After a long NFL season and an exciting and somewhat surprising playoff run, the match-up for this year's Super Bowl is finally set. We've got quite a bit of time to go over every storyline, statistic, and shit-talking salvo in the next week and a half, so I thought before I got into a full-on Super Bowl preview and revealed my pick for the game's outcome, I would take a long look at the guys who play quarterback for each team.

The two players we're talking about here, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers and Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers, are men of contrasting styles and characters for the most part, and are definitely going to dominate many of the headlines as the Super Bowl draws closer. Rodgers and Roethlisberger are both talented and capable quarterbacks who have steered their teams through the long, arduous journey of the NFL season and planted their flags firmly in Dallas, where the Super Bowl will be played in the tricked-out house that Jerry Jones built.
Aside from Michael Vick, there is perhaps no other quarterback in recent memory that has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons more than Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben seems to have some uh...you might say...trouble getting along with the ladies, as he followed a dust-up with a female paramour in Lake Tahoe in 2008 with an eerily similar encounter during the 2010 off season in Georgia. I should be clear here and state that Roethlisberger has never been convicted or even charged with any criminal wrong-doing in either case, though there were civil accusations in 2009, which followed around a year after the 2008 incident and are still pending.

Of course, the NFL has their own justice system. Roethlisberger was suspended for the first six games of  this season for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, but ended up serving a reduced penalty of only four games because of a vague belief by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell that he had displayed good behavior during his time of woe. So, Ben sat out four games and the Steelers went 3-1 in his absence. Just as he had  deftly avoided so many defenders in the past, Ben similarly stiff-armed a couple of twenty-something female accusers and faced few on-field consequences in the process--he is playing in the damn Super Bowl for chrissakes.

With all that out of the way, I think the guy's pretty much a creep. Roethlisberger has always been a standoffish, brooding lout toward the media and general public, (not to mention his hometown in Ohio) but that coupled with now repeated suspicious incidents with college-age women makes for a guy that is certainly not on my list of favorite athletes. If there's one thing that can't be excused, it's being a bully towards women, and that should be an especially important rule if you're nearly six and a half feet tall and right around 250 pounds. I don't have time to go over the ins and outs of those cases, but if you'd like to learn more, you can click here and here and read for yourself (although some of the info you might wish to know about the incident in Georgia did go missing rather mysteriously...).

I never want to be one to judge at a distance, but when you're talking about sports it becomes hard to avoid that particular vantage point. I don't know the guy personally, but I think that his track record with women, even from a removed perspective, doesn't exactly jibe with the prevailing social sentiments towards the matter. He just has that aura about him now, and no matter how much you believe that people can change, and I surely do, there hasn't been enough time passed or difference in Roethlisberger's demeanor right now for me to be on his side. And this is coming from a guy who has respect for Mike Vick's turnaround.

The point here is that Ben has incurred a rather large amount of personal baggage over the last couple of years, while in the meantime risen to the top of the heap at his position and collected two Super Bowl championships in the process. A guy with a surly attitude and a predilection for intimidating the opposite sex is hard to root for, but there is no way to argue that Roethlisberger hasn't excelled at the quarterback position. He's got two rings and he's only twenty-eight. That's one less than and one more than the two guys that always get brought up as being the pinnacle of the QB position, they being Tom Brady and Peyton Manning respectively.

Ben doesn't put up their kind of numbers statistically, but he definitely wins football games and has proven his mettle as a clutch performer that makes the big plays down the stretch, when the outcome of a game is on the line. The drive he engineered at the end of the 2009 Super Bowl to beat the Arizona Cardinals was breathtaking and the one that killed the rest of the clock in this year's AFC Championship Game against the New York Jets was another example of his ability to face down the big moment and will his team to a win.

I've always been one to defend Peyton Manning despite his lack of big game "moments", the kind that can make or break a QB's legacy, but if you look at Brady, Roethlisberger, and Manning, I think you have to put them in that order as far as the best in the game. Big Ben's rings and his clear-cut mastery of the game's most important moments put him ahead of Manning's jaw-dropping statistical dominance and MVP trophies (Brady meanwhile, trumps them both by possessing a stunning combination of clutch performances, championship rings, and stats for days).
So I don't like him, but Roethlisberger has proven to me that he's one of the game's elite QB's, and as a football fan, I can't say I'm disappointed that he's in the Super Bowl.  He can only make the game more exciting and competitive for one, and his troubled past makes for some added juice if you happen to write a blog about sports.

On the other side of the ball two Sundays from now will be a player that has both a boat-load of athletic talent and nothing but my utmost respect and admiration. The former will help him more than the latter as far as the Super Bowl goes, but Aaron Rodgers is both the kind of QB that general managers swoon over and the kind you want to knock a  few beers back with, as cliche as that might sound.  Rodgers is now in his third year as an NFL starter and has already proven that he's a playoff performer and leader of men, the kind of QB that can get his team to the biggest game of the season, this year and beyond.

The Packers played their way into the playoffs over the last few games of the season, with each being a do-or-die contest as far as their post-season hopes were concerned. After that, they only beat the Philadelphia Eagles, dismantled the Atlanta Falcons with a historic performance by Rodgers, and outlasted a gutty Chicago Bears team--all on the road--on their way to the Super Bowl against the Steelers. Rodgers beat the resurgent Michael Vick in Philly, went 31 for 36 with 366 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Falcons, and while he wasn't overwhelming against the Bears, made every big play he had to, gutting out a vicious hit by Julius Peppers and making a touchdown-saving tackle on Brian Urlacher after throwing an interception.

Rodgers's playoff run not withstanding, he also put the injury riddled Packers on his shoulders all season long, emerging as the top quarterback in the NFC down the stretch (all apologies to Mr. Vick). He did so without his starting tight-end and running back for practically the entire year, all the while throwing masterful passes and making play-saving runs in the shadow of Brett Favre. The Packers were Favre's team, but right now there isn't a man, woman, or child in Green Bay that would take Favre back for all the whiskey in Ireland (ahem, hate to say I told you so but...). These are the new Packers, and they don't need a salt-and-pepper drama queen to steer the ship anymore. They've got a throttling defense and number 12 behind center and as-such aren't messing around these days.

On top of his ability, Rodgers is easy to root for because of how well he has handled everything during his NFL tenure. Coming out of college at California, Rodgers was initially projected as the number one overall pick by most prognosticators. As draft day neared, things started to shift and the whole country watched as the guy who should've had the shortest stay on the draft board slipped all the way to number 24, where the Packers took Rodgers to back-up the at that time still vibrant Brett Favre. Rodgers took it all in stride and did his duty as Favre's back-up. When he was finally named starter and Favre un-retired to try and take his old job back, he was equally calm and collected, allowing the drama to pass by and assuming his new role with class and restraint.

After that, the dood just went off. He has played increasingly well in all three years as the Packers' starter and has proven to be as tough and upstanding a guy as his past behavior had intimated. Not only that, but he's just as passionate and exuberant as Favre was in his heyday. Rodgers is hard on teammates but well-liked by all, displaying a love of the game with a consistent on-field smile and a pro-wrestling championship belt celebration for his TD's (which culminated with a fantastic, nuanced rendition during the NFC Championship game against the Bears where Rodgers merely pointed to his waist). He's playing and acting like a world champ, and is now in the position to make it happen.

Like I said before, you don't want to try and feel like you know a professional athlete too well from a spectator's view, but unlike Roethlisberger, Rodgers has a respectful, professional way of doing things that leads to him being one of this writer's favorite players to watch. Don't give me that cancer patient, autograph-dodging stuff either (if you don't know what I'm talking about, click here and check out the video. It looks bad, I know, but the woman involved doesn't have any hard feelings and Rodgers has obliged her with many an autograph in the past). Rodgers is a man of character on and off the field and unlike the man he replaced in Green Bay and the one he'll face in the Super Bowl, doesn't crave or disgracefully attract the limelight whatsoever.

As I discussed in my recent post on the quarterback position, teams with stellar QB's have a nose for the Super Bowl, and much of a team's success rides on who is taking the snaps. Rodgers and Roethlisberger were the deciding factors in their teams' victories on Championship Sunday, where both the Packers and Steelers were evenly matched defensively against the Bears and Jets.  The four QB's lined-up with four equally impressive defensive units, and the two quarterbacks left standing are the two that were better than their opponent at the position when it mattered most (although Jay Cutler did miss the entire second half of the Packers/Bears contest with a knee injury--and by the way Jay, everyone's watching now so don't take the stairs man!).

It's my opinion that we're in for a Super Bowl with a similar set-up. With the Matthews/Woodson led Packers and the Polamalu/Harrison led Steelers battling each other on defense, it will be up to Rodgers and Roethlisberger as to which team's offense will win the day, and most likely the game. While I think you know who I'm going to be rooting for, there's no doubt that the quarterbacks in this year's Super Bowl will be a joy to watch as they compete for the ring and a study in contrasting styles that will hopefully make for an exciting and dramatic Sunday in February.

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