Steelers rise again, 21-10
By mike lopresti
Gannett News Service
By mike lopresti
DETROIT — Once, they ruled the NFL with the iron grip of the Steel Curtain. But it was 26 years ago. How long the Pittsburgh Steelers and their towel-waving faithful have ached to know that feeling again.
Now they do. By Sunday night, as the confetti flew in Ford Field, they were partying like it was 1979.
"We've got our own little niche now," coach Bill Cowher said after the Steelers completed their improbable journey yesterday, overpowering Seattle, 21-10, in Super Bowl XL.
A No. 6 seed forced to spend all of January on the road against the top three seeds of the AFC, the Steelers overcame every hardship.
"We took the scenic route," Joey Porter said. "We did everything that they said we couldn't do."
There was nothing neutral about Ford Field yesterday. Pittsburgh fans, bringing yellow flags and green wads of cash, either had better connections or more money. They were everywhere. "It was," Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said, "like an away game for us."
What they saw was a highlight reel of big plays — Antwaan Randle El's 43-yard reverse touchdown pass to game MVP Hines Ward in the fourth period, which was preceded by Willie Parker's 75-yard touchdown run in the third, which was preceded by Ben Roethlisberger's 37-yard throw on 3rd-and-28 to Ward that set up a touchdown in the second.
They saw Jerome Bettis come home to cap his career, starting the night by leading his team onto the field and ending it with the Lombardi Trophy in his hands. "I'm the happiest person in the world," he said.
But what they saw most of all was defense. Seattle brought the NFL's highest-scoring offense but could manage only one touchdown, that set up by a turnover.
The Seahawks gained 57 more yards and had the ball six more minutes. But there was no crack in the Pittsburgh wall, and the world has seen that before. The combined 31 points were the fewest in a Super Bowl in 31 years, back to the Steelers' 16-6 win over Minnesota in 1975. The first Pittsburgh title.
"We missed some opportunities, but at the same time you have to give Pittsburgh credit," Shaun Alexander said. "You don't miss for no reason."
"Bend, don't break. That was our motto today," said Ike Taylor, whose interception of Hasselbeck near the goal line early in the fourth quarter was one of the reasons the Steelers never broke.
This makes five championship rings, matching Dallas and San Francisco for the most in the league. "One for the thumb" was the Steelers' mantra. But that was a quarter-century ago, when the aging dynasty of Bradshaw and Swann and Greene and Lambert was fading away.
They are the first wildcard ever to win three straight road playoff games and then the Super Bowl, mowing down the AFC's top teams, then the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Roethlisberger, at 23, is the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, though he was required to complete only nine passes in 21 attempts for 123 yards, and threw an atrocious interception in the third quarter that nearly turned around the game.
The Parker touchdown, on the second play of the second half, was the longest run in Super Bowl history. It gave the Steelers a 14-3 lead at the time.
The 10 points allowed were the second fewest in the Super Bowl in 16 years, and that against an offense few teams could stop this season. Hasselbeck passed for 273 yards, Alexander ran for 95. That meant nothing on the scoreboard.
And it was the perfect goodbye for Bettis, who rushed for 43 yards and confirmed afterward that this was the last stop for the Bus.
"I'm a champion," Bettis said. "Mission accomplished. With that, I have to say farewell."
"Our organization," owner Dan Rooney said, "is a special one."
Yesterday did not start so special.
It took the Steelers 19 minutes to get a first down. They had only six first downs the first half.
They were in front 7-3 and lucky to be there. Two critical borderline calls had gone against Seattle — an offensive interference on a mild push that nullified a Seahawks touchdown catch, and a replay confirming a Roethlisberger touchdown dive that broke the end zone plane by no more than an inch or two.
To set up that touchdown, Roethlisberger pulled off the game's first truly big play at the Seattle 40. He set up to pass, rolled left to escape pressure, began to run upfield, changed his mind, backed off the line of scrimmage, and finally threw the 37-yard pass across the field to Ward at the Seattle 3.
And why was Ward so open? Trying to stay with him during Roethlisberger's course changes, safety Michael Boulware slipped and fell. More bad Seattle fortune.
The second half, more Pittsburgh execution.
On the second play, Parker took the ball right, guard Alan Faneca pulled and cleared some room, and Parker was gone.
It had taken the Steelers the entire first half to get 113 yards. They gained 75 on one play.
The Steelers were soon back again at the Seattle 7. One more touchdown, and the 21-3 lead would be imposing.
But a Roethlisberger pass was woefully underthrown. "That was one where my mind was telling me to throw it over the top and my arm didn't throw it over the top," he said. Kelly Herndon's 76-yard interception return, the longest ever in a Super Bowl, took it to the 20. Hasselbeck's 16-yard touchdown pass to Jerramy Stevens cut the margin to 14-10, and Super Bowl XL was back in play.
Seattle, in fact, nearly had the lead early in the fourth period. But a pass to Stevens to the Pittsburgh 1 was wiped out by a holding call, then Hasselbeck was intercepted by Taylor after being fooled by his receiver's route.
When Randle El found Ward soon after on the reverse pass — the kind of trickery common from Cowher — the issue seemed settled. "No way we were going to give up two touchdowns," Porter said.
Defense would close the door. Just like old times.