|Matt Ludtke / Associated Press|
|Charles Woodson has had a stellar career, but a game-changing play in the Super Bowl could cement his legacy.|
There have been some epic performances in Super Bowls that were used as a springboard to eventually be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Will we be watching future Hall of Famers in Super Bowl XLV?
Of course, it is all just speculation, but a Super Bowl ring could put a guy or two in position for a bust in Canton. A great performance by a young player could put him on course for future consideration.
Sunday's game has three guys I consider as solid contenders for induction one day, two who are star players but have a lot of work left to do, and three young stars that are on Canton's radar.
Here are the men with the best chance to help their cause if they play the game of their lives Sunday:
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger: He could be a lock if he gets his third ring. Roethlisberger will never have the passing numbers of some of the greats, but he wins the big ones. Roethlisberger is only 28 and already has a 10-2 postseason record and 16 touchdown passes. While he could play another seven years, he could end up having his career cut short with all the sacks and hits he takes. Still, whether you love him or hate him, the Super Bowl wins get him in the Hall.
Packers CB Charles Woodson: A great player who has longevity on his side. He is finishing up his 13th season and looks to have gas left in his tank. He has been the NFL Defensive Player of the Year and played in 13 postseason games. Woodson has 47 interceptions and 13.5 sacks in his career. Guys in the Hall of Fame like Roger Wehrli finished with 40 interceptions and Mel Blount is only 10 away at 57. Woodson only has seven postseason picks and a big game in a Packer win could put him over the top.
Steelers WR Hines Ward: It gets tougher to make it in as a receiver every year. Even though there is a faction of fans that don't want to hear another Steelers receiver went into the Hall of Fame, when you look at Ward's production he has to be in the conversation. He could be looking at his third Super Bowl title. His 954 receptions are 81 more than Lynn Swann and John Stallworth put together. Hines has 11,702 receiving yards and 83 touchdowns. In the 16 postseason games (12-4 record) in which he has appeared, the equivalent of a regular season, he has 81 receptions, 1,103 yards, nine touchdowns and 53 first downs. What happens if he catches the winning TD from Roethlisberger on Sunday?
On the fringe
Steelers S Troy Polamalu: He plays like a future Hall of Famer, but his injury history is starting to catch up with him. In eight seasons, he has only completed a 16-game schedule three times. He has 27 interceptions, eight sacks and eight forced fumbles, which is hardly enough to be a candidate. However, if he plays four more years, he could get in the conversation. He is a rare athlete with a 10-2 postseason mark and just won Defensive Player of the Year.
Steelers LB James Harrison: While he's a fan favorite of Steelers nation, his numbers don't match the men in Canton. At 32, he only has 49 sacks in 71 starts and spent too many years early in his career bouncing around the league. He is a great player right now, but will his body of work add up to being enshrined? Guys in the Hall like Andre Tippett (100 sacks) and Rickey Jackson (128 sacks) are the recent standard for getting elected.
On radar, but too early to tell
Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley: He might seem like a reach, but the 26-year-old linebacker already has 39 sacks and three interceptions in his four years, only three of which he started. The great Lawrence Taylor had 41 sacks in the same amount of time. Woodley also has 10 sacks in his six postseason games. LT played in 10 playoff games and had 6.5 sacks. I am not comparing the two, but simply pointing out the pace Woodley is on. At his age, he could project to 100-plus sacks and 10 picks. If he winds up with multiple Super Bowl rings and 30 postseason sacks, he'd have a strong case.
Packers LB Clay Matthews: At 24 and two years in the league, he has 23.5 sacks in 28 starts. He also has 4.5 sacks in four playoff games. Long way to go, but he could change the standard for pass rushers at this pace.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers: He has really only played three seasons, yet already has 87 touchdown passes and led his team to a Super Bowl. A victory Sunday puts him in the race, and at 27, he still has a chance for a lot of success.