By: Bob George/BosSports.net
January 22, 2006

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You now know what would have happened if there had never been those five turnovers.

Make no mistakes against Denver, you win by two and a half touchdowns. And if Pittsburgh could do it, so certainly could the defrocked two-time Super Bowl champs. The Patriots were due for one playoff dud somewhere along the line, and last week's dud happened to cost the Patriots a shot at NFL history.

In came Pittsburgh to Invesco Field, a team which has had lots of problems winning the AFC Championship Game under Bill Cowher (1-4 in his tenure; the Steelers were 4-2 in this forum under Chuck Noll). The Steelers executed their game plan much like the Patriots did last week, only they didn't commit any turnovers. They proceeded to shut up the obnoxious Bronco home crowd and pack their bags for Detroit with a 34-17 win, securing their first Super Bowl bid in ten years.

And it was Pittsburgh making NFL history, not the Patriots. The Steelers became the first six seed to make it to the Super Bowl ever. The Steelers did it the same way the 1985 Patriots did, winning three playoff games on the road to get to the Super Bowl. In this case, the Steelers beat the first, second and third seeds in the conference to make it to the big show.

This historical occurrence also raises eyebrows. If the Patriots had won last Saturday night in Denver, Sunday's game would have been in Foxborough. The Patriots are the only team in the league which has given Ben Roethlisberger problems on a consistent basis. While the game would likely have been close and hard fought, the Patriots would have been favored and should have come out on top.

But again, oh, those turnovers.

So, Steeler Nation really can punch their Super Bowl tickets this time. They now head to Jerome Bettis' hometown to take on the Seattle Seahawks for the championship of the 2005 NFL season. Seattle wiped Carolina off the face of the map later Sunday evening at Qwest Field, 34-14, winning the first NFC Championship Game in franchise history. If Pittsburgh can beat Seattle, they will have beaten two number one seeds on the way to being the first number six seed to win the whole thing.

The fan base matchup here is potentially one of the best ever. You have the Terrible Towels and the 12th Man. You have two factions of rabid fans, one of which still thinks it's the 1970s, the other needing to run to its history books and read up on guys like Dennis Johnson and Jack Sikma. Only western Pennsylvania cares about one of the teams, but the other team is the darling of the entire state of Alaska, among other remote geographical regions of that part of the world.

The Steelers last appeared in the big game in 1996 out in Tempe, Arizona. The only thing remarkable from Super Bowl XXX is that Pittsburgh managed to make a somebody out of a nobody named Larry Brown, who stumbled into his fifteen minutes with two interceptions and a Super Bowl MVP (Brown's Dallas Cowboys won, 21-17). Brown parlayed that fortuosity into a big free agent contract with the Oakland Raiders, and became the biggest one-hit wonder since Debby Boone.

Steeler fans don't remember this Super Bowl, and with good reason (to get to this Super Bowl, they barely squeaked by Indianapolis to win their only AFC title game at home under Cowher). The Steelers appeared in for other Super Bowls, all in the 1970s, all under Noll, all with Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, and a vicious defense named the Steel Curtain, and won them all. They beat Minnesota in IX, Dallas in X and XIII, and the Los Angeles Rams in XIV. They were recognized back then as the best team and dynasty in NFL history, and the Patriots had a golden opportunity to silence this sort of talk this year had they played a little better last weekend in Denver.

Meanwhile, Seattle came into the league the year after Pittsburgh won Super Bowl X. They began play in 1976 in the NFC West, moved to the AFC West the following year, and moved back to the NFC West in 2002. They enjoyed a brief run of prosperity in the early 1980s, with their closest whiff of the big game up until this weekend (they lost the 1983 AFC title game to the Raiders). It took many years to get back to prominence, and in the Mike Holmgren era they have made four playoff appearances since 1999.

The Seahawks are not only the apple of Seattle's eye, but they literally own the entire Pacific northwest, and that includes Alaska. It became known as far back as the early days of the franchise that the Seahawks were a huge hit in the Alaskan frontier. Seahawk home games would draw Alaskan fans by the droves, as they would all fly down to Seattle and cheer like crazy for "their team". People make fun of the Patriots being a "region team" instead of a "city team", but the Seahawks are much the same thing despite being based in Seattle.

Seattle doesn't know much about this championship stuff. The Mariners, a year younger than the Hawks, have never been to a World Series. The SuperSonics won an NBA title in 1979, the only championship in city history, beating the same Washington Bullets team they lost the NBA Finals to the year prior. Johnson would move on to the Celtics four years later, but few in Boston might remember his association with the Sonics since he has firmly attached himself to the Celtic legacy.

Right off the bat, one will compare the playoff experience of the two teams. Seattle has tasted a lot of playoff experience recently, as has Pittsburgh. Much will be made of the quarterbacking matchup, with the veteran Matt Hasselbeck going against the second-year man Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh will come off as the more physical team, Seattle the quicker team. Both teams can run the ball, both teams are loaded with receivers.

What will really come under the microscope is the coaching matchup. Cowher has become known more for his playoff failures than his successes. He lost his only previous Super Bowl and cannot win the AFC title game at home. On the other hand, Holmgren has a chance to do what his coaching opponent in Super Bowl XXXI had a chance to do, and that is win a Super Bowl with two different teams. Holmgren's Packers beat Bill Parcells' Patriots nine Super Bowls ago, if you may have forgotten.

Pittsburgh has been established as an early four-point favorite. Again, they are a number six seed pitted against a one seed, which obviously makes the Steelers the best six seed in NFL history. Pittsburgh is the hotter team right now, despite the fact that both teams scored impressive wins in their conference title games.

How will the entire nation perceive this matchup? Will a relative unknown like the Seahawks negate the huge national following the Steelers have? These are two relatively small market cities (Seattle is 13th and Pittsburgh is 22nd; Indianapolis is 25th despite the perception that they were the one team the NFL brass wanted to make it to Detroit), which naturally makes everyone think "apathy" and "low television ratings". The casual party freak will tune in anyway, but real football fans have a good game to look forward to.

No three-peat, folks. Sorry. Just find your favorite Eskimo or steel worker and side with one of them.


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