Detroit If Super Bowl experience matters, the Steelers are in trouble.
Just imagine: Every team in the NFL this season had at least two players who'd been to the big game except for Pittsburgh.
Yes, even the lowly Texans and 49ers began the season with more Super Bowl experience than these Steelers. Houston, which finished with the worst record in the league at 2-14, had Tony Banks and Mark Bruener. San Francisco (4-12) had Bryant Young and Travis Hall.
The AFC champions, meanwhile, only have backup cornerback Willie Williams. He was inactive for 10 of the last 12 games, and almost certainly won't suit up Sunday against Seattle.
Hardly conjures up images of the Steel Curtain, Bradshaw, Swann, Stallworth and Franco, does it?
But does it have any impact?
"All that is overrated," Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton said Monday, vigorously shaking his head. "You play, and it doesn't matter if you've been here. You forget all about the Super Bowl stuff when you get out there on the field. You've got to be ready to go no matter if you've been here or not. Then, you've got to go."
Five Seattle players have gotten the chance to go in the big game.
Wide receiver Joe Jurevicius is 1-1 (up with Tampa Bay in 2003, down with the New York Giants in 2001). Defensive tackle Chuck Darby also won with the Buccaneers. DE Grant Wistrom went 1-1 with St. Louis. Punter Tom Rouen was 2-0 with Denver. Center Robbie Tobeck lost in his only appearance, for Atlanta in 1999 against Rouen and the Broncos.
Darby was in only his second pro season when he won a ring with the Bucs. Two Super Bowls in five years can spoil a guy.
"At the first Super Bowl, I was a little shy, and I got the opportunity to start next to Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice," he said. "Derrick Brooks took me under his wing and said: 'You can't play the game four quarters at a time. Take it slow.'
"That was good advice I'll try to (pass on)."
He can start with one of the team's veterans.
"We're all sort of like deer in the headlights, a little bit shocked and in awe, but at the same time we know we have to accomplish a mission," fullback Mack Strong said.
Strong is the longest-tenured Seahawk. He became an All-Pro for the first time this season, in his 13th year.
"So we've got to be able to juggle soaking it all in and enjoying the moment, and yet, at the same time, get mentally prepared for the game."
So even a longtime NFL player such as Strong will look to Jurevicius and company for guidance.
"I think as much as anybody I can appreciate where we're at and where we've come from," Strong said, "but just like most of the guys on this team, I've never been to a Super Bowl before. This is uncharted territory for me. I'm excited about it, but I'm a rookie at this at the same time."
Both coaches have made it this far. Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher lost in his only appearance, while Mike Holmgren went 1-1 with Green Bay.
Just how important is having a personal history or even a team history in the game?
Consider that the last time a team made its first Super Bowl appearance was Carolina in 2004. The Panthers had six players who'd gotten that far. They faced the Patriots, who had been to the NFL title game two years previous and were loaded with Super Bowl background.
New England won 32-29. Experience wasn't a factor.
When the Steelers last got this far, in 1996 after a 15-year absence, they also had just one Super Bowl veteran, backup QB Mike Tomczak. Like Williams figures to be, he was a non-factor in the loss to Dallas, which was winning its third championship in four seasons.
So who really knows about this experience deal?