DETROIT -- They were the team that took the road less traveled. The long, lonely route of a wild-card entry, playing every week in hostile environments and behind enemy lines. And they thrived on the challenge of it all.
So why does it feel like the Pittsburgh Steelers won the ultimate home game on Sunday night in Super Bowl XL?
Because with the Pittsburgh faithful turning Ford Field into a sea of black and gold, and Detroit's hometown hero Jerome Bettis providing the inspirational centerpiece of their playoff run, the Steelers never had it so good, even in their beloved Heinz Field.
The road may have been good to the Steelers this postseason, but all that matters now is that the Vince Lombardi Trophy has been returned to the place it most often called home in the glory-soaked 1970s: Pittsburgh. Twenty-six frustrating years after their last Super Bowl title, the Steelers are back atop the football world, courtesy of their inartistic but historic 21-10 conquest of first-time Super Bowl participant Seattle.
"I've been waiting a long time to do this,'' 14-year Steelers head coach BillCowher said, turning to Pittsburgh team owner Dan Rooney during the postgame trophy presentation. "Mr. Rooney, this is yours now. ... We're taking this baby back home.''
When the Steelers return home on Monday, they'll be bringing some history with them. They're the first team to win the Super Bowl after earning three consecutive road victories in the playoffs, and Pittsburgh has joined San Francisco and Dallas as the NFL's only five-time Super Bowl winners.
And speaking of history, Bettis officially is. As expected, the Steelers running back announced his retirement after the game, and his 13-year quest for a Super Bowl ring was over. If there was ever a better ending than finishing his career's work in the same city where it all started, Bettis couldn't have imagined it.
"This is an ending,'' said Bettis, who finished with 43 yards on 14 carries and one key block on a Ben Roethlisberger 1-yard touchdown run late in the first half. "I played this game to win a championship. I'm a champion, and I think 'The Bus's' last stop is Detroit.''
For Pittsburgh, this anniversary Super Bowl was not unlike its season, in that it didn't start out exactly the way the Steelers had hoped or planned. On the morning of Dec. 5, the Steelers were 7-5, two games behind Cincinnati in the AFC North, and on the brink of being eliminated from the tough AFC wild-card race.
But Pittsburgh is a tough, gritty town with a tough, gritty football team. And the Steelers hung in there until they were in position to turn the tide their way, winning their last eight games. They followed roughly the same blueprint on Sunday night against the Seahawks, who outplayed the Steelers statistically for most of the opening three quarters but had little to show for it on the scoreboard.
Pittsburgh trailed 3-0 at the end of the first quarter and was held without a first down. At the half, the Steelers were some how up 7-3, but perhaps thanks only to a controversial 1-yard Roethlisberger touchdown run. But in the second half, Pittsburgh would not be denied, willing itself to victory behind two huge scoring plays: a 75-yard Willie Parker run that stands as the longest rush in Super Bowl history, and a bit of trademark Steelers trickery, a 43-yard wide receiver reverse/option pass that featured Antwaan Randle El hitting game MVP HinesWard in stride for the game-sealing touchdown.
In winning on football grandest stage, these Steelers (15-5) accomplished two things. First, they created their own identity, one built around their remarkable road playoff run and the feat of becoming the first sixth seed to ever claim the NFL's top prize. They were resilient and resourceful in a way they didn't come close to exhibiting last season, when they were the AFC's top seed and a favorite to reach the Super Bowl in Jacksonville, but lost to New England in the conference title game.