When it was over, the best by-gum quarterback the Green Bay Packers have ever had stood in the middle of the field and pointed toward the sky.
Perhaps, just perhaps, he was asking the legends if they liked what they had just seen.
On a night such as this, how could they not?
In his moment of stardom, Aaron Rodgers wandered aimlessly across the field, the game ball tucked in his left hand as if it belonged to him, which, if you think about it, it had all night. He kept shooting his right fist into the air, the way all those other great quarterbacks had done in their moment. Teammates were lining up to embrace him, to congratulate him, perhaps even to thank him.
The position is his now. From this moment, it is Rodgers who casts the shadows when you talk about the great Packer quarterbacks, not the other guys. From this moment on, all comparisons start with him, not the ones who came before him.
Not Brett Favre.
Not Bart Starr.
Not even old Arnie Herber.
No Packer quarterback — and not many quarterbacks of any team — ever had a night like this. Rodgers was the best player on the field. For one game, it is easy to argue that he is the best player in the history of a storied franchise.
Let's face it. In the reflection of the Lombardi Trophy, there will be a lot of lofty comparisons made, and most of them will be overstated. Championships have that affect on those who watch teams win them. For the record, however, Mike McCarthy is not Vince Lombardi, and Clay Matthews is not Ray Nitschke, and Chad Clifton is not Forrest Gregg. B.J. Raji is not Henry Jordan, and Ryan Pickett is not Willie Davis, and Nick Collins is not Willie Wood. There is a lot more work for these Packers to do before they can compare with your grandfather's Packers.
Yeah, he's better.
This was not just Rodgers' victory, this was Rodgers' arrival. It was Rodgers, time and again, who carved up an excellent Pittsburgh defense. It was Rodgers, series after series, who would not let up. Never mind a half-dozen dropped passes. Never mind that the Packers hardly tried to run the ball. Never mind that every big play the Packers had rested on Rodgers' right arm.
He was the reason the Packers won. He is the reason they might win against next year.
"With Aaron Rodgers, we put this game on his shoulders," McCarthy said. "He delivered."
It can be a tough place to quarterback, Green Bay. Packers fans know a great many things about football, but most of all, they know what a good quarterback looks like. Pretty much, it looks a guy delivering in the big moments. Pretty much, it looks like a guy winning a title. Pretty much, it looked like Rodgers in the stadium lights.
"He goes out week in and week out and proves people wrong," receiver Donald Driver said. "Now he can say that he is one of the best quarterbacks in this game."
For most of the night, Rodgers looked as alone as a pitcher on a baseball mound. The Packers ran 55 plays Sunday night, and 42 of those were designed for Rodgers to throw the ball. He threw 39 times, and he completed 24 despite a half-dozen drops.
Consider this: When Starr won his first Super Bowl, the Packers ran the ball 34 times. When he won his second, the Packer ran 41 times. When Favre won his only Super Bowl, the Packers ran 36.
Behind Rodgers, they ran 11 times, not counting Rodgers' two kneel-downs at the end.
Just between you, me and Packer nation, even that seemed like too many.
For the Packers, the game was never in more control than when the ball was in Rodgers' hands. Even Packers coach McCarthy, who has been accused of sitting on a lead a time or two, seemed to understand that.
Want to know what greatness looks like? It looks like third and 10 at the Green Bay 25 when the Steelers can smell a comeback. There was 5:59 to play, and the Steelers had just cut the score to 28-25. A punt at that point, the game was anybody's.
Instead, Rodgers went for the kill. He threw a dart to Greg Jennings for 31 yards and a first down, and the Packers ate four more minutes off the clock before kicking a field goal.
Want to know what greatness looks like? It looks like third and 1 at the Pittsburgh 29 in the first quarter. Most teams run there. Not the Packers. Like Starr used to do on third and short, he dropped back and found his receiver deep. This time, it was Jordy Nelson for a touchdown, Green Bay's first.
By now, this shouldn't surprise a lot of people. Rodgers has been phenomenal all postseason. In all, he has thrown for 1,094 yards and nine touchdowns. Only one other quarterback, Kurt Warner, has had a postseason like that.
Rodgers also passed the 150-pass minimum to be considered for postseason records. He is now the NFL's highest-rated quarterback with a career rating of 112.6. The old record holder? Starr.
From here, there is no stopping Rodgers. Yes, Packer fans will always love Starr for all of his titles, but he didn't have this kind of arm strength. Yes, Packer fans will love Favre, but he was a lot more reckless.
He's no longer trying to measure up to the other guys. From now on, they can try to measure up to him.