Finally, football replaces hoopla
Sunday, February 5, 2006
Seattle tries to spoil Bettis' homecoming and give Holmgren a second Super Bowl trophy.
DETROIT -- Oh, yeah, football.
All the tributes to Jerome Bettis are done. The war of words between Joey Porter and Jerramy Stevens is over. The Rolling Stones and Motown greats will sing in harmony, and the purveyors of doom -- dangerous streets, a bleak setting, traffic jams -- have been silenced by good vibes from the locals.
Not even a winter storm warning could temper the excitement for today's Super Bowl. Now, it's time for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks to decide the NFL championship under Ford Field's steel roof.
"This has been a lot of fun," said Bettis, the Detroit native who received a key to the city, helped his parents host a team dinner and was the focal point of every Steelers news conference. "The one thing we're not losing sight of is we came here to play the Super Bowl."
In a winter wonderland, perhaps. After relatively mild weather all week, forecasters called for up to 9 inches of snow -- a possibility the city planned for when it bid to bring the game to the North.
"A lot of people in Detroit are waiting for it to snow so they can show us that they really are ready," auto racing magnate Roger Penske, who spearheaded the effort, recently said.
Pittsburgh was prepared for its sixth Super Bowl, but the first in a decade. And Seattle's debut, even though its coach, Mike Holmgren, has been to four -- two wins as an assistant with San Francisco, 1-1 as head coach in Green Bay. He's trying to become the first head coach to win with different franchises.
Holmgren understands as well as anybody that Super Bowl week is abnormal, filled with distractions galore. He also knows that finding some normality amid the hype is essential.
So he won't be in anyone's face early Sunday.
"They have meetings, mainly to keep them a little bit busy on Sunday morning," Holmgren said. "Otherwise the day gets to be a little bit long.
"But really, when you get to that point, it's done. It's been my experience that players I've been around, they're kind of tired of talking to me. And I'm a little bit tired of talking to them. So the plan is let them rest, let them get ready, let them think about it without me interrupting his thoughts."
They can ponder the fact the Steelers (14-5) are the first sixth seed to make the Super Bowl, yet are four-point favorites. They've won seven in a row, including road victories in the playoffs over division winners Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver.
And geography is working in Pittsburgh's favor. The streets of the Motor City already are loaded with Steelers fans who made the 285-mile drive from Pittsburgh, and the stadium figures to carry a black-and-gold hue Sunday.
The Seahawks (15-3) have won 13 of their last 14 games -- the loss was a meaningless season finale at Green Bay -- and routed Carolina for the conference championship as the No. 1 seed. In Shaun Alexander, they have the league MVP, and their defense led the NFL in sacks.
Yet they seem overshadowed by one of pro football's most storied franchises, one that made its name by going 4-0 in Super Bowls with Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris and the Steel Curtain.
"I said the other day that as far as any games, odds or who's the favorite or who's the underdog, we have nothing to do with that," Holmgren said. "We just are who we are, and Pittsburgh is who they are.
"The only thing I can think of is that they beat Indianapolis, a huge win for them. And that popped up Pittsburgh, as it should.
"And then the other thing is, not many people know about us, to be honest. Unless you're on the West Coast or specifically in the state of Washington or in the Pacific Northwest, you'd be probably hard-pressed to name a bunch of our defensive players. People know Shaun Alexander and [QB Matt] Hasselbeck, perhaps. Walter Jones, maybe. But I think that has something to do with it."
Even commissioner Paul Tagliabue, in his annual state of the league address Friday, mentioned the "contrasting matchup."
"The newcomer, Seahawks from the Northwest, versus the tradition of the Steelers from industrial America, where our game and our league were born," he noted.
Seattle had the NFL's most prolific offense, with Alexander leading the league in rushing and setting a record with 28 touchdowns. Pittsburgh's defense, led by All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu -- he of the flowing hair and fierce hits -- and chatty linebacker Porter has been opportunistic throughout the winning streak.
The Steelers consistently have jumped to leads and protected them in the playoffs. Seattle has been ahead through most of the postseason.