Former ECU star Wilson feeling 'Super'|Belhaven native elated after Super Bowl victory over Steelers

Published 12:29 am Thursday, February 10, 2011

By By BRIAN HAINES,, Sports Writer
C.J. Wilson and the Packers were well aware of Ben Roethlisberger’s capabilities. It was only two years ago that America watched the Steelers quarterback lead his team to a 27-23 victory over the Cardinals thanks to a last-minute, Super Bowl-winning drive that ended with wide receiver Santonio Holmes’ full-extension, toe-dragging six-yard touchdown reception.
Fast-forward to Super Bowl XLV. Green Bay is holding a 31-25 lead inside a raucous Cowboys Stadium as Roethlisberger gets the ball at his own 13 with 2:07 left in the game. Plenty of time.
While the millions of Cheeseheads around the country may have been nervous, for the Belhaven native Wilson and the Packers’ defense, the situation was what they have been preparing for since the summer.
“They had 87 yards to go and all I was thinking was that we have been in some tough situations all year and this is what we want,” Wilson said. “It was a situation that we wanted to be in: To have the final seconds come down to defense. We wanted to go out and win this thing on defense. That’s what we pride ourselves on.”
The tension turned up a notch as Roethlisberger was able to pick up a first down thanks to a 15-yard pass to tight end Heath Miller. On the ensuing play, the Steelers QB connected with Hines Ward for five more yards, allowing Pittsburgh fans to start having dreams of another late Super Bowl victory.
Green Bay dug deep and was able to force two incomplete passes leaving the Steelers facing fourth-and-five from their own 33. The drama had hit its peak. So did Packers’ defense.
Roethlisberger tried desperately to force a pass to receiver Mike Ward, who was blanketed by two Packers’ defenders but his attempt sailed high. As Roethlisberger’s pass reached the turf, Wilson reached jubilation. The former East Carolina star defensive end realized he had just won the Super Bowl by the narrow margin of 31-25.
“There was no better feeling, it was just one of the greatest feelings,” Wilson said. “All the work, all the adversities, all the hard practices wasn’t in vain and I just want to give all the glory to God for giving us the opportunity.”
Wilson has always made the best of his opportunities. At Northside High School Wilson was a star running back and played linebacker and defensive back on the other side of the ball. At East Carolina, then-coach Skip Holtz turned him into a defensive end. Opportunity knocked and Wilson pass-rushed right through the door.
As a Pirate The 6-3, 280-pound end was named the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year by Sporting News his junior and senior seasons leading most to believe he would be drafted anywhere from the third to fifth round.
Despite the laundry list of accomplishments, Wilson wasn’t selected until the seventh round of the NFL draft, 230th overall, leaving the former WDN two-time all-area selection frustrated and hungry to prove his worth.
That frustration evaporated at about the same time Roethlisberger’s fourth-and-five pass to Ward sailed high.
“I’m most definitely glad to be in Green Bay, I hope I stay in Green Bay and never go anywhere else. I love the program and the organization, I’m just happy to be a Packer,” Wilson said. “Things happen for a reason, everything happens for a reason and God had a plan for me to be here.”
During his time at East Carolina Wilson helped his team reach back-to-back Conference USA championship games, both of which the Pirates won, and four straight bowl games.
Despite the number of big games Wilson had played in at ECU, nothing prepared him for the biggest game of them all.
“You could take all of the big games I played in, all of them, and put them together and it still couldn’t match the Super Bowl,” Wilson said. “The Super Bowl is the biggest, that’s why they call it the Super Bowl.”
The biggest game of Wilson’s life was also the longest. While time tends to fly by for fans as they sit with friends and enjoy Super Bowl parties, for the players, the pace of the game does not go unnoticed.
“It was the longest game of my life,” Wilson said with a laugh. “By halftime it had felt like I played a whole game. It was so long with all the commercial breaks and all the other stuff going on, but it was a great experience.”
Time was a factor all throughout Sunday’s game and when Green Bay took 21-3 lead in the second quarter the clock couldn’t tick fast enough.
While many of the record-setting 111 million viewers that watched the Big Game were shocked to see the Packers take such a big lead so early, Wilson was not.
“That’s what we expected to do – Pittsburgh is a great team don’t get me wrong, and we take our hat off to them – but we knew we had a better team and the last five weeks we had been on fire,” Wilson said. “We had come so far. It was just our game and we just wanted to keep going and play our hearts out.”
The team’s collective heart skipped a beat as it lost two of its leaders by halftime as last year’s defensive player of the year, CB Charles Woodson (broken collarbone), was forced to the sideline along with Green Bay’s all-time receptions leader Donald Driver (ankle), who was also a seventh round pick.
“We just knew we had to pick it up even more, especially along the defensive line” Wilson said. “We didn’t want to leave those guys (the secondary) back there by themselves, we knew we had to pick up the slack a little bit more trying to cover for Woodson because he is a great player.”
The absence of Woodson and Driver was felt the most in the second half as the Steelers offense was beginning to gain confidence, and points, while the Packers’ attack had hit a standstill as it was plagued by dropped passes.
The Packers held a 21-17 lead that they were steadily losing their grip on late in the third quarter as Pittsburgh, who had just forced a punt, began another possession at the Green Bay 41-yard line.
Sensing they needed to regain momentum, the Green Bay defense stepped up and made one of the biggest tide-turning plays of the game. Linebacker Clay Mathews stripped Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall and the Packers recovered the ball and brought it back to their own 45-yard line to set up quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Super Bowl MVP, and the offense for a game-clinching touchdown drive.
“We were getting a little nervous but we still had confidence,” Wilson said. “We just needed that play that would turn momentum and then we would take it on in. That’s what I felt personally. And when we got that fumble I think that was one of the biggest turning points of the game.”
Upon winning the Lombardi trophy Wilson and his teammates kicked off a night-long celebration, but the day after the game Wilson said partying wasn’t in his plans, but tranquility was.
“We celebrated a lot last night after the game. I don’t think anybody went to sleep last night we just stayed up and talked, laughed and just joked around and had a great time celebrating. I plan on celebrating right now by going home and going to sleep,” Wilson joked.
The offseason for NFL players, especially Super Bowl-winning NFL players, is very short, but Wilson said he would like to use that time to be with his family.
“I want to spend time with my family, so as quick as I can get home with to be with mom and dad (Amos and Doris Wilson) I will,” Wilson said. “I plan on taking them on a couple of vacations and relax a bit before I get back to work because you know football is a year-round sport.”