- Associated Press - Sunday, February 6, 2011

ARLINGTON, Texas | The Pack is back. NFL football? Well, nobody’s quite sure when that’s going to return.

Led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers returned to the top of the football world Sunday with a 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl.

It was yet another thrilling capper to the NFL’s season, but this time, when they turned out the lights on the championship game, there was no guarantee they’d be back next fall.

A labor war that pits rich athletes against richer owners could shut down the game.

The collective bargaining agreement that led to unprecedented success for the NFL expires at the end of the day on March 3, and barring an agreement before then, owners are threatening to lock out players.

They are pondering the unthinkable: The first play stoppage since 1987. The shutdown of the only form of entertainment that, as the sky-high TV ratings this year have shown, consistently brings people together in a tweeting, texting, TiVo-ing country where viewing habits get more fragmented by the day.

“For a sport at the height of its popularity to self-destruct by lacking the will and creativity to solve economic problems would be the height of folly,” agent Leigh Steinberg said. “Who wants to be the person to kill this golden goose?”

Sunday’s spectacle offered up yet another example of why America loves this game so much.

Led by Rodgers’ pinpoint passing, the Packers hurried to a 21-3 lead and looked like they were ready to run away. But the Steelers, the NFL’s most successful franchise with six Lombardi trophies, refused to quit. They pulled within 28-25 midway through the fourth quarter and had the ball, trailing by six and needing to go 87 yards to win the game.

Only when Ben Roethlisberger threw three straight incompletions were the Steelers’ hopes over. Green Bay brought its third Lombardi Trophy back to the Frozen Tundra and its first since 1997, when Brett Favre was every cheesehead’s favorite quarterback.

Rodgers finished with 304 yards and three touchdowns and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

“Vince Lombardi is coming home to Green Bay,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, when he handed the trophy, named after the legendary Green Bay coach, to the Packers.

Will we see this kind of celebration again next February?

In all the pregame hyperbole, each side insisted they wanted that. But they are far apart on how to get it done.

Owners say it’s time to pocket more money for a league that hasn’t started a stadium project in more than five years. They want a bigger slice of the roughly $9 billion in revenue, a rookie wage scale and to increase the regular season by two games to 18.

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