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Steelers, Seahawks in Super Bowl that appears to be even

Associated Press

Seattle — Before his Seahawks took apart Carolina, Seattle coach Mike Holmgren sat down to watch the other team that's Super Bowl bound.

"They're awfully good," Holmgren said of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who soundly beat Denver on Sunday.

By the looks of things, Holmgren wasn't kidding.

For now, though, he had said enough. After he finished celebrating, Holmgren and his family went out to dinner, probably the only chance he'll have to relax for a couple of weeks.

But fans can take that time to savor this matchup between the tradition-rich Steelers and an upstart from the Pacific Northwest.

It should be one of the better ones.

History is on Pittsburgh's side: The Steelers have four titles, all won during the six seasons from 1974-79 behind Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Mean Joe Greene and a bunch of other Hall of Famers.

Seattle, on the other hand, hadn't won a playoff game in 21 years before last week and is going to the Super Bowl for the first time in its 30-year history.

Everything the Seahawks have going for them — and it's a lot — happened this season: Seattle entered the playoffs as the NFC's top-seeded team, scored more points than any other team in the regular season, and did it with Shaun Alexander, who won the league MVP honours going away.

The Steelers, meanwhile, were the last seed in the AFC, the first sixth-seed to make it to the big game and only the second team ever to get there by winning three games on the road.

And despite all of Pittsburgh's Super Bowl experience as a franchise, only one Steeler has been there — little-used cornerback Willie Williams, a starter on that '96 team. Seattle has five who have been there with other teams: wide receiver Joe Jurevicius; centre Robbie Tobeck; defensive end Grant Wistrom; defensive tackle Chuck Darby; and punter Tom Rouen.

Even so, the oddsmakers favor the Steelers by 3-1/2 points for the game in Detroit in two weeks, presumably because they are the STEELERS, with four titles in six years in the 1970s.

That line seems to be more incentive for the Seahawks, who think of themselves as underappreciated.

"Frankly, we get sick of hearing it," All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson said when told a top-seeded team is an underdog to a sixth seed. "You'd think we'd earned respect. All we can do is keep winning."

There's one sure human-interest footnote: Pittsburgh running back Jerome Bettis will get to play his first Super Bowl in his hometown, a fitting conclusion to a 13-year career for the man who is fifth on the NFL's career rushing list.

Pittsburgh has the incentive to win one for their enormously popular running back.

"I can't imagine anything better," Bettis said after the Steelers' win. "I'm going home."

Just as interesting is that both teams are playing at their best right now.

Seattle's 34-14 victory over Carolina in the NFC title game is part of a 14-game run in which the only loss was the regular-season finale, when the Seahawks rested their starters for most of the game in Green Bay.

And Pittsburgh's 34-17 win in Denver was its seventh in a row — the Steelers consider every one of them a playoff game after a 7-5 start because they need every one of their six straight to end the season just to make it into the playoffs.

The quarterback match-up also has plenty to ponder.

Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, who had five interceptions in two playoff games as a rookie last season, has only one in three postseason games this year.

"It has been like night and day," Roethlisberger said after Sunday's game.

Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck, who in his first playoff game two years ago in Green Bay threw an interception that was returned for a game-winning touchdown in overtime, also has blossomed in these playoffs. He was 20-of-28 for 219 yards and two touchdowns Sunday.

The running back matchup: Pittsburgh speedster Willie Parker and Bettis, the power back, against Alexander. The MVP left with a concussion in the first quarter of last week's win over Washington, but showed no ill effects Sunday, carrying 32 times for 132 yards and two TDs.

And the defenses?

The Steelers have been traditionally known for it and were all over Denver's Jake Plummer on Sunday, forcing two interceptions and sacking him three times.

But Seattle's defence, overshadowed by the NFL's highest-scoring offence in the regular season, showed Sunday what it can do by shutting down the league's hottest postseason QB, the Panthers' Jake Delhomme. They did it with pressure up the middle, making him throw off his back foot and keeping him from getting the ball to Steve Smith, the NFL's most dangerous receiver this season.

The coaches are another even match.

Seattle's Mike Holmgren and Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher both became head coaches in 1992, and are the league's two longest-tenured in that position. Cowher has been with Pittsburgh for his whole career; Holmgren moved to Seattle in 1999.

Holmgren won one Super Bowl with the Packers and lost another. Cowher's Steelers lost the 1996 Super Bowl to Dallas and are 2-4 in AFC title games, but the fact that they've been to six in the past 12 years speaks volumes about his consistency as a coach.

There might be one factor favoring the Steelers.

They play one of the most effective 3-4 defenses in the NFL, blitzing linebackers from different angles, usually starting with Joey Porter from the outside.

Seattle played only one 3-4 all season — against Dallas — and trouble with it before winning 13-10.

"It's different," said Tobeck, who played in the 1999 Super Bowl with Atlanta. "They have a great defensive line. Fortunately, we have a couple of weeks to prepare for them."

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