DALLAS -- You can almost hear Vince Lombardi screaming to his players from the sideline, "What the hell is going on out here?"
If the legendary Green Bay Packers coach were alive today, he might be asking the same question. Because what's going on -- and what has been going on for the last year -- is a present-day phenomenon that could very well be termed "The Year of Lombardi."
From the wonderful Broadway play called "Lombardi," starring Dan Lauria and Judith Light, that opened in October to rave reviews; to the incredible NFL Films documentary about his life on HBO in December; to the team with the most Lombardi Trophies (Pittsburgh) playing Lombardi's Packers in Super Bowl XLV on Sunday -- everything about the 2010 season is coming up Lombardi.
Last month, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's inaugural address, with words that today still inspire us as a nation. This year, we also celebrate a man who has left an indelible mark on the game we all love. The life of Vince Lombardi has impacted so many. Some were fortunate to get first-hand lessons. Others, like me, read about his life and and took in those words of wisdom through wonderful stories, his speeches and famous quotes. But this year, more than any other year, Vince Lombardi's life has been woven into the fabric of the 2010 season.
I've been blessed to have the same last name as Coach Lombardi, which has allowed me access to his life -- from meeting his son and grandchild, to becoming friends with the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the best book ever written on Lombardi, "When Pride Still Mattered." Each time I am around David Maraniss, a Wisconsin native and Packers fan, I learn something new about the man he studied for more than a year while researching the book, and why even today -- some 41 years since Lombardi's death -- the legendary coach still impacts so many.
Lombardi still matters today because his lessons of life still matter. His commitment to his work and players are all the essential ingredients that every team that has hoisted the trophy named after him share, including the two franchises that will take the Cowboys Stadium field on Sunday in Super Bowl XLV.
The winning team will have a signature style to their offense and defense, much like Lombardi's Packers. The winning team will play disciplined, physical, selfless football, and can overcome any early setbacks. The winning team will be the one that believes teamwork is essential -- not the team that does it for individual glory, but the team that believes in one another. The winning team will have great resolve and -- much like my favorite Lombardi quote -- will find "the greatest reward for doing is the opportunity to do more."
However, as Lombardi often said, there can only be one winner. And that winner will come Sunday night when all the talking has ended, and we will finally have a champion. When studying this game, both teams on paper appear to have many similar strengths and weaknesses. However, there are five reasons why I favor the Packers to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay:
Reason No. 1: The Packers' defensive front will control game
I believe the difference in the game will be the Packers' defensive front against the Steelers' wounded offensive line. The play of B.J. Raji and Cullen Jenkins inside, to go along with the relentless pressure on the outside from Clay Matthews, makes the Packers' front seven extremely tough to block. As Lombardi would always say, "Football is only two things -- blocking and tackling."
The Steelers have done a marvelous job working around all of the injuries to their offensive line. Most teams that lose both starting offensive tackles would never win as many games, much less beat some of the best teams in the league. Because the Steelers are so tough and so determined, they never let their lack of healthy offensive linemen hinder their chances. But in this game, on a fast track and with the Steelers playing without their starting center, the Packers' defensive front tilts the balance of power toward them, as long as they contain Ben Roethlisberger.
Reason No. 2: Packers can make Roethlisberger a pocket passer
Blitzing Roethlisberger does not always work, as it allows him to escape the pocket, making him most dangerous. Roethlisberger on the move is better than Roethlisberger in the pocket. And, at times, defending him is much like defending Michael Vick -- force the quarterback to make every throw from inside the pocket by coordinating the rush so there are no escape avenues. Once out of the pocket, Roethlisberger looks to run, looks downfield and makes the loose plays that create big plays.
Therefore, if the Packers can pressure Roethlisberger without always having to blitz -- like they did in their wild-card playoff victory against Vick this season -- it will allow them to control him in the pocket, where he will be forced to make all of throws.
Reason No. 3: Zone coverage will help Packers DBs catch breath
When a defense plays as much man-to-man coverage as the Packers do, it runs the risk of allowing the quarterback to escape. The Packers also run the risk of having a tired defensive backfield cover receivers for longer than normal as the quarterback moves around to buy time. In order to win the game, the Packers must keep Roethlisberger in the pocket. They must also allow their defensive backs some time to catch their breath, mixing in some zone, which will help keep eyes on Roethlisberger and also rest the defensive backfield.
Roethlisberger had a 500-yard passing day the last time the Packers faced the Steelers (in Week 15 of the 2009 season), scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter and winning on the final play of the game. The Packers are aware they can't play a full game of man-to-man, or risk being too tired for the fourth quarter. (Note: If you don't think getting tired is a real possibility, then remember when a wide receiver runs a deep route, he waves another wide receiver to take his place on the next play, but the defensive back does not get to take the next play off.) Lombardi once said, "Fatigue makes cowards of us all," but making sure your team is not fatigued is important as well.
Reason No. 4: Pittsburgh struggles to defend spread formations
The Steelers are built to stop the run, and every player on their team can tackle. In their last game against the Steelers, the Packers only attempted to run the ball 12 times, which is a comfortable game for them to play. The Packers are not going to run; they are going to throw to run and make this a space game.
In a space game, the Steelers' weaknesses can be exposed as long as their opponents are capable of handling the pressure, which I believe the Packers care. Aaron Rodgers is quick-minded with the football, and the Packers understand how to protect overload pressures. Early in the last game, the Steelers had success attacking the Packers up the middle with their cross-dog pressure, but once the Packers had an answer for this blitz they were able to move the ball through the air.
Reason No. 5: A fitting end to 'Year of Lombardi'
Since the 2010 season has been surrounded with reminders of the great coach, it would only be fitting for his team -- the Packers -- to win the game. On paper, they are the more talented team and on the field they can prove their talent base is superior. I believe this will be a close game. However, in the end, the Packers have too much talent and the right karma. I like them to beat the Steelers, 24-17.
In The Year of Lombardi, could it end any other way?