The NFL's biggest game will come down to a battle between the Cheeseheads and the Terrible Towels.
The Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers - two of the league's most-storied franchises, with decades of winning tradition, Hall-of-Fame players and coaches, and fanatic fan bases between them - survived hair-raising conference title games to advance to Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas, on February 6.
Green Bay earned its ticket to Cowboys Stadium by beating their arch-rivals, the Chicago Bears, 21-14 at Soldier Field. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was not at his best, going 17-30 for 244 yards with two interceptions, but he ran for one score and kept the Monsters of the Midway on their heels all day. The Pack's swarming defense knocked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler out of the game and rendered backup Todd Collins ineffective. Third-stringer Caleb Hanie made it a game, but Green Bay sealed the victory with an interception by rookie corner Sam Shields with 47 seconds left in the game.
Pittsburgh stormed out of the gate and looked to be en route to a rout of the New York Jets, carrying a 24-3 lead into halftime in front a spirited crowd at Heinz Field. But the Steelers offense stalled out in the second half and left it, appropriately, to their defense to seal the deal, closing out the hard-charing Gang Green, 24-19. The Steel Curtain dropped hard on the Jets late in the fourth quarter with a crucial goal-line stand that proved to be the difference maker. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was only 10-19 for 133 yards, but he made big plays with his legs to sustain several drives and completed key passes to tight end Heath Miller and wide receiver Antonio Brown in what would prove to be the decisive series of the game.
Now the two franchises with nine combined Super Bowl wins between them face off with the Steelers having a chance to collect their record seventh title and the Packers vying for the opportunity to bring the Vince Lombardi trophy back to the town where that legendary coach once roamed the sidelines.
The game features a variety of interesting story lines, but the most prominent will surely be the showdown between two of the league's best young signal callers in Rodgers and Roethlisberger. Both were selected as franchise quarterbacks in consecutive drafts (Roethlisberger was the 11th pick in 2004; Rodgers the 24th in 2005) and while Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre for several seasons in Green Bay before breaking out the last two years, Roethlisberger quickly took the reins in Pittsburgh and already has two Super Bowl titles on his resume. Big Ben now gets the chance to capture his third ring before his 30th birthday while Rodgers gets his first crack at Super Bowl glory.
Another significant plot point revolves around the punishing defenses both teams employ. Each is led by an all pro with notable hair; safety Troy Polamalu for Pittsburgh and linebacker Clay Matthews for Green Bay. Both teams run the 3-4 defense and are helmed by defensive gurus - the Steelers' Dick LeBeau and the Packers' Dom Capers - who once worked together in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh and Green Bay finished one and two in scoring defense on the season and promise to make it a long night for both of the star quarterbacks.
And if the game needed another dimension, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is a Pittsburgh native who grew up idolizing the famed Steelers teams of the 1970s. He now gets a chance to win a title for his new team while denying Steeler Nation a date with history.