DALLAS — There are very few things I have in common with the vast majority of the Green Bay Packers. They are the most finely-tuned, well-conditioned athletes on the planet. I have a belly not unlike that of, well, B.J. Raji — so, that is one thing, I guess. The Packers have hundreds of thousands of the most dedicated, fanatical followers you will find anywhere; my girlfriend and her cats think I'm pretty decent. Green Bay and Chicago are close in distance but couldn't be much further apart in lifestyle, and I've lived in Chicago all of my life. But there is at least one striking similarity between me and 50 of the 53 members of the Green Bay Packers: Sunday will be our first Super Bowl.
This week has been a complete whirlwind for me, beginning with the combined six hours of delays in Chicago and Little Rock to get to Dallas, the dynamic duo of a pesky cold and lack of sleep since the time I arrived in Dallas and leading all the way up to NFLPA leader DeMaurice Smith's question-and-answer session with the media on Thursday and commissioner Roger Goodell's Friday "State of the League" press conference. My disappointment over the latter two events is considerable after hearing the same song and dance and political propaganda we have been hearing for the last year-plus, while the CBA's March 4 expiration continues to draw nearer without any progress. But that is for a different column and a different time.
What I do know without a shadow of a doubt is that this week has been one of the greatest thrills of my life — and I'm certain that's one more thing I have that in common with the guys from TitleTown.
While I have been overwhelmed at times with the magnitude of the event with the non-stop press conferences, running into celebrities ranging from "The Situation" to Miss Junior USA to Joe Montana, and just doing the best job I can to act like I have been here before, I don't get the sense from visiting with the Packers that they are overwhelmed by this moment at all.
Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett and John Kuhn are the only three Packers who have been to a Super Bowl. Kuhn is the only one of them with a ring, which he earned, ironically, as a practice-squad player with the Steelers in 2005. By comparison, nearly half of the Steelers' roster — 25 players, to be exact — have played in a Super Bowl.
I spoke with several of the Packers' Super Bowl virgins this week expecting to see the same frazzled look in their eyes that I've seen in the mirror on at least a few occasions this weekend, but I haven't seen it much at all. Instead, even in speaking with guys younger than me, including LBs A.J. Hawk and Frank Zombo, I saw an impressive focus, confidence and players who wouldn't allow themselves to be overwhelmed. I understand that all could very easily change in a heartbeat on Sunday, but I don't think it will.
Maybe that has to do with the fact that the Packers have been in playoff mode since Week 16. Not only have they kept the season-long perseverance train chugging full steam down the tracks, but they have done it mostly on the road and in impressive fashion. And let's not forget the loss to the Patriots in Week 15. Yes, the Pack lost the game, but the confidence they gained from going into Foxborough with backup QB Matt Flynn and exchanging body blows with the then seemingly invincible Patriots for 59 minutes sent a message that this team has what it takes.
I firmly believe that Green Bay is the better football team at this moment. The only hesitation I've had over the last two weeks in making it my pick to win the ring is the aforementioned experience factor. The Steelers have been here before. Even more importantly, they have the QB, who whether you like him or not, is on the cusp of being mentioned in the same breath as Brady, Aikman, Montana and Bradshaw if he wins a third Super Bowl. And he's still just a 28-year old kid. But the Packers have battled through so much this season and have the gunslinger, Aaron Rodgers, at quarterback who is playing on a different level right now. The Steelers' proud defense has been humbled by similar offenses before, and I can't help but think the Packers are on a mission that won't be completed until the trophy finds its way back to its roots in the original "TitleTown." But then again, what do I know, this is my first Super Bowl.