The League

Leonard Shapiro

Leonard Shapiro

Washington Post sports reporter, editor and columnist who has served on the NFL HOF Selection Committee.

Staying true to history


The NFL's two stingiest defenses will be on display in the 45th Super Bowl, a certain sign that the old pro football cliché -- defense wins championships -- is still very much a factor in a team's ultimate success.

Name the great Super Bowl teams throughout the history of the event and the very best of the best got there in large part because of The No Name Defense (Miami, 1972), the Steel Curtain (Pittsburgh in the '70s) and the Doomsday Defense (Dallas in the 1970s and '80s) just to cite a few examples.

The Baltimore Ravens won in 2000 despite having a nondescript quarterback, Trent Dilfer, far better suited for his role as an ESPN analyst than he was as a Super Bowl quarterback whose main mission 10 years ago was to avoid costly turnovers and score just enough points for his defense to protect.

Of course there have been offensive juggernauts over the years to overcome mostly average defensive units. The John Elway Broncos, the Brett Favre Packers, the Joe Montana/Steve Young 49ers, the Peyton Manning Colts and the Tom Brady Patriots were far better known for their offensive prowess and ability to put scads of points up on the board.

But all of those teams also featured some rather impressive defensive playmakers who could take over a game, when necessary, some of them current Hall of Famers like San Francisco's Ronnie Lott and Green Bay's Reggie White and future possibilities like the Colts Dwight Freeney and Bob Sanders.

The Steelers and Packers also have their share of potential Hall of Fame defenders -- Troy Polamalu and James Harrison in Pittsburgh and Charles Woodson in Green Bay, for example. And both teams got huge contributions from their respective defenses when suspended quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed the first four games of the season and Aaron Rodgers sat out several late-season games because of a concussion.

Both defenses made huge plays throughout the playoffs, with the Packers scoring the clinching points in the NFC title game when 338-pound lineman B.J. Raji picked off a pass and ran 18 yards for the game-winning score. And Pittsburgh's smothering defense prevented the Jets from denting the end zone in the first half, then had a stirring goal-line stand midway through the fourth quarter that ultimately proved decisive.

Still, it also must be pointed out that the biggest defensive play of last weekend's title games may well have been provided by a glamour-puss quarterback. When Rodgers peeled back and tackled Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher at midfield on what looked to be a certain interception touchdown, defense definitely helped win the Packers a championship, even if it was an offensive player who made the signature defensive play of the game.

By Leonard Shapiro  |  January 25, 2011; 3:39 PM ET  | Category:  Green Bay Packers , Leonard Shapiro , Pittsburgh Steelers , Playoffs , Super Bowl Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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