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Two clutch calls decided Super Bowl XLV prior to kickoff.
Every day, in every office around the country, difficult decisions are made. Choices that impact the fate of a franchise rest on the shoulders of certain individuals.
“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” Shakespeare wrote, way back in 1597. Sounds about right, heading into Super Bowl XLV at the $1.1 billion ‘Palace in Dallas’ some 400 years later.
Arguably the most publicized and criticized figures are those who control an NFL front office — an owner or GM who decides the hiring or firing of a coach or quarterback. That is the nature of the beast, after all.
In hindsight, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers went “all in” when Mike Tomlin surprisingly succeeded Bill Cowher, and Aaron Rodgers was essentially forced into forcing out the “retiring” Brett Favre — in 2007 and ’08, respectively.
Tomlin was by no means a popular hire, when Dan Rooney and the Steeler family — or is it the Steelers and the Rooney family? — decided to hire the 34-year-old Vikings defensive coordinator in 2007.
In fact, the most “popular” question following the announcement of Tomlin was “Who?” And rightly so. Having served as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defensive backs coach from 2001-05 under Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden before just one season as the Vikings defensive coordinator to Brad Childress, the jury was still out on the man who Omar Epps wishes he was as cool as.
But Tomlin beat out longtime Steelers assistants Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhunt (whose Cardinals lost to Tomlin’s Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII), as well as former Chargers-turner-Bears D-coordinator and recently-named Panthers coach Ron Rivera, in a hotly contested race to replace Cowher.
Following four-time Super Bowl champion coach Chuck Noll (1969-91) and Super Bowl XL winner Cowher (1992-2006), Tomlin put on his shades and stepped into the Steelers’ spotlight as just the third coach in nearly 40 years.
Since then, Tomlin has made the Rooneys look brilliant, becoming the youngest Super Bowl winning coach in history. He’s now one game away from being the youngest to take two titles — in stride, for those keeping score.
Tomlin has one Super Bowl win (XLIII), a 43–21 regular season record and 4–1 mark in the playoffs — starting 0–1, missing the playoffs once and surviving until Super Sunday twice in his first four seasons.
By comparison, Cowher’s best four-year stretch was one Super Bowl loss (XXX), a 44–20 regular season record and 5–4 postseason mark from 1994-97. The “Jaw” won it all in year 14-of-15, following the 2005 season in Super Bowl XL.
Noll’s tip-top four-year form — granted, not as a “first-term” coach like Tomlin — was two Super Bowl wins (IX and X), a 43–12–1 record (during 14-game regular seasons) and 7–2 playoff run from 1972-75, before two more Super Bowl wins (XIII and XIV), a 45–15 regular season record and 7–2 playoff mark from 1976-79.
Decisiveness was paramount in Rooney's hiring of Tomlin. The coach, in turn, has rewarded his boss with success that lives up to the family franchise's standard.
Titletown was not quite in Cairo-mode three years ago, but no one was quite sure how to take Brett Favre’s first “real” retirement — especially when it was quickly followed by an un-retirement trade to the Jets.
Green Bay GM Ted Thompson was vilified by many — both local and national — for pulling the trigger on the California kid set to enter his fourth NFL season, rather than riding it out with the 16-year starter with two Super Bowl appearances and one Reggie White-sized ring (won with Ron Wolf pulling the strings, not Thompson).
At the time, Rodgers had played in exactly seven games, throwing for 329 yards, one TD and one INT, while taking nine sacks for 70 lost yards and three lost fumbles. Granted, it’s not fair to recall Favre’s individual accomplishments; but No. 4 had swaggered his way to a then-record three MVP awards (1995-97) and was fresh off of an overtime loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants in the NFC Championship Game.
But, for Thompson, Rodgers’ time was “now” — way back then. Favre was 38 years old and debating retirement (again). Rodgers was 25 years old and champing at the bit to get under center and begin his run as a franchise quarterback.
After all, Rodgers had been patient. The Cal product and Chico, Calif., native had watched Utah’s Alex Smith go first overall to A-Rodg’s hometown 49ers in the 2005 NFL Draft. Then, Rodgers sat restlessly in the draft-day green room, until Thompson put him out of his misery — or dragged him into an even worse Favre fire, depending on your vantage point — at No. 24 overall.
Since then, Rodgers has thrown for 12,394 yards, 86 TDs and 31 INTs through the air, with 879 yards and 13 TDs on the ground. And while it’s not technically a head-to-head competition, Favre has aired it out for only 10,183 yards, 66 TDs and 48 INTs (plus 58 rush yards and one TD) over those three seasons (albeit two fewer games).
Rodgers has been nearly flawless while leading Green Bay to wins at Philadelphia (21–16), at Atlanta (48–21) and at Chicago (21–14) — completing 71.0 percent of his passes for 790 yards, six TDs and two INTs for a 109.2 passer rating and two rushing TDs.
A win over the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV would prove that both Rodgers’ and Thompson’s patience was a championship virtue.