Posted: Monday February 6, 2006 12:12AM; Updated: Monday February 6, 2006 2:41AM
Hines Ward celebrates a 43-yard touchdown reception from fellow receiver Antwaan Randle El in the fourth quarter.
And secondly, at long last, Pittsburgh can now truly commit those 1970s Steelers to history, dropping the endless game of comparing subsequent teams to the celebrated four-time champions. The win over Seattle marks a new era of Steelers football, and provides the exclamation point thus far of Cowher's ultra-successful -- but heretofore title-less -- 14-year coaching tenure.
No more can we claim that Cowher's Steelers can't win the big one. That they tighten up in the postseason and let the pressure of the moment get to them. They are Super Bowl champions now, and while they can't replace the memory of Chuck Noll's Steelers any time soon, you can mention them in the same conversation without getting shouted down.
"Everybody kept saying, 'Win it for Jerome,'" said Ward, who won the MVP based on his five catches for 123 yards, with the touchdown and an 18-yard end-around in the first half. "But we won it for a lot of people. For the city of Pittsburgh. For Jerome, and other guys who put in 12, 13 years in the league. But coach Cowher, they said he could never win the big one. Him coming so close, to get him a Super Bowl win, that's what it's all about.''
No, the Steelers weren't at their best on Sunday. Their crowning moment, ironically enough, came even though they played their worst game of the postseason. They were fortunate Roethlisberger's touchdown run wasn't overturned by a replay that seemed to show the ball didn't break the plane. And they were fortunate to be up 7-3 at halftime in a game in which they were consistently out-played by the sharper, more relaxed Seahawks.
"We couldn't get anything going early on,'' said Roethlisberger, who finished just 9-of-21, for 123 yards, with two interceptions and a paltry 22.6 passer rating, but at 23 still became the youngest Super Bowl-winning quarterback ever. "But we started making plays (in the second half). I was finally able to make some passes and our running game really stepped up.''
Unlike their playoff wins at Indianapolis and Denver, when the Steelers came out firing and rolled to comfortable leads in the opening 30 minutes, this time Pittsburgh looked like the team with a case of the big-game jitters.
The Steelers ran nine offensive plays in the first quarter, generating just 17 yards and no first downs. Pittsburgh didn't move the chains at all until 11:15 remained in the half, and were it not for Ward -- who produced first-half team highs in receiving (49 on two catches) and rushing yards (18 on an end-around) -- the Steelers would have put on nothing but a punting exhibition in the first two quarters
But then came the heroics by Parker, Randle El and Ward, and just enough stiffening by the Pittsburgh defense. And shortly thereafter a confetti shower.
As these Steelers taught us the past two months, it's not how you start, it's how you finish. It's not necessarily a killer to go the wild-card route, and have to win away from home, even when the games mean the most. The Steelers in this year's playoffs proved to be better as underdogs than they were as favorites last year. But sometimes the sweetest part of a journey is the route you take.
These Steelers went the long way, ending their long title drought. But their road ended happily in Motown on Sunday. Which on this night at least, felt remarkably like home, sweet home.