The Green Bay Packers opened up 2010 with a strong preseason and Super Bowl XLV favorites. When LB Nick Barnett was asked about the Pack's Super Bowl chances, he simply replied, "Super Bowl or die."
His statement was plausible until Week 1 rolled around, and the injuries began to pour on. In early October, Barnett was placed on the IR with a wrist injury. It appeared the "die" side of his bold prediction would become the reality, as 15 more players joined him by the end of the regular season.
However, the Packers laughed in the face of their apparent injury curse, and four months later, they are on their way to Texas riding on the backs of veteran players who continue to fight.
"What does #77 have on his hand? A club?"
"Well kinda, it's a cast. He broke his hand."
"And he's still playing? I can't believe they let him play with that on."
That's right. As I explained to my father at the Miami game, Cullen Jenkins played a majority of the 2010 season with a club-like cast on his broken left hand. Fighting through the injury, he tallied seven sacks for Dom Capers' pass rush and 18 tackles.
Jenkins was signed by the Packers in 2003 as a rookie-free agent and eventually grabbed the starting role from DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila in 2006.
After battling injuries and backing up KGB for a couple years, Jenkins is now a force on the Packers' defensive line that will attempt to harass Big Ben in Super Bowl XLV.
Clifton dealt with his own injuries in his 11th season as a Packer. He suffered a concussion in early December and fought through a neck stinger to help contain the Chicago Bears' DE Julius Peppers in the NFC Championship.
Because of his experience and ability, Clifton was matched up against a few men labeled as a "quarterback's worst nightmare" during the regular season— Atlanta Falcons' DE John Abraham, Philadelphia Eagles' DE Trent Cole and Minnesota Vikings' DE Jared Allen, to name a few.
Clifton's solid play has allowed QB Aaron Rodgers time to put up amazing stats and ultimately lead his team to the final game of the NFL season.
Oh wait, that LB with the long hair isn't Clay Matthews? Many casual fans may have mistaken A.J. Hawk for the increasingly popular Matthews because both take pride in their lovely blonde locks.
Although Matthews is a common prediction for the Defensive Player of the Year award, Hawk has done his part with the Packers' linebackers this season. He brought the ball carrier down 111 times and picked three passes to help make up for the loss of veteran LB Nick Barnett.
Some fans and critics believe Hawk has not lived up to the expectations he had coming out of Ohio State in 2006. It is uncertain whether or not the Packers will re-sign him in 2011, but he certainly made a strong case for himself in the team's run to Super Bowl XLV.
A seventh round pick by Green Bay in 1999, Donald Driver is now the leading receiver in Packers' history. He is also a fan-favorite and the smiling face of the franchise.
Driver brought his best to every game in 2010, as evident in a 61-yard touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers after several unbelievable broken tackles.
His 565 yards and four touchdowns may not seem that impressive, but he was hampered by a quad injury along the way. Not to mention Rodgers likes to spread the ball around to as many as nine different receivers at times.
As his career is winding down, Driver's toughness, locker room leadership and veteran presence on the sideline have helped his team bring him his first Super Bowl appearance.
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year's interception stats may have decreased this season, but his effect on the Packers' top defense has remained unchanged. Charles Woodson caused headaches for opposing coordinators by getting in the backfield for two sacks, forcing five fumbles and making 92 total tackles.
In his 13th year, Woodson may soon lose his top spot to the emerging CB Tramon Williams, but Woodson was invited to his seventh Pro Bowl in 2010, and Williams was snubbed.
Although Williams covered the top receiver most games, Woodson kept the Philadelphia Eagles' explosive WR DeSean Jackson from having a big day in the playoffs during their Wild Card matchup. He intercepted two passes in the regular season, one he returned for a touchdown.
Woodson played a huge part in Dom Capers' scheme and was often making life difficult for quarterbacks by blitzing as well as in coverage. He led the defense throughout the season, and in the playoffs he shared defensive captain privileges with Hawk.
Nick Collins was the only constant at the safety position for the Packers in 2010 after rookie Morgan Burnett was sent to the IR and Atari Bigby was on the PUP list for most of the season. Collins had 70 tackles and four interceptions, including a playoff-clinching pick off Chicago Bears' QB Jay Cutler in Week 17.
He has improved every year since being drafted by Green Bay in 2005, and this year he was selected to his third Pro Bowl.
Collins was a valuable piece of the Packers' fifth-ranked pass defense in 2010. The team's strong secondary is one of the main reasons they will be traveling to Jerry Jones' palace in February.