ARLINGTON, Texas - Charles Woodson said he knew it was bad but the X-ray confirmed it. The Green Bay Packers' sneaky, stellar cornerback had suffered a broken left collarbone in the biggest game, and he was distraught.
Halftime, then. Woodson was just one of the wounded on a Packers team that spent much of the season playing games, it seemed, with one arm tied behind its back. Woodson, out. Wide receiver Donald Driver, out. Defensive back Sam Shields, in and out with a shoulder. The bodies were falling and never did a 21-10 halftime lead look quite so precarious.
Outside on the field, the Black Eyed Peas were doing what they do, accompanied by people who glowed in the dark. Inside, before the Packers came out of their dressing room to face the haymaker that they knew the Pittsburgh Steelers were going to throw, Woodson spoke to his teammates.
He professed no eloquence.
"I just told the guys before we went back out - I was really emotional and couldn't get much out - but I just told them to get it done," he said.
It was more about the man than the words. It was more about the group than the pieces falling on the ground. The Packers' 31-25 win over the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV was about a team in the best sense of the word. It was about this, as Woodson said:
"It doesn't matter who it is or what point in the season it is. You've still got to go out and perform."
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was the game's most valuable player, and that is fine and deserved. But the Packers really won the game the old-fashioned way. They won because they forced three turnovers and turned all of them into touchdowns.
If they weren't always jet-fueled by the enormity of the moment, they were never suffocated by it, either. And as they began to lose defensive backs, and as the Steelers kept swinging, the night became a season in microcosm for the Packers, another test of whatever it is that holds the best teams together.
"It's really amazing for this team because of all of the adversity we have been through," said Dom Capers, the Green Bay defensive coordinator. "This game was like the season. At halftime, we lost Charles Woodson. Sam Shields, I think he might have played about one play in the second half. But the guys that we put in, like they did all year, stepped up and made plays."
Capers said that he had to play a lot of softer zones in the second half because he feared how the backups might be exposed if asked to do too much. They tried to keep the Steelers from gaining yardage in big gulps, but they were hanging on in a lot of ways. The Steelers cut the deficit to 21-17 in the third quarter, and the Packers were gasping.
They needed a big play because Ben Roethlisberger, while rarely very pretty, does own two Super Bowl rings. Limping, beaten up, he was still in there swinging. They needed one more big play from the defense. Then, it came: Pittsburgh running back Rashard Mendenhall was hit simultaneously by Packers Clay Matthews and Ryan Pickett and the ball popped loose. Green Bay recovered and, eight plays later, Rodgers hit Greg Jennings with the 8-yard pass that reopened the lead to 28-17.
"I was able to get around my guy and make a solid hit right on the football," Matthews said. "I wasn't sure that it had come out until I looked up and saw Desmond [Bishop] with the ball . . .
"We have been playing team defense all season and this was just another case of that tonight. I'm so proud of our defense."
They would continue to be tested. The Steelers again cut the deficit to three points, and it was still at six points with 2 minutes to go. But the Packers held one final time. When Tramon Williams broke up the game's final pass, Woodson was on the sideline - coaching, cheerleading, mother-henning, and finally exulting.
"It means a lot," Woodson said. "We've accomplished what every man in the NFL wants to accomplish, and that is to win the Super Bowl trophy. For us, we walk those halls every day at Lambeau [Field] and we've seen all the greats. This is our opportunity to get on the wall, so it means a great deal to us."
Afterward, Woodson sat at an interview podium, with his son on his lap and a sling on his arm, and talked about the emotional breakdown he felt when he knew he was out of the game. Somebody asked how the injury felt now.
"It's broken, but I'm a world champion," he said.
Send e-mail to
or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at
For recent columns go to