Off-season challenges to be met by champs

The heartwarming story of Jerome Bettis ended in grand style with one big exclamation point in his hometown of Detroit when the Steelers won their fifth Super Bowl in Ford Field.

Bettis, who rushed for 43 yards, raised the Lombardi Trophy and virtually announced his retirement in his hometown after the game.

"I think the Bus' last stop is here in Detroit," said Bettis, speaking on the field after the game.

"Detroit, you were incredible."

The Steelers will be in the market for a running back. Duce Staley did not dress for most of the games this season and he's scheduled to make $2.5 million next season, when he will be 31. He had knee surgery in August and it never was right. The only other halfbacks on the roster are starter Willie Parker and third-down back Verron Haynes, who will be an unrestricted free agent.

The Steelers must make some tough decisions and some quick ones, too. Center Jeff Hartings, due a $750,000 roster bonus in early march, will have to agree to a pay reduction or he won't be brought back. His salary would be $4 million.

They will release quarterback Tommy Maddox, who dropped to third team after a horrendous performance against Jacksonville this past season.

Charlie Batch will re-sign to be the No. 2 quarterback behind Ben Roethlisberger.

Among the potential unrestricted free agents they want to sign are wide receiver Antwaan Randle El and backup defensive end Brett Keisel.

But first, they want to soak in their first Super Bowl victory in 26 years. They've been on the doorstep so many times -- six AFC Championship Games in the past 12 years and one Super Bowl loss -- and they finally won their ring for the thumb.

The most recent Vince Lombardi Trophy, though, will not be placed in the same plexiglass case that encloses the other four.

"It is going to be by itself, I think," Dan Rooney said. "That is what our hope is, to do it that way."

Said linebacker Joey Porter, "I've waited all my life to have this opportunity, to play for a championship, and it feels that much better when you win it."

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