A game-changing interception in the Super Bowl can do that for a guy’s flagging popularity.
Jarrett Bush’s overall play down the stretch in the Packers’ run to the Super Bowl title may have had the same game-changing effect on his image with the fans that Bush had on the outcome of the game.
Bush had fallen into disfavor with Packers fans in recent years for:
Failing to recover R.W. McQuarters’ muffed punt late in the fourth quarter of the 2007 NFC Championship, a potential turnover in a tie game that could have set the Packers up for the winning score.
Getting benched in the showdown in Dallas earlier in ’07, when he stepped into the starting lineup to replace an injured Charles Woodson, and struggling in a critical regular-season game.
The dozen penalties on special teams from the '07 through '09 seasons.
He couldn’t even catch a break in the Pittsburgh game late in ’09, when he intercepted Ben Roethlisberger on the Steelers’ final drive, only to have the play nullified by an illegal contact penalty on teammate Brandon Chillar. It would have helped folks forget the 60-yard touchdown pass he gave up to receiver Mike Wallace on the Steelers’ first play of the game, but no such luck.
With all of that as a backdrop, though, here was Bush making one of the crucial plays in Super Bowl XLV, against the Steelers, no less. With rookie cornerback Sam Shields already tight to Wallace, Roethlisberger tried to squeeze in a short throw over the middle and a roving Bush read the play, attacked and picked it off. It preceded a 53-yard drive for a touchdown and a 21-3 Green Bay lead in the second quarter.
“It was heartwarming and gratifying, just to prove to my teammates, prove to myself, what I was capable of,” Bush said.
They are the words of a reluctant hero.
Bush has added his name to a Super Bowl list that includes Green Bay’s own Max McGee, though one interception probably won’t resonate the way McGee’s seven catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns in Super Bowl I, all with a hangover, have for 45 years.
The play was the culmination of some significant late-season impact from Bush. Voted one of two special teams captains for the playoffs, Bush finished second on the team with 12 coverage tackles in the regular season, then added seven more in the four postseason games.
He also downed back-to-back punts inside the 5-yard line against Chicago in the regular-season finale, a field-position battle in which the Bears never scored a touchdown and the Packers clinched their playoff spot, 10-3. He helped down another punt inside the 5 in the NFC Championship in Chicago, beating his man downfield and deflecting the ball back to teammate Brandon Underwood near the goal line.
Then, emblematic of the team’s season-long success with backups stepping in for injured starters, Bush got the call at corner in the second half with Woodson (collarbone) and Shields (shoulder) sidelined. Following his interception, he assumed Woodson’s slot role and pressured Roethlisberger with a couple of blitzes, getting one good lick on the burly quarterback to let him know the Packers’ shorthanded defense wasn’t backing down.
To his credit, Bush didn’t bask in his late-season success by touting his accomplishments to the fan base that previously groaned upon hearing his name. He did give up a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl just before halftime when he lost Steelers receiver Hines Ward in coverage in the end zone.
He knows some fans would rather remember that, and add it to the list, but he long ago came to grips with how that works.
Bush actually took responsibility before the Super Bowl for how he was viewed from the outside, even though the opinion of him on the inside was high enough to match a contract offer from Tennessee a couple of years back.
“It was unfortunate what they thought of me, but what I thought of them didn't change – I thought they were still the greatest fans in the world,” Bush said. “But it was up to me to change their perception of me and the way I played the game.”
He did that in 2010 through ongoing talks with special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum and by focusing on his fundamentals. He reduced his penalty total this past season to three, including none until Week 12, and then none in the four postseason contests.
Always an aggressive player, that’s the approach Bush relied upon because, as he says, “I’m not the biggest guy, I’m not the smartest guy, I’m not the fastest guy,” and Slocum has said Bush is using his aggressiveness more effectively and efficiently now.
In the bigger picture, his story of going from a waiver claim as a rookie in ’06 to playoff captain four years later is a valuable example for young players who need a chance to develop. Bush will enter 2011 as a sixth-year veteran who can serve as a leader and role model for others – a thought that was perhaps inconceivable to fans a few years ago – now that he’s been part of the Packers’ culture long enough with his own level of success.
“You just have to grab hold of those young guys and just harp on them how we work here, how we take part in the classroom, how we study when we go home, how we study film, how we study an opponent, and just get them into our chemistry, how we do things around here, just a certain way,” Bush said. “If we can do that and hopefully if they have that mind to mold, they should do just fine.”