By: Bob George/
February 05, 2006

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DETROIT -- Looks like it wasn't only the home crowd that was pro-Steelers at Ford Field.

Count the zebras amongst those who seemed to be among the Iron City faithful. All game long, it looked like they had an edict to "make sure Jerome Bettis goes out a winner and make sure Dan Rooney gets a Vince”. A hail of blatantly bad calls went against the Seattle Seahawks which cost them 14 precious points, and ultimately the game.

So, despite never getting untracked on offense, and despite not seemingly having a decent game plan, it is the Pittsburgh Steelers who come out of Super Bowl XL as world champions instead of the Seahawks, who for most of the game outplayed the Steelers. Three big plays and not much else was all the Steelers needed, other than those aforementioned officiating mistakes, which gave the Steelers a 21-10 victory and the franchise's fifth Super Bowl win 26 years after their fourth.

Capping off a postseason littered with bad officials calls all over the place, it seemed only fitting that referee Bill Leavy and his crew apply the coup de grace in the biggest game of them all. Three bogus calls were what basically did the Seahawks in, though there were some junctures where Matt Hasselbeck and Mike Holmgren made some mistakes of their own which also helped the Steeler cause.

You hate to bag on the Steeler win, especially for Rooney. His father Art accepting the trophy for Super Bowl IX, the first Steeler championship after no titles for their first 41 years, is one of the most satisfying film clips in league history. The fifth Steeler Super Bowl win ties San Francisco and Dallas for most Vinces ever, and Rooney is generally hailed as one of the most distinguished owners in the league. Watching his team make NFL history by becoming the first six seed to win a Super Bowl had to be a highlight of his entire life.

But it would have gone over a lot better with the national football public if the Steelers had won this game without the help of Leavy and his crew. The Steelers were bitten by the bad officiating bug themselves in the win over Indianapolis (the interception by Troy Polamalu), but the Seahawks were chewed up and spit out. Pittsburgh thus becomes the least impressive Super Bowl champ since the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V, winning a turnover-plagued slopfest over Dallas in 1971 where a linebacker on the losing team was game MVP (Chuck Howley).

The first critical call came in the first quarter. Seattle had the ball at their own 49, and drove to the Pittsburgh 17 in three plays. Hasselbeck dropped back on first down, and found Darrell Jackson in the end zone on a slant route. Jackson and free safety Chris Hope jostled for position, then Jackson got separation from Hope by placing his hand on Hope's shoulder. Jackson caught the pass in the end zone for the touchdown, but back judge Bob Waggoner threw a flag and never signaled touchdown. He called Jackson for pushing off on Hope, and the Seahawks had to settle for a 47-yard Josh Brown field goal.

Replays showed that Jackson never pushed off. He did make contact with his hand on Hope's shoulder, but never pushed off. The play resembled a similar call on Troy Brown on the last drive of Super Bowl XXXVIII against Carolina, where he was called for a pushoff which was more incidental contact than a push. The call was a definitive ticky-tack play, but it cost Seattle seven points and a chance to establish superiority in a game where they did not permit a Steeler first down for the first 19 minutes of the contest.

Three calls went against Seattle in the fourth quarter, the first two proving fatal. Trailing 14-10, Seattle was driving from its own two-yard line to the Pittsburgh 19. Seattle was continuing to find soft spots in the Steeler secondary, as Bobby Engram caught two passes for 37 yards along the way. On first down at the Steeler 19, Hasselbeck found Jerramy Stevens at the one, making a great catch in a crowd. But there was a flag thrown, and offensive holding was called on right tackle Sean Locklear.

Replays showed that Locklear was flagged for holding linebacker Clark Haggans, but no holding took place. Locklear had a perfectly legal block on Haggans, who was bearing in from the right side. Locklear never grabbed any part of Haggans, but holding was still called.

Three plays later, Hasselbeck made a bona fide mistake and threw a bad pass to Jackson in the left flat which Ike Taylor intercepted and returned to the Pittsburgh 29. A flag was thrown, and Hasselbeck was called for a low block. Again, replays showed that this was not the case, as Hasselbeck made the tackle on Taylor by hitting low, which is legal, rather than blocking someone. This moved the ball to the 44-yard line, and gave Pittsburgh much better field position. The Steelers cashed in on this four plays later, when Antwaan Randle El, a quarterback at Indiana, ran a reverse right and hit Hines Ward for a 43-yard touchdown which completed the scoring.

After surrendering the ball, Seattle needed to stop Pittsburgh three and out to get the ball back and try for two scores down eleven points. On third and six at his own 24, Ben Roethlisberger called a timeout a second after the play clock ran out (replays showed this also), but was given a timeout by Leavy instead of a penalty. Roethlisberger proceeded to hit Randle El for a first down and essentially salt the game away for the Steelers.

Here is why the Seahawks can complain and it isn't sour grapes. Roethlisberger finished with 9 of 21 passing, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 22.6. Willie Parker had nine carries for 18 yards if you take away his 75-yard third quarter touchdown gallop which was the longest run from scrimmage in Super Bowl history. Ward had only five catches to lead the Steelers, but most of his 123 yards came on that Randle El reverse and it was good enough to get him game MVP honors. The Seahawks had a much better balanced attack, led by Shawn Alexander's 95 yards rushing and 16 catches among Joe Jurevicius, Engram and Jackson.

Take away the officiating, and the Seahawks can hang their heads on their inability to finish drives, and three big plays on offense by the Steelers. Late in the second quarter, facing third down and 28 on the Seattle 40, Roethlisberger found a wide open Ward at the three, covered poorly by Michael Boulware. The inexcusable gaffe led to a one-yard touchdown run by Roethlisberger which made it 7-3 Pittsburgh. The long run by Parker and the Randle El touchdown pass were the other two big plays for the Steelers.

But it will be interesting to see what kind of a spin NFL officials director Mike Pereira puts on this game. He is to be commended for his willingness to come on the NFL Network and explain controversial calls every week, but he will have some explaining to do about the Jackson "pushoff” and the Locklear "hold”. He will in all likelihood say something like "Well, it's a judgment call, and in my opinion the official made a good call…” or something like that. But both calls turned out to be huge, and they ultimately cost Seattle a world championship.

Of course, Seattle could have stopped those three big plays, also. But in this year of bad postseason officiating, these bad calls are magnified a thousand fold. Leavy, who did distinguish himself when he overruled (correctly) a Hasselbeck fumble, led a crew which did a poor job, plain and simple.

You can just hear Bill Cowher's detractors. This is the only way he could win the big one. Get outcoached by a mile and still win thanks to the officials. Cowher has his Super win, but Holmgren did a better job (had he won, Holmgren would have been the first head coach to win Super Bowls with more than one team). Cowher can smile all he wants, but this was clearly a case of stealing a Super Bowl win.

Stealing a win. Is that why they're called the "Steelers”?