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Notes: Tough rookies prepare for one final test

Associated Press

Detroit — Steelers tight end Heath Miller started to get worn out toward the middle of the season, when the hits and the extra games started to take their toll.

That will happen to a rookie. Seahawks linebackers Leroy Hill and Lofa Tatupu must know the feeling, too.

But once the playoffs rolled around, they got energized. Now all three are playing for a Super Bowl championship, something few players get a chance to do, let alone in their first year.

"There was a point in there when it was rough, but the playoffs really built my energy level back up and I haven't looked back," Miller said. "We had a few days off and my body feels great right now."

Miller had 39 catches for 459 yards and six touchdowns in the regular season. His touchdown receptions were tied for third among all tight ends.

The Steelers ended up getting a steal in the 6-foot-5, 256-pound Miller when they drafted him late in the first round. Miller slipped because he was recovering from a sports hernia, but he fit perfectly into the Pittsburgh system.

He started off fast, catching all six of his touchdown passes in his first seven games. The only other rookie tight ends to do that were Raymond Chester of the Raiders (1970) and Eric Green of the Steelers (1990).

Miller finally scored again when he caught a touchdown pass against Denver in the AFC championship game.

Tatupu has anchored the Seahawks defense with his aggressive play, finishing second to Chargers end Shawne Merriman for Defensive Rookie of the Year. The 6-foot, 238-pound Tatupu led the team with 105 tackles, while Hill was tied for third with 67. Tatupu added four sacks and three interceptions, and broke up 10 passes.

Of course, Tatupu is used to the spotlight. He won the national championship last year at Southern California.

"I would like to say that's all I know. But like I said, situation, circumstances, they worked well for me and I am just grateful to be here," Tatupu said.

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STEE-RIKE! Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick rolled a strike on his first attempt at Jerome Bettis' Superbowling charity event Thursday night, putting pressure on The Bus when he arrived soon thereafter.

Bettis, who has rolled a 300 game, said, "Hold on! Let me get my ball!"

Bettis left the 10 pin standing.

"He was supposed to throw a gutter ball, and I would roll the strike and be the hero," the NFL's fifth-leading rusher said with a smile.

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NOT CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF: Whether the Pittsburgh Steelers win or lose the Super Bowl, there's one place their fans won't be welcome to celebrate or commiserate: Pittsburgh International Airport.

Allegheny County Airport Authority officials announced Thursday there will be no public event to welcome the Steelers back to Pittsburgh the day after the game. Instead, the team will be escorted off their plane to an undisclosed, secured area of the airport.

"For public safety and the safety of the team, the Allegheny County Airport Authority asks that loyal fans wait for the Steelers official celebration to welcome the team home," the airport authority said in a statement.

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BIG TRIP: Indiana teenager Audrey Marhoefer won a trip to the Super Bowl by posting a high score in Food Force, an educational video game that simulates the challenges of aid workers reaching poor people with food in times of crisis.

The 17-year-old Marhoefer of Losantville was surprised Tuesday in her classroom with a phone call from Redskins backup quarterback Jason Campbell, who offered his congratulations. The Food Force Bowl 2006 was held to raise awareness about world hunger between the United Nations World Food Program, which created the game, and the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA).

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IS BEN THERE? There's only one Rothlisberger in the Findlay, Ohio, phone book and that has created quite a bit of commotion for one family because of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

"I could retire if I got a dollar or two for every phone call or knock on the door," Steve Rothlisberger told The Courier newspaper.

Though Roethlisberger grew up in this northwest Ohio town, his last name is spelled differently. But that hasn't stopped people from calling or dropping by Rothlisberger's house.

"I look at it as a minor inconvenience," said Rothlisberger, an assistant football coach when Roethlisberger was a star at Findlay High School.

One time a woman hoping to get the quarterback to show up at a fundraiser came to the house. A year ago, a drunk fan from West Virginia called in the middle of the night.

He said his wife, who works at a furniture store, can't escape the attention either.

"She wears a name tag and she says she gets asked 15, 20 times a day if she's Ben's mom," Rothlisberger said.

The quarterback's family, which still lives in Findlay and has an unlisted phone number, knows the Rothlisbergers and can sympathize.

"They're nice people," said Brenda Roethlisberger, Ben's mom. "Unfortunately, since they're the only Rothlisbergers in the phone book, I think they've taken the brunt of most of our calls."

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