NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answers a question during a news conference in this file photo. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
A Super Bowl victory changes things for players and coaches, for fans and front offices. To hold the Lombardi Trophy makes the energy spent and the investments made seem like a bargain.
So with the stakes at their zenith, who has the most on the line in 36 hours? Who will be the big winner when the Super Bowl is played between the commercials in front of 100,000-plus in Cowboys Stadium and 100 million-plus watching on television around the world?
Who does the big game mean the most to? How about you, the fan?
This could be the best Super Bowl in a long time. In fact, if the game is just good, it will be a disappointment. Plus with the commercials and all the hoopla, well, the Super Bowl is awesome.
Plus, this may be the last NFL football game we get to see for quite a while. The labor talks are moving at a glacier pace, and the longer the delay, the bigger the gap and the more likely there will be work stoppage.
Yes, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he would accept a salary of $1 rather than his $10 million annual compensation if there's a work stoppage. Sure, Goodell said Friday that he expects a deal in the next few weeks. Certainly, as the sides start to dig in, the depth of the fervor and rhetoric will become more passionate.
Still, these are smart and talented people involved in the negotiating process. They can't possibly ignore the damage a work stoppage would cause.
The levels of confusion and/or communication truly won't be known until after Sunday, when that's the only NFL issue left to decide. Its likely increased focus will lead to increased effort from both negotiating sides, which would put Goodell's desired three-week time frame into play.
But if there's no labor harmony or owner-union reconnection, then who will ride into the unknown offeseason on the tallest horse? The cast of characters is as large as the stakes, but as with most football-related things, it starts with the quarterbacks.
There's Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, who could punch his ticket to Canton with a win Sunday. Seriously, there's no way a three-time Super Bowl champ quarterback is not a Hall of Famer. There are fewer three-time Super Bowl winning quarterbacks (Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Tom Brady and Troy Aikman) than players who have scored more than 120 career touchdowns.
In fact, Big Ben's career legacy would be altered with a win Sunday. Right now, he's a rugged playmaker with the ability to withstand pressure and deliver -- results and passes -- in crucial situations. A third Super Bowl win means he'll be a more athletic version of Aikman, a player much like Roethlisbeger who always was undervalued because of a strong supporting cast.
For Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, a Super Bowl victory would be a springboard just as big, but in a completely different way.
A win Sunday would move Rodgers into the club. You know, THE Club, the NFL's inner circle of Super Bowl winning QBs that's not unlike Masters champs and Kentucky Derby winning owners. It always will be part of your formal introduction, and it means more inside the ropes than those of us outside the ropes could ever know.
While it's difficult to say which of the two has more on the line personally — seriously, that's a lot to chew on for either quarterback — the stage is set for a great game as one quarterback takes the giant great leap.
Let's just hope it's not the last chance for greatness in the foreseeable future.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...