Best of friends to square off

Ken Whisenhunt and Dick LeBeau will match wits and skills once again. And somebody is going to be highly disappointed.

Much has been made – and will continue to be made over the next week – about how well Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt knows Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of Pittsburgh's offensive personnel.

But the Pittsburgh Steelers will have an ace in the hole when they play Arizona next Sunday at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium in Super Bowl XLIII.

Perhaps nobody knows Whisenhunt and his offensive tendencies as well as Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

When Bill Cowher was Pittsburgh's head coach, the Steelers would end every Wednesday practice by having their offense compete against the defense in five third-down situations. The winner had bragging rights for the week. It's a tradition Mike Tomlin has continued.

From 2004 through 2006, that end-of-practice ritual pitted LeBeau against Whisenhunt, then the Steelers' offensive coordinator.

"Coach Cowher kept track of that, so whoever Bill was mad at that day, the other guy won," said LeBeau. "We still do it every week. It's a good thing. It's a competitive one-on-one. That takes care of all the bickering from the assistants. It is a lot fun."

But does it give LeBeau insight into Whisenhunt's offense?

"I think it's a wash because anything that I would know about Coach Whisenhunt, he would know about me," LeBeau said. "We will be trying like heck to get one-up on each other, just like out on the golf course. It's going to come down to how our players play. I know that he will have some good stuff for us."

As will LeBeau for Whisenhunt.

The father of the zone blitz defense, LeBeau and his schemes have tortured opponents over the years, and this season is no different. The Steelers allowed the fewest points, total yards and passing yards in the NFL, while ranking second in rushing yardage allowed and sacks.

Working against LeBeau and his defense helped Whisenhunt.

"I enjoyed the match-ups," Whisenhunt admitted. "I always felt that they made us better as far as being able to understand how to pick things up. I am very grateful for that opportunity. At times, it was frustrating in practice, especially when Coach (Bill) Cowher would yell at us when we weren't doing anything good against them. I really think that it did prepare us."

Perhaps those practice battles, the ones the coaches had on the golf course – both are scratch players – and a game in 2007 in Arizona won by Whisenhunt's Cardinals, 21-14, will help ease the sting for each man knowing that one of them is going to be severely disappointed in a week.

"It is different because they are my friends," said LeBeau of Whisenhunt and Arizona assistant coach Russ Grimm.

"You want your friends to be successful, and this is one game that I would prefer that they would not be. I have really ambivalent feelings because I really think a lot of both of those men. Ken and I are close friends. We played golf together all the time. We were at the same skill level, so we could never be on the same side because nobody would ever let us play together."

Why should the Super Bowl be any different?

F. Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.


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