NFL Films: Game inside the game

After every big game comes the game inside the game from NFL Films, but the narrator for "One for the Thumb" opened by saying the Steelers were the first No. 6 seed ever to reach the NFL's championship game.

And the first quote came from Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who told his team: "There are a lot of doubters out there about this football team," as the media hotel was pictured.

Yet, the Pittsburgh Steelers were favored to win this game by five points, and most reporters were picking them to win. And since six teams weren't allowed into playoffs until 1990 (58 years after the first NFL championship game), you wondered whether NFL Films would continue to play fast and loose with the facts.

But NFL Films is about fun. It's about sideline microphones, locker room cameras and the dope inside the huddle. And NFL Films does like the Steelers, whose personalities have been so well promoted they are America's New Team.

They're a lovable bunch, and the filming of Super Bowl XL provided another example.

The first insight came from Joey Porter, who told Clark Haggans and LB coach Keith Butler that since the Seattle Seahawks' protection is sliding his way, Haggans should have a big day. On cue, Haggans burst through a Sean Locklear hold for a sack on the game's first third-down play.

The Steelers, though, struggled early on offense, and, after an errant pass to Hines Ward, Ben Roethlisberger told his receiver, "My glove's too sticky. I didn't break it in enough yet."

Cowher approached Roethlisberger and told him to "be smart and take the checkdowns on first and 10." Watching the scoreboard during the conversation, Roethlisberger nods his head.

Back-up quarterback Tommy Maddox, meanwhile, is walking the sideline cracking jokes and trying to calm everyone down. It's an example of what Maddox has done all season. This was no one's bitter, benched quarterback.

The offense didn't loosen up until the middle of the second quarter. A 37-yard pass to Ward on third-and-28 put the ball at the Seattle 3. A play later, Ward told teammates on the sideline that the next called play, a quarterback sweep, would work for a touchdown. He was right, but the play was controversial. It was reviewed and nobody but Larry Foote expected it to stand up.

"I think the little tip of the ball touched it," Foote said to Antwaan Randle El.

In another conversation, defensive back Troy Polamalu was dead serious when he asked Cowher to give him the ball on fourth-and-one.

"I'll take it over the top, coach," Polamalu said.

"I know," Cowher said in coachly fashion, before telling offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt via the headset to get a fourth-down play ready.

The play wasn't needed as the Roethlisberger touchdown stood up for a 7-3 halftime lead.

At the break, the team trudged upstairs to its locker room. "You've got to be kidding me," Bettis said to Casey Hampton.

"Huh?" Hampton said.

"Steps?" Bettis asked.

The statement Cowher made to his team at halftime was an obvious one: "You took their best punch and we're fine. Just keep playing."

Willie Parker receives the NFL Films treatment along the sideline before the start of the second half.

"Hopefully I can talk to you after I score one time," Parker said. "Remember I said that."

Parker must've known something because on the second play of the half he ripped off his Super Bowl-record run of 75 yards for a 14-3 lead.

"They slept on you all week," Roethlisberger said to Parker. "They don't know nothing about Fast Willie."

NFL Films also chose to show -- albeit briefly -- one of the more underrated plays of the game: Steelers left defensive end Aaron Smith ran running back Shaun Alexander down from behind, along the right sideline, to end a 21-yard gain at the Pittsburgh 37. The Seahawks gained only five more yards and missed a field goal. After which, Porter's verbal taunts increased.

"Porter's a coward," center Robbie Tobeck told his Seahawks teammates on the sideline. "That's all he is. He doesn't say a word the first half, (but) they get a little lead and he starts talking. Let's take his (butt) out."

On the other sideline, Roethlisberger tells Cowher to keep playing, to not become conservative. It was the only time Roethlisberger was shown looking his coach in the eye.

"No, we're playing," Cowher replied. "We are going to play, trust me. You …"

"Okay," Roethlisberger said in cutting him off. Roethlisberger began talking to Charlie Batch, but Cowher continued talking to Roethlisberger.

"Listen, be smart now," Cowher told him. "I trust you. Make it pay."

The Steelers, as Cowher promised, came out throwing, but settled into handing the ball off to a fresh Bettis. Before the game, scouts had raved about Bettis's Super Bowl practices, that the week off had made him run like he was five years younger. And on the second drive of the third quarter, Bettis carried four times for 22 yards to move the ball to the Seattle 7.

"You look like the old Bus I saw on TV last night. THAT old Bus," Jerame Tuman told Bettis on the sideline.

"I got it up there," said the heavy-breathing Bettis.

"Looking sweet, too. Looking sweet," chimed in Parker.

Parker then asked Bettis if the officials would call a penalty if Bettis scored and Parker spiked the ball. Bettis told him no, so Parker asked if he could spike the ball when Bettis scored.

"When?" Bettis asked.

"When you score in a few minutes," Parker said.

Bettis just looked at Parker without a reply as Roethlisberger threw an interception that gave the Seahawks life mid-way through the third quarter.

As Maddox loosened Roethlisberger up after the ghastly interception, the Seahawks drove for a touchdown. On film, it appeared that Polamalu was late running over to cover Jerramy Stevens on the play.

"We're better than that," Porter told a group of defensive backs.

"The touchdown to the tight end?" Chris Hope interjected. "That's James!"

"Whoever it is, we're better than that," Porter said.

The Seahawks regained possession and drove to the Pittsburgh 1, but the completion was brought back because of a hold on Haggans by Locklear. On the play, Haggans either jumped offside or timed a quick start. The proper replay was never shown during the game, and this film review failed as well. NFL Films only showed Seahawks on the sideline yelling at the officials that Haggans was offsides, but we never saw the proper view.

A sack by Hampton, an interception by Ike Taylor and Randle El's reverse touchdown pass followed and the Steelers were back in command at 21-10 with 8:56 remaining.

The Steelers almost clinched the game two plays later when Hasselbeck fumbled without being tackled. The play was challenged as the Seattle radio broadcasters began a hue that has yet to subside. One of the announcers said he would leave the booth if the call went against the Seahawks. Would he have done the same had the fumble by Stevens been called correctly in the first quarter?

But the Seahawks got their way here when a slight grab of Hasselbeck by Foote was detected on replay. It had little to do with the result – much like the earlier push-off by Darrell Jackson on Hope – but it's a rule and the Seahawks kept possession .

Just before the referee announced his decision, Porter and several Steelers stood next to Cowher and complained that Foote's grab of Hasselbeck had little to do with the tackle or the fumble. Cowher, as he did in helping his team overcome a rotten call in Indianapolis, told the players to forget about it, that whatever the officials decide they had better get their heads straight.

Not complaining, and thinking ahead in order to overcome adversity, is the most important bit of coaching Cowher has performed all season. All of Seattle in general, and coach Mike Holmgren in particular, should take note.

The Steelers eventually got the ball back (after Holmgren punted from midfield on fourth-and-13 with 6:28 remaining) and Bettis was the calming influence in the huddle, pleading with everyone to "take it one play at a time." On third-and-3, with 3:51 remaining, Roethlisberger improvised on a busted play to pick up the first down behind a Ward block on the corner. That's when Cowher struck his now-famous first-down pose to signify the game was over. That's when the love began to flow.

"I never been around nobody like you, Duce, Verron, that really keep it real," Parker told Bettis on the sideline. "Your family, your peep's good. Everything about you, dog, is real."

Aaron Smith, though, wasn't ready to wax poetics. "I ain't relaxing till it says zero-zero," he told Shaun Nua.

Roethlisberger was just as cautious as Cowher snuggled up to him.

"I'm proud of you, man," Cowher said.

"It's not over yet coach," Roethlisberger said as he pulled away. "I'll hug you in a second."

If it happened, NFL Films didn't show it. But it showed Marvel Smith dumping the water bucket on Cowher; it showed his family hugging Cowher; and it showed a long goodbye hug between Roethlisberger and Bettis.

On the "medal stand," Cowher told Dan and Art Rooney what most in the building were thinking: "This is kind of surreal right now."

"Hey, it was marvelous," said Dan Rooney. "What a game!"

"Those rosary beads were in my pocket that whole second half," Cowher said. "I might turn Catholic yet."


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