's embraced.
"Well, frankly, it's something that I've been looking at as the head coach of our football team," coach Mike McCarthy said. "I felt, everybody talks about leadership and you need more leadership on your football team. I've started to look for opportunities to give individuals to grow as a leader. At the end of the regular season, which is customary in Green Bay when you make the playoffs, playoff captains are voted on. There's two on offense, two on defense and two on special teams. With that, we had a meeting after the captains were voted before our first playoff game there in Philadelphia, and I told them that pregame I was now turning the prayer over to them and also the final message over to the captains. You six have a vote, you figure out how you want to do it, and the last words before we leave the locker room are going to come from our players. It's a players' game, it's important for us all to be on point with our messaging each week."
Rodgers leads the prayer and Woodson gets the last word. His "1-2-3 White House!" after the Chicago game is practically the stuff of legend.
"It comes with a little bit of respect," Woodson said. "The guys have a lot of respect for me, a lot of respect for my career and how I play the game. That's kind of how it is – you lead by example. At times you're leaded to speak and you do that. It's something that I'm fine with. I'm comfortable doing it. It's worked so far. It's been good for us, so hopefully for one more time."
Ben Roethlisberger, on Keisel's beard, which he started growing during the June minicamp: "It's special. I really don't know what else to say about it. ... The beard has its own Twitter page. It's got a Myspace page. It's got a Facebook page, and it's got its own T-shirt, so I mean, it's its own entity. He hides everything in there. We go hunting and he hides his decoys in there."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.