Despite being only Monday, the atmosphere in North Texas was buzzing with Green Bay fans wearing their Cheeseheads and Steeler fans waving the Terrible Towels, both invading every nook and cranny of Dallas/Fort worth.
With both teams arriving yesterday, I was given the assignment to cover their press conferences. I took great interest in both head coaches giving their state of the union, sort of speak. My main focus turned on two players that literally have the ability to control the biggest football game of the year and the largest professional sports spectacular in the world that will be broadcasted live in over thirty languages, including ten different languages; Chinese, Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Hungarian, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Spanish.
I’m going to turn the clock back and re-visit my experiences while evaluating both Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers coming out of college. Both of these exceptional quarterbacks took very different paths to get to the Super Bowl.
Scouting in the NFL can be related to the Kevin Costner’s movie, “The Field of Dreams.” In that movie he was quoted “build the field and they will come.” Well with college football players, “put up the production no matter the level of competition and NFL Personnel will find you.”
Let’s start with Ben Roethlisberger, a native of Lima, OH. He attended Miami University, located in Oxford Ohio. Nicknamed Big Ben by those at the University, he had a stellar career. Large body quarterback standing 6’5 – 230 pounds coming out of college with a strong arm and uncanny accuracy both in and outside of the pocket with and the ability to lead his team to victory after trailing for most of the contest. A three-sport letter winner in high school (football, basketball, baseball).
I saw the numbers this young man was putting up, I grabbed a Rand McNally Road Atlas to find out where the hell Oxford Ohio was located. I booked a flight, hopped in my rental car and off I went to see the quarterback they called Big Ben. The game I choose was late in the season of 2003. Snow on the ground, a gusty evening, and the temperature was below 10 degrees including the wind-chill.
Because of the small press box, we stood outside. Standing next to General Manager Scott Pioli (New England now Kansas City) along with 30 other NFL Personnel, including (General Managers, Vice Presidents, College Directors, National Scouts along with Region Scouts, all to see Big Ben.
As I wiped my nose raw, the young gunslinger didn’t disappoint; he directed his team to a win, while throwing from the pocket, sliding and extending the play with his feet to thrown on the run, and displayed toughness to run the ball for first downs to keep the chains moving. His style of play is that of sandlot football, whatever it takes to win. I played it as a kid on cement, between cars with the sidewalks being the out of bounds, Big Ben’s mentality is no different.
In 2003 he led the Red Hawks to an undefeated season, won the MAC Championship, finished ranked 10th in the nation and won the GMAC Bowl. Big Ben’s Jersey was retired 2007, making him the third player to have their jersey retired in school history.
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the 2004 11th overall, the boy from Lima, Ohio delivered a Super Bowl victory to Steeler Nation. Sunday Big Ben will be playing in his third Super Bowl and has the opportunity to go 3-for-3, which is huge.
Let’s take a close look at Aaron Rodgers, an exceptional quarterback in his own right. A native of Chico, CA. A two year starter at quarterback in high school that put up decent numbers, but was over looked by all major colleges.
He attended Butte Junior College located in Oroville, CA (50 miles from his home town). According to Jeff Tedford Head Coach at University of California, “I went to recruit a tight end, and came away wanting both the tight end and Aaron Rodgers.” He had led his team to a top three National ranking and a 10-1 record. An extremely bright young man with a 3.6 GPA and 1300 test score, off he went to become a Golden Bear.
I watched Aaron play against USC, Washington, Arizona and Oregon along with several other games on film. A quarterback with good size is extremely intelligent, athletic, good arm strength with a quick release point, and makes plays with his arm and feet in or outside the pocket. A quarterback that is a threat with down field running skills.
Under Coach Tedfords tutelage, Rodgers set several single season and school passing records. After two spectacular seasons, Aaron declared for the NFL Draft in 2005. He was invited to New York City for the Draft, and sat in the “Green Room”, the holding tank for all invitees; his name was the last to be called at pick number 24.
Once a professional, Aaron was put in charge of the clip board, charted plays and listened and learned from his position coach and a future Hall of Famer named Brett Favre. He had three years for his body to develop, his mind to gain knowledge, while developing as a team leader behind a legend. While chopping at the bit, he paid his dues and developed mentally and physically. The Bret Favre trade to the New York Jets took place March 4, 2008, and Rodgers has never looked back.
While both of these young elite quarterbacks have made it to the pinnacle of Professional football taking different paths, they stand at the crossroads of greatness. Big Ben has the opportunity to win his third Super Bowl which will catapult him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for sure. Aaron Rodgers, like Steve Young, he has to get that monkey off his back. It took Young several years to shed the Montana legacy and now Rodgers has a chance to do the same of Favre’s.
At the press conference both displayed great confidence, eager, upbeat but slightly laid back in there approach to answering questions. It was obvious Big Ben had been here before, while Aaron had a slight look of the unknown, despite a clear vision of what lies ahead.
2011 might be the best Super Bowl ever, two elite quarterbacks that are difference makers with strong defenses and two head coaches that will pull all stops in order to deliver the 45th Lombardi Trophy.