The champs and the championship returned to Green Bay on Thursday night, in a gala celebration that put a quarter pound of glittering jewelry on the fingers of a team Charles Woodson challenged to play with one heartbeat, and then turned in a heart-throbbing performance to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-25, and claim the 13th NFL title in Packers history.
“We had accomplished a great deal. It doesn’t mean anything if you don’t finish it off,” Woodson said in the glow of Thursday’s celebration and ring ceremony, as the Packers finally received their reward for a season in which they overcame more adversity than any team in the league.
How adverse were the circumstances the Packers faced?
Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers confessed to doubt for the team’s prospects, as injuries mounted. Those injuries, of course, included a late-season concussion that resulted in a loss in Detroit that led to consecutive defeats and cast the Packers’ playoff hopes in deep doubt.
“I was worried. It was in doubt for me. I just trusted these guys and the guys pulling the trigger up top,” Rodgers said.
His teammates put their trust in Rodgers and he delivered the strongest performance of any quarterback in the postseason. Rodgers got hot and stayed hot right through his third-down-conversion pass that all but clinched the win over the Steelers.
What was the difference, Rodgers was asked?
“The kind of men we brought in; it started with our head coach,” Rodgers said, referring to Coach Mike McCarthy.
McCarthy punctuated the evening’s ceremonies by coming to the podium wearing a cowboy hat, symbolic of the cowboy hats the players wore to last summer’s kickoff luncheon. It was a prediction of sorts, as the players attempted to send a message that the team’s goal was to play in Super Bowl XLV in North Texas.
The best years of Rodgers’ career, of course, are in front of him. Two Packers, Woodson and wide receiver Donald Driver, are long-time veterans whose sterling careers were crowned by the Super Bowl win.
“This is the pinnacle, of course. I feel like it’s my rightful place in history to be a Super Bowl champion,” Woodson said.
Driver, an ultra-popular player who would enter his 13th NFL season in 2011, was ebullient in receiving his Super Bowl ring.
“It can’t get any better than this. I was amazed. It was more than I expected. This is what me and Wood dreamed up,” Driver said, referring to the ring. “I haven’t reached my final milestones, yet.
“I want to play until I’m 40,” Driver added.
It was a spectacular 61-yard catch-and-run touchdown in week 13 against San Francisco that gives reason to believe Driver, 36, might be able to play until 40. He ran through the 49ers secondary in what might be the highlight moment of his career.
“That play was a pivot point for my career. Mark Murphy said it seems you have something to prove. I did. He said it was one of the best plays I’ve ever seen. That’s probably the best run and catch of my career,” Driver said.
A seventh-round pick in 1999, Driver knew veritably nothing about the team that drafted him.
“I got off the plane in shorts and a tank top. It was 31 degrees. I didn’t even know where Wisconsin was,” Driver said.
He does now, and all of Wisconsin knows who he is.
Young defensive back Tramon Williams was a postseason star and was on hand Thursday night to share in the celebration. It was Williams’ interception and subsequent touchdown return that was the deciding blow in the Packers’ divisional-round win in Atlanta.
“I knew what they were going to be doing. Just make a play on it and trust what I saw. It’s a play they ran in the red zone all the time. I recognized the situation. Dom (Capers) did a great job calling the defense so I could be aggressive,” Williams said of the play.
All of the heroics led to a ring the Packers and Jostens co-designed with the intent of incorporating all of Packers history into its beauty.
“It’s historic. Forty-five rings later it’s still the Packers. It’s a ring like none other,” Jostens President and CEO Tim Larson said. “What I love about it is it’s modern, yet, it’s traditional.
“When you look at the top of that ring, it’s brilliant and it’s a story. All of these rings are handcrafted.”
Packers play-by-play announcer Wayne Larrivee was the toastmaster for the event. He passed the event on to Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy, who passed it on to General Manager Ted Thompson, who gave way to Head Coach Mike McCarthy, who was relaxed and enthusiastic in addressing his players for the first time since the week his team won the Super Bowl.
“Super Bowl XLV is our time,” McCarthy was captured saying in a video entitled, “The Super Season.”
The evening included a video that explained the manufacture of the ring. It was followed by the table-by-table presentation of the rings.
“It’s a beautiful ring. They couldn’t have made it any more spectacular. It’s the most incredible ring I’ve seen,” Woodson said. “We’re going to start preparing for two.”