By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 7, 2011; 1:29 AM
After their stark differences were embellished the past two weeks - loutish bad boy vs. humble choir boy, immovable beer truck vs. sleek scrambler - Ben Roethlisberger actually possessed a quality Aaron Rodgers needed Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium.
The ability to gather his team and himself in February after a hurtful defense kept pounding away - at the lead, the body, the psyche, and finally the season.
Big Ben always pounded back and won, and he was coming hard again. Now it was Brett Favre's replacement's turn for the first time on the NFL's grandest stage.
In the final six minutes of Super Bowl XLV, in the middle of the madness of another Steelers comeback - in the crucible of the 27-year-old Green Bay quarterback's career - Rodgers eyed a third down and 10 from his own 25-yard line.
"On the last possession, I told Aaron in the huddle this is where legacies are formed. You must be great," Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings said. Rodgers replied, "Yeah, let's go get it."
He dropped back, set and fired, delivering the most picturesque pass of the night - a dart with barely a yard of space in the seam, inches beyond Steelers defensive back Ike Taylor's hand and steps in front of free safety Troy Polamalu's grille.
The ball caught the fingertips of Jennings, who tucked it in for 31 yards, keeping the Green Bay drive alive.
Within minutes, the Cowboys Stadium's monstrous video scoreboard dropped mounds of shimmering confetti onto the field, and many of the 100,000-plus began to chant, "Go Pack Go! Go Pack Go!" following a 31-25 victory.
"It is a dream come true," said Rodgers, the game's MVP, who grew up in Chico, Calif., believing Lombardi Trophies were the rites of winter for his San Francisco 49ers. "It's what I dreamt about as a little kid watching Joe Montana and Steve Young, and we just won the Super Bowl."
Three years ago, Rodgers was the neglected kid caught in the middle of an unseemly breakup between Favre and his former employers. On Sunday night, he brought home the exact number of titles No. 4 brought home to Wisconsin.
Ding-dong, the legend was wrong; the kid was the right quarterback for Green Bay - then and now.
"We put everything on his shoulders," Packers Coach Mike McCarthy said of Rodgers. "He did a lot at the line of scrimmage for us against a great defense. He did a hell of a job."
More than most, this was the year of the quarterback - the year Michael Vick showed he belonged again among the elite, the year Tom Brady turned back the clock, the year Sam Bradford made St. Louis matter and the year Favre's ligaments, longevity and usefulness finally hit their expiration dates.
Roethlisberger and Rodgers were all that were left to mold part of their own legacies.
For Big Ben, the character accusations kept coming up, so much so they obscured Roethlisberger's personal challenge; a third Super Bowl would have given him as many as Brady and probably turned the best-of-his-generation argument into a three-person debate.
As gaudy as Peyton Manning's numbers are, he's still a 9-10 career quarterback in the playoffs. And Brady's most recent of three Super Bowl victories came in 2004; why wouldn't Big Ben - with two under his belt and eyeing a third Super Bowl title - be mentioned in the same breath, given his penchant of simply winning when it mattered?
Historically, a third victory in February meant his championship mettle would be on par with Troy Aikman, and one shy of Montana and Terry Bradshaw, who was always recognized as the greatest Pittsburgh quarterback ever.
But Rodgers had his own agenda. And with the help of a menacing defense early, he found himself with a 21-3 first-half lead. He was accurate, confident and baffled the Steelers early, the way he baffled Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago earlier in the playoffs.
And when the Steelers finally showed up, when Roethlisberger began working his comeback magic again, creeping to within 21-17, and at the very end, 28-25, Rodgers's moment was before him.
Shaken and suddenly unsteady, sacked three times in the second half, Rodgers got behind center with the weight of Green Bay on top of him. He delivered with that throw to Jennings, and then led the Packers to an insurance field goal.
When Green Bay's defense finally held, and Big Ben had no more February miracles left, Rodgers banished every notion that he could never lead the Packers as far as a quarterback like Roethlisberger could lead the Steelers - as far as another Packers quarterback named Favre had led Green Bay.
Rodgers sat in the corner of the visitors locker room at Cowboys Stadium after the news conference, embracing players from different Packer generations and team personnel he had known for the past six years. From Ryan Grant, the injured running back, to Jordy Nelson, who scored the game's first touchdown, and every well-wisher in between, each person hugged Rodgers tightly and whispered in his ear. All of them had the same tone:
"I'm so proud of the type of composure he showed these last few years. They might not stop comparing Brett Favre and him or whoever. But he's a champion too now. And there are only so many in the game who can say that. And no one can take that away from him," Grant said.
Beyond Rodgers, there were many other stories of hurdling adversity. Maybe the most telling was seeing Charles Woodson, once labeled disposable by Raiders owner Al Davis, dressing himself with one arm after he broke his collarbone in the biggest game of his career. One clothing item at a time, he slowly pulled on his shirt, then his pants. Finally fastening the buttons on the shirt of his all black ensemble.
He also said the comparisons between Favre and Rogers are unnecessary. "He and Brett have the same amount of championships - so what are they comparing?" He sang in tune two verses of "We Are the Champions" and added "it's time to put him [Rogers] where he belongs, at the top of the league."
He had what Big Ben had. He had what Brett had.
A championship, a trophy and the best of all - a budding legacy Aaron Rodgers could call his very own.