- The Pittsburgh Steelers just capped off the most remarkable end-of-season run in the history of the NFL. I don't think that's even debatable. Over the course of their last eight games, a schedule that included the AFC's best three other teams and the NFC's top two, they won out by an average score of 28-12. It's just unfortunate that such a remarkable run by such a remarkable team had to be capped off with such a lackluster game.
- That's not to say that they didn't deserve the win, by any stretch. You can show me any stats you want: total yardage, time of possession, turnovers, percentage of quarterback's genetic similarity to Trent Dilfer … whatever. Pittsburgh made four big plays to Seattle's one. That's what determined the game.
- I don't know what kind of governor Lynn Swann would make, but he's got the arms-extended double-thumbs gesture down pat.
- I surprised myself a little with how happy I was to see James Harrison back out there on kick coverage. He made his presence felt early, too, tackling Peter Warrick on Chris Gardocki's first punt for a two-yard loss. I want to see that guy on the Steelers for the next several years. Even if he never rounds out as a linebacker, he's a special teams demon.
- Speaking of Gardocki, he and the right 60% of the offensive line should form a Guys Whose Drastically Improved Play Over the Past Two Months Turned a Winner Into a Champion Club.
- I thought that Tom Brady's smirk when he heard the boo-birds as his name was announced was a great little moment in sports. I find it difficult not to like that guy.
- Writers will suggest that this Super Bowl was lackluster because the guys everyone expected to be the best players weren't the stars of the game. Of course, that has as much to do with linemen being generally ignored as it does with Joey Porter, Troy Polamalu, and Lofa Tatupu staying pretty quiet on the field. Casey Hampton, the best player of this NFL postseason, continued his outstanding stretch of games by dominating the middle of the line. Seattle had no inside running game, and Hampton made Pro Bowl center Robbie Tobeck look like barely a nuisance on his way to a timely sack. Most of the best-regarded centers in the league — Tobeck, Jeff Saturday, Tom Nalen — are technique and finesse guys. Offensive coaches would do well to stop thinking that guys like that will be able to handle the Might Casey mano a mano. On the other side of the line, Alan Faneca showed why Steve Hutchinson might not really be the best guard in football. If there's a better pulling lineman in the NFL, I haven't seen him.
- Call me crazy, but I'm a little unimpressed by Seattle's offense. Dinking and dunking your way down the field might beat Arizona and San Francisco nine times out of ten, but you're not going to sustain too many thirteen play drives against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Really, only the Patriots have been able to run such an offense with any consistent success against that defense over the past two seasons, and that's because Brady can hit a big one down the seam every now and then.
- Those black and white photos of the players with the Lombardi trophy that ABC kept showing between the breaks were pretty nice. The one of Polamalu with the trophy behind his back, though, was way too Junior Prom. It would have been a lot funnier if it had been Matt Hasselbeck with Dilfer out of focus in the background in a tux.
- Shaun Alexander gained just about the quietest 95 yards you'll ever see in such an important game. How many of those yards seemed to really matter? Twenty or thirty? How many were impressively gained? Any at all? The most dangerous runner on Seattle's offense was Hasselbeck.
- So I'm to understand that Ike Taylor was "picked on" by Hasselbeck. Yeah … I don't care if he gives up five- to eight-yard quick outs all game. No one is going to beat the Steelers like that.
- I think I may just have to come to terms with the fact that no one outside of Pittsburgh will ever believe that the secondary is anything but "vulnerable." Taylor may continue his development from one of the best dozen cornerbacks in the league into one of the best three or four. Bryant McFadden and Ricardo Colclough may round out as solid a depth chart as you'll find in the league. Polamalu may be one of the best defensive players anywhere. But, yeah, we'll hear before every important game how "those guys can be picked on," or how "so-and-so will pick that suspect secondary apart." Fine by me. Keep trying it, guys. Maybe once or twice a season, you'll be sort of correct, and feel better that you haven't bothered to really look at Pittsburgh's secondary since 2002.
- So … that wasn't the Roethlisberger we've come to expect in these playoffs. His few nice plays were certainly nice plays, but his poor plays were quite poor. He'll get better, though. I'm confident of that. I won't expect him to be anywhere near as nervous the next time he quarterbacks in a championship.
- Heath Miller might have had his worst game of the season. I don't particularly care that he didn't catch any balls, but a false start and a pass interference penalty were his biggest contributions to the game. Geez … how is this team ever going to become dynastic if its young players keep taking lumps while winning the Super Bowl like this?
- Speaking of those penalties, how can pass interference occur "prior to the pass," as Bill Leavy announced it? Isn't interference prior to the pass just illegal contact by definition? I'm not trying to rag on the officiating any further … I'm really just curious. Anyone have any idea?
- So, that officiating … really not nearly as bad as a lot of people want to make it out to have been. The refs made a lot of good calls that get blown all the time: they rightly picked up the flag against Michael Boulware for helmet-to-helmet contact; they correctly overturned Hasselbeck's fumble; they didn't flag anyone for any ridiculous almost-but-not-quite-out-of-bounds late hits. Most of the whining has been that certain things that are in fact penalties should not have been called. Sorry … what? That's the best you can do? "Yeah, he did it, but it shouldn't have been flagged." Oh, okay.
-Let's see if I can cover these without wasting too much time: Darrell Jackson pushed off. Roethlisberger's ball probably crossed the plane, and if it didn't, there was no way to tell from the replay. If a pass rusher is between a lineman and the quarterback and his progress is impeded, he's being held. No, one foot in-bounds and one calf touching a pylon is not a completed catch, no matter what John Clayton said three years ago. Not every horse-collar tackle is illegal, and Porter's wasn't the sort that is. Am I missing any?
The truth is, most of the whining is as bad as it's been because of the apparent results of the plays that they negated. Not nearly as big a deal would have been made about the push-off on Jackson if it hadn't been an apparent touchdown. No one would have questioned the hold on King of Holding Sean Locklear if it hadn't wiped out an apparent long gain. Of course, such whining ignores the possible contributions that said penalty-drawing actions made to the plays in the first place. Would Hasselbeck have completed the pass as he was being drilled by Clark Haggans? I tend to doubt it. Would Jackson have been able to change his momentum enough to catch the ball without pushing off? Who knows. Physics suggests otherwise. Would Hope have had a chance to jar the ball loose if he hadn't been pushed? Seattle's receivers' tremendous demonstration of good hands throughout the game suggests that he might have.
I'm still waiting to hear the uproar over the catch-and-fumble that Jerramy Stevens got away with, or the block in the back on Roethlisberger after his second interception. I'm not saying that Pittsburgh didn't, overall, get the benefit of the officiating. It wasn't nearly by the margin that a lot of people want to make it out to have been, though.
- The one call about which Seattle had every right to complain was the ridiculous illegal block on Hasselbeck after his own interception. For starters, it's a dumb rule. It was a dumb rule when it was called against Jeff Hartings in Indy, and it's still a dumb rule today. This past weekend, though, it was also a misapplication of a dumb rule. Hasselbeck didn't block through anyone. He never contacted anyone but the ball carrier. I've heard people argue that he only missed a blocker because Tyrone Carter jumped over him, but Carter wasn't between Taylor and Hasselbeck. So, yeah, terrible flag. If Seattle fans want to believe that those fifteen yards of field position were the difference in a double-digit loss, then by all means, continue to think that the refs cost you the game.
- Stevens may be soft, but he's at least a man about it. He offered no excuses. He didn't blame the refs. Almost to a man, the rest of the Seahawks did the same. Good for them. They're better than some of their fans deserve.
- I'm not going to rag on Mike Holmgren for anything he did or said, either. Or didn't do or say, for that matter. In the week leading up to the Super Bowl, I saw an interview with Holmgren in which he talked about Bill Parcells telling him from across the field not to worry about braving the onrush of reporters and players to come and shake his hand after he won the championship with Green Bay. He wanted him to just enjoy the moment. I have no doubt that Holmgren was simply offering Bill Cowher that same moment.
I'm not going to rag on him for his comments about the officiating, either. He might have been wrong about the Roethlisberger touchdown, but most of what he said was to a crowd of Seattle fans. He played to a crowd with a speech that should have been personal, but because of the absurd saturation of modern media, was broadcast for the entire world to hear. I won't fault him for that. He didn't do much to help his team win this game, but he's a decent man and a decent football coach.
- So, Terrell Davis gets my award for Best Random Injection of Biological Science In an NFL Event for mentioning the high percentage of fast-twitch fibers Willie Parker must have in his muscles.
- He's right. Willie Parker is fast as hell.
- Every game features a great many "little" big plays. We may remember Deshea Townsend's perfectly-executed blitz as one. We ought to remember his tackle of Mack Strong just short of the first down to force Seattle to go three-and-out and get the ball back after Roethlisberger's first interception.
- It's funny, but that interception was kind of the turning point in the first half. It had been a game of field position, and that was the first time that the position had swung in Pittsburgh's favor. Seattle suddenly faced a long field, failed to get a first down, and Pittsburgh got the ball back with only 59 yards between them and their first touchdown.
- We can thank Antwaan Randle El for that field position swing too, to some degree. First, he didn't allow Boulware any cheap yards after the pick. Then he really sacrificed his body for an extra few yards on the following punt return. I was genuinely afraid for him after the shots he took on that play.
- We can thank him for the best pass of the game, too. Wow, was that an impressive throw on the run. I really hope that they can find a way to keep him around. He needs to take better care of the ball, and he will probably never be productive each and every down, but he really does make big plays happen. He had eight plays of over 40 yards this season: three catches, a run, and throw, and three punt returns. I can't find a player with any more such plays (and certainly none who produced them in such a variety of ways). Alexander had five. Tiki Barber had six. Steve Smith had six. Chad Johnson had seven. Santana Moss also had eight. None of those guys, so far as I know, also iced two playoff games with such plays.
- Among the reasons that the Steelers are world champions is a simple and underrated characteristic common to almost all championship teams: they hustle. On every play, every guy hustled to do as much as he could, as unlikely as it might have been that he would impact the play. In this game alone, I saw Aaron Smith running after ball carriers along the sideline; I saw the Biggest Man Ever Max Starks keeping pace with an entourage of much smaller men after an interception; I saw Randle El immediately tackle Boulware after his interception, and Cedrick Wilson immediately give chase to Kelly Herndon; I saw guys chasing after loose balls until they were blown dead three or four times, just in case. Guys who play like that make their own luck.
- Poor Floyd Womack. Porkchop had his choice of future Super Bowl participants this past off-season, and he chose … poorly.
- So, I hope that you all like Coach Cowher, because he can now officially coach the Steelers for as long as he damn well pleases.
- Was I the only fan disappointed that the confetti that rained down at the end of the game wasn't black and gold? I've been waiting for years to see that mental image realized … I feel a little cheated.
- This win does so much for these players … for their lives, for their football careers. Jerome Bettis just went from a Hall of Famer to a probable first-ballot guy. Faneca gets a big boost to his own case for the Hall. Guys like Roethlisberger and Polamalu just wrote the opening salvos of their own eventual cases. The worst guy on the team now goes from "a guy who could be upgraded" to "a guy you can win with." Larry Foote? He's a guy you can win with. Cedrick Wilson? He's a guy who can help you win. Chris Hope? He's a winner.
- There are also the guys who I'm just happy were on the team for this win. Guys who it'll make me happy to know that, whatever else happens in their lives or their careers, they'll always have a Super Bowl ring with a Pittsburgh Steelers emblem on it. Randle El. Townsend. Parker. Kimo von Oelhoffen. Lee Mays. Nate Washington. Mike Logan. Charlie Batch. Given the way that the season unfolded, given how close they came to missing the playoffs entirely, everyone can truly believe that they were part of building a champion. If Batch and Duce Staley hadn't stepped up to the plate against Green Bay, the Steelers wouldn't have won the Super Bowl. Every single guy who made any contribution to the team, even if it wasn't on the field, can really feel like a part of this championship. Hell, even Tommy Maddox deserves it just for trying to cheer Bettis up after his fumble in Indy.
- And then there's Hines Ward. If there's a player on this team who I hope finds his way into Canton, its Ward, and this Super Bowl MVP now gives him a Swann's chance. He is the perfect football player. The shoe-string catches, the way he always helps his quarterback by coming back for the ball, the fighting for extra yardage, the tenacious blocking ... what more could you want in a player? The image of him running down the sideline on the end-around with a smile on his face … I'm convinced that it was that smile that put Marquand Manuel out for the rest of the game. Somewhere, from someone, I read a sentence about a particular play by Ward that, out of context, is simply a tremendous description of the man and the player:
Hines Ward doesn't care who the safety is.
That should really be on a t-shirt somewhere. It could be the new "Charlie don't surf."
- I had wondered whether the predictions of a virtual home crowd for the Steelers would turn out like the same pre-game estimates that were made when Oakland played Tampa Bay in San Diego. In that game, although the Raider fans outside the stadium grossly outnumbered their Bucs counterparts, the ticket-holding fans were pretty evenly split. Steeler fans, it seems, are more than just bluster. We will, in fact, mortgage our houses for tickets.
- So, yes, the game was lackluster. Unsatisfying, even. The win, however, was plenty satisfying … and the playoff run may never be matched.