ARLINGTON, Texas — Donald Driver waited 12 seasons to get a shot at the Super Bowl.
He got there, and didn’t even make it through a half before his ankle gave out.
As the veteran wide receiver got treatment at halftime, it was becoming clear that his night was over. That’s when his younger teammates came over and pledged to go get a championship for him.
“My receiver group came in there and told me they were going to win it for me,” Driver said after the game, wearing a bulky walking boot on his left foot. “And I told my guys, ‘Go out there and make the plays.’”
As if being without Driver wasn’t enough, the Packers also had to play the second half without defensive cornerstone Charles Woodson after he broke his collarbone.
Somehow, the Packers still found a way to win the Super Bowl.
Green Bay’s 31-25 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night was a fitting end to the season for a team that found a way to get there despite having 16 players, including six starters, on injured reserve.
“It is just the way our year has been,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “We go into halftime and all of a sudden we come out without Donald Driver, without Charles Woodson. Guys had to step up and play. That is how it has been all year. … it was the only way to win it.”
For a while, it looked like the Packers’ young receivers weren’t going to make good on their promise.
The Packers were leading 21-10 at halftime, but would their defense be able to hold without Woodson? And could Aaron Rodgers put together drives without Driver?
It started off shaky as Nelson and James Jones dropped some passes.
Jones bobbled what could have become an easy touchdown on the Packers’ first possession of the second half — another critical drop for the talented but inconsistent receiver. Pittsburgh pulled to 21-17.
Nelson made a nice catch for a 29-yard touchdown for the Packers in the first quarter, but he also had a couple of critical dropped passes.
“You stay around long enough, you’re going to drop another one,” Driver said. “I told my guys when they got to the sideline, just make a play. All this will stop if you go out and make plays.”
With Woodson sidelined, Clay Matthews forced a critical fumble at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Teammate Ryan Pickett said Matthews recognized the play, called it out and told Pickett to make an adjustment on the fly.
Then Nelson made up for his dropped passes by putting the Packers in position to score with a big catch, and Greg Jennings caught what would end up being the decisive touchdown.
The Steelers came back with a touchdown and 2-point conversion to cut the lead to 28-25, but Rodgers’ big plays to Jennings and Jones allowed the Packers to kick a field goal. The Steelers couldn’t rally in the final two minutes, and the Packers held on.
“That’s pretty much the definition of who we are,” Jennings said. “We’re an adversity-hurdling team. We showed a lot of resolve once again today, losing our head captain and losing Drive.”
Defensive players made the same effort on Woodson’s behalf that the receivers did for Driver.
Standing in the middle of the locker room at halftime, Woodson tried to tell his teammates how much winning meant to him, and push them to go out and get it without him.
“I could barely get it out,” Woodson said. “The emotions were running high. I was very, very angry at the fact that I couldn’t go out there and play any longer. I was able to get out that they knew, or understood, what this moment meant to me and just go out and fight. And they did.”
Now the Packers are champions.
“It was the great resolve of our football team,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “We had some practice with some guys going down and other players stepping up. It was a very emotional halftime for our football team. We had some bumps in the third quarter but just a tremendous effort and Coach Lombardi’s trophy is finally going back home.”