--Seattle's offensive line has a combined 518 regular-season starts, by far the most for any of the conference finalists. Pittsburgh's line is second with 404 combined starts. Running back Shaun Alexander will be counting on that experience to open running lanes in Super Bowl XL.
"Our line is great," Alexander said. "They do their job and they play hard and they love hitting people and they give me a lot of opportunities to make things happen. You can't say enough about those guys."
Seattle will send three of its five linemen to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. Left tackle Walter Jones and left guard Steve Hutchinson are perennial Pro Bowl starters. Center Robbie Tobeck will join them as an injury replacement for Bears center Olin Kreutz. The rest of the line features right guard Chris Gray, who owns the longest regular-season starting streak in franchise history, and talented second-year right tackle Sean Locklear.
Alexander called Locklear "so underrated it's unbelievable."
Seattle's line faces a difficult test from the Steelers' rugged 3-4 defense. "The best thing about the 3-4 defense is it changes your angles," Alexander said. "It is something that you don't practice everyday. It is something you don't prepare for everyday. It is something that you are just not used to seeing every day.
"Angles, blitzes, all those pick ups, they change. You don't have the time to practice like you do with a 4-3."
--Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's arrival on the national stage has been a long time coming. He appears up to the challenge. Hasselbeck has posted a triple-digit passer rating in his last six games, including double-digit playoff victories over Washington and Carolina. He has shown impeccable decision making before the snap and a knack for making plays once the ball is in his hands.
Hasselbeck loosened up the Redskins with a few well-timed scrambles. He picked apart the Panthers with scoring passes to tight end Jerramy Stevens and wide receiver Darrell Jackson. He might have racked up some more stats had the Seahawks not built such a large lead.
"He has played very, very well this year," coach Mike Holmgren said, "but he is just starting and in my opinion he should be good for a while and keep getting better because of experience."
Hasselbeck completed 65.5 percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions during the regular season. His passer rating (98.2) set a career high. His numbers through two playoff games are even better: 66.7 completion percentage with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 109.6 rating.
Hasselbeck entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft choice of the Packers in 1998. Like his former mentor, Brett Favre, Hasselbeck has taken his team to a Super Bowl in his fifth season under Holmgren.
"I've always said it takes three years to get to where they know where to go (with the ball)," Holmgren said. "Then, in years four and five, you polish your trade and really become very good.
"Not just know what to do, but do it well. I know I'm going to go there, but make the throw. I know I'm getting this type of pressure here, so sidestep and make the throw. That's what you get the more you play the position."
Hasselbeck turned 30 in September. He is a two-time Pro Bowl choice with five years remaining on his contract.
"I think Matt's best years are still ahead of him," Holmgren said. "He has played very, very well this year, but he is just starting and in my opinion he should be good for a while and keep getting better because of experience."
--Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu and center Robbie Tobeck are headed to Hawaii with five of their Pro Bowl teammates. Both players were named to the NFC squad this week as injury replacements. Tatupu replaces Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, while Tobeck replaces Bears center Olin Kreutz.
"It's a real honor and a humbling thing to reach that goal," Tobeck said. "There have been years in the past I thought I should have gone. Part of it is being on a good team and being surrounded by good guys."
Tatupu was a candidate for defensive rookie of the year. He picked off a pass against the Panthers in the NFC title game. Tatupu played the final three quarters of that game after suffering a concussion that left him unable to remember much of the game. The second-round pick has played at a Pro Bowl level much of the season.
"I am just grateful and very thankful that I am to represent the Seahawks with all the other guys," Tatupu said.
--Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has Super Bowl experience as an eight-year-old spectator. His father, Don, earned a Super Bowl ring with the Raiders after the 1983 season. "My mom even has the pendant version of it," Hasselbeck said. "She has never worn it; she always said that we could use it for our wives' engagement ring. That didn't happen."
--Free safety Ken Hamlin, who suffered severe head injuries during an October incident outside a Seattle nightclub, still isn't sure about his chances for returning to the field in 2006.
"I haven't even thought about it as far as like what next year holds," Hamlin said this week. "I'm thinking about what Detroit holds."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I talked with Ray Rhodes and we both agreed that that was as fine a game executed as we could remember, all-around. ... They were better than good. They were really good. Physical, smart, and they made key plays. They just set their mind to it and did it." -- Coach Mike Holmgren on his players' efforts against Carolina during a 34-14 victory in the NFC title game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Coach Mike Holmgren has been tempted to utilize backup quarterback Seneca Wallace at other positions, a move that paid off with a 28-yard reception against Carolina in the NFC title game. Wallace is an outstanding athlete with the ability to get open as a receiver and make people miss as a runner. He also throws the ball quite well, but the Seahawks won't need his arm as long as Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is healthy.
Holmgren would use Wallace more in the offense if he weren't afraid of losing him to injury. The Seahawks lack a veteran backup behind Hasselbeck. Wallace has played well enough in practice and exhibition games to serve as the No. 2 guy, but losing him to injury would leave rookie quarterback David Greene one snap away from playing.
The team is not ready to take that risk, explaining why Wallace will only be used in spot duty.
--WR Bobby Engram (hip) missed practice last week, but should be ready to go for the Super Bowl.
--WR Darrell Jackson (knee) returned to practice Friday and should be ready to go for the Super Bowl.
--MLB Lofa Tatupu (concussion) returned to practice last Thursday. He should be ready to go for the Super Bowl. Tatupu was named to the Pro Bowl on Wednesday as an injury replacement. The rookie from USC was a steal in the second round of the draft even though many experts thought Seattle could have had him in the third or fourth rounds.
--DT Rocky Bernard (foot) missed practice last week, but should be ready to go for the Super Bowl. Bernard had two sacks against Carolina in the NFC title game. He is a force as a pass rusher.
--C Robbie Tobeck was named to the first Pro Bowl of his 13-year NFL career Wednesday when Chicago's Olin Kreutz withdrew from the game. Tobeck is a popular player and team leader who enjoyed a strong season despite being flagged for an inordinate number of penalties.
INJURY IMPACT: The Seahawks should be healthy heading into the Super Bowl. WR Bobby Engram (hip), WR Darrell Jackson (knee), MLB Lofa Tatupu (concussion) and DT Rocky Bernard (foot) have missed some time this week. Each played in the NFC title game and each expects to be ready for the Super Bowl. Injuries are not a significant factor at present.
The Steelers arrived in Detroit on Monday, a day after the Seahawks flew in from Seattle. Coach Bill Cowher wants to limit the amount of time his team is exposed to the distractions that inevitably surface in the Super Bowl city.
Pittsburgh's proximity to Detroit is one of the minor perks the Steelers will enjoy this week. Cowher attempted to maintain a normal work week last week, let his players enjoy time to relax with family on Sunday and then arrive on Monday. With media day not until Wednesday, the Steelers should have plenty of time to get acclimated.
--Ben Roethlisberger keeps following Dan Marino's path in the NFL, but there's one step he does not want to copy. Roethlisberger broke Marino's rookie records in 2004 and now has his team in the Super Bowl in his second season, just like Marino. He hopes to take it one step further and win the Super Bowl, something Marino never did.
The starting quarterback of the Steelers and the Hall of Fame native of Pittsburgh have become friends, despite their generational age difference. Marino told Roethlisberger of his experience in his first Super Bowl and how he thought there would be more but that he never got back.
"We talked the other day he called and we communicated a little about that," Roethlisberger said. "He said listen, enjoy this, you're young, you're doing the same thing I did. You think no matter what happens you're going to get back, but it doesn't necessarily happen like that.
"He said on one hand enjoy it, have a good time but take it seriously enough that you want to win it because you never know when it's going to happen again.
"We're going to enjoy these two weeks, we're going to stay lose, we're going to have our fun. Coach gave us a couple of days off so now we're back in here and ready to go to work."
Roethlisberger has shown no signs in the playoffs of the sprained right thumb that has kept him on the Steelers injury report the past eight games. He has completed 68.1 percent of his passes, has thrown for seven touchdowns and run for another, thrown one interception and has a 124.8 passer rating. The difference has been night and day compared to his two playoff games last season, when he threw five interceptions, three touchdowns and had a 61.3 passer rating.
"I'm playing a little bit better, I feel more comfortable, I'm not quite as tired," Roethlisberger said. "I saw you guys interviewing (rookie) Heath Miller and he looked like he's about ready to fall asleep. That's how I was last year. This year I feel a lot more comfortable, a lot better and I think my play's reflected that."
Roethlisberger has taken just five sacks in three playoff games and has run out of the pocket 12 times for a dozen yards. He said the Seahawks front could give the Steelers protection problems; they had 50 sacks, three more than Pittsburgh.
"They lead the NFL in sacks, they're very fast, very athletic," Roethlisberger said. "It's going to be hard to find those guys and pick them up because they're moving all around. They may not be the biggest guys up front but they're high motor guys. They're always flying around. So it's going to be a challenge for us to identify and make sure we pick up the right guys."
--The Steelers are four-point favorites against the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, a role coach Bill Cowher wishes were reversed. "Everybody in life pulls for the underdog," Cowher said. If you can play that role, why not? I don't know if there is a favorite or an underdog. When you get to the Super Bowl, you have two football teams that earned the right to be there. You work hard to travel this path. If you're not able to finish the deal you'll be forgotten."
The Steelers have thrived on their underdog role the past two weeks and many have embraced the idea that it's them against the world. Actually, they were 3-point favorites against Cincinnati before they were 10-point underdogs to Indianapolis and 3-point underdogs to Denver.
Cowher went so far as to say his Super Bowl team is not "great."
"We aren't suddenly this great team that's the best team in football," Cowher said. "We aren't. We haven't been." They were, he reminded everyone, 7-5 at one time and had to win their final four games just to make the playoffs as a Wild Card team.
We're no different, it's the same group of guys who are in there," Cowher said. "You can't forget how you created the opportunity to get to this point. I'm going to make sure they understand that. We've done nothing, nothing at all. We've created a golden opportunity."
Pittsburgh has not won a Super Bowl in 26 years, not since its fourth in six years in January 1980. They made Super Bowl XXX following the 1995 season but lost to Dallas 27-17, a game that wasn't decided until a late Neil O'Donnell interception set up a Cowboys touchdown. The Steelers have had some "golden" opportunities since then. They've lost three AFC Championship Games at home since January 1998 and Cowher's legacy so far has been one of a great regular season coach but one who has not won the big one. Losing those three AFC title games after losing in the Super Bowl makes a victory Feb. 5 more urgent for the Steelers coach of 14 years.
"The longer you stay in it the more you cherish it," said Cowher, 48. "You go early, that was my fourth year, you don't think about it. You realize how hard it is to get back there.
"We'll cherish it. We'll enjoy it, but like I said before, the most important thing is to not lose sight of what you're trying to do. That's an opportunity to win a championship." Only one player on the Steelers' 53-man roster has ever been in a Super Bowl, cornerback Willie Williams, who was there 10 years ago and left as a free agent to play for another team -- the Seattle Seahawks.
"Getting there is one thing," Cowher said, "but it's not so much personal as it is for this organization, for these players and some of the guys that have been through some of the tough losses in some of the AFC Championship Games."
Pittsburgh can become the first team from the AFC to win five Super Bowls and match the number of victories for Dallas and San Francisco. "You have a chance to put your name up there with some of the great teams," Cowher said. "That's the opportunity that you're selling to your players. They don't remember who lost the game. They remember who won the game."
-- Running back Jerome Bettis is on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the second time in three weeks, and he hopes this time turns out a little better for him. He was on the magazine cover two weeks ago and no one was denying a Sports Illustrated cover jinx when he fumbled at the 2 yardline in Indianapolis with 1:20 left. The Colts, though, failed to capitalize when Mike Vanderjagt missed a 46-yard field goal that would have tied it.
-- Coach Bill Cowher acknowledged that the emotion to get Bettis to his hometown of Detroit and win the Super Bowl in what surely is his last game is real.
"It's been an inspiration to our team, no question. We talked about it. The fact that we're able to play this last game in Detroit, we're getting him back there."
-- The Steelers have become the most popular show on television. The AFC Championship Game last Sunday in Denver drew 39 million viewers on CBS, the most watched show in the 2005-06 TV season. That game beat the previous No. 1 show, the Rose Bowl national championship game, which drew 35.6 million.
-- The Oakland Raiders may want to interview offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt for their head coaching job. They have to wait until after the Super Bowl before they could do so.
BY THE NUMBERS: 47 -- The number of post-season games involving the Steelers, including the upcoming Super Bowl, second most in the NFL behind Dallas, which played in 54.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You want to know what shoes I'm wearing too?" -- Bill Cowher, when asked repeatedly about what he will wear on the sideline at the Super Bowl.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Steelers placed rookie linebacker Andre Frazier on injured reserve with a broken ankle. He had surgery Wednesday. They replaced him on the roster with rookie linebacker Arnold Harrison. He is a 6-3, 236-pound free agent from Georgia, who has been on the Steelers' practice squad.
DT Grant Bowman signed to their practice squad.
-- WR Antwaan Randle El may be playing in his final game for Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl. He will be an unrestricted free agent in March.
-- RB Jerome Bettis has 227 yards and a 4.1-yard average per carry in three games against Seattle.
- K Jeff Reed has made his past nine field-goal attempts. His 47-yarder in Denver was the fourth-longest in Steelers playoff history.
-- QB Ben Roethlisberger has the best two completion percentages in games in Steelers postseason history, with a minimum of 10 attempts, in two of his past three games. He was 14 of 19 (73.7 percent) at Cincinnati and 21 of 29 (72.4 percent) at Denver.
-- WR Hines Ward has 52 career receptions in the playoffs, second in club history behind John Stallworth's 57.
INJURY IMPACT: James Harrison, the Steelers' No. 3 outside linebacker, should be ready to play in the Super Bowl. He missed the past two games with a high ankle sprain that was hurt in the first playoff in Cincinnati.
Backup DE Travis Kirschke has a groin injury that would make him questionable this week.