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Super Bowl XL started similarly enough -- Tom Brady was on the field for the coin toss. But after that, it was a melange of ineptitude, big turnovers, a big rush, a trick play, and some questionable officiating.

The first quarter was pathetic defined. For only the third time in Super Bowl history, the Pittsburgh Steelers managed no first downs. The Seattle Seahawks fared little better -- two big tosses from Matt Hasselbeck to receiver Darrell Jackson were called back due to penalties; one of the catches would have gone for a touchdown. The Seahawks settled for a Josh Brown field goal.

The second quarter? Not much better. Jerome Bettis was stuffed at the goal line on consecutive plays. The Steelers did manage to score the game's first touchdown close call requiring booth review on a mini-bootleg by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben's rushing prowess made us forget his cream-puff interception thrown just one drive earlier. The quarter ended as Seattle's Brown missed a 54 yard field goal, wide right.

The third quarter began with a flash. On the second play from scrimmage, Steeler running back Willie Parker took the ball 75 yards for the score, the longest rush in Super Bowl history. The record was formerly held by Marcus Allen (Super Bowl XVIII). At that point, the Steelers were up 14-3, and when Brown missed his second field goal -- this one wide left -- the Seahawks chances appeared soured.

Right after missed FG attempt, the Steelers demonstrated how dangerous their offense can be. On first-and-ten on their own 40, Roethlisberger his Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward for fifteen yards. Three plays later, on third-and-three, the pair hooked up again, this time for 16 yards. Detroit native Jerome Bettis took the next touch, rumbling for 11 yards to the Seattle 11. But two plays later, the Steelers were facing a 3rd and 6 on the Seattle 7, a play Al Michaels called crucial to the outcome of the game.

As if the ratings gods demanded, backup cornerback Kelly Herndon, filling in for injured starter Andre Dyson, picked off Roethlisberger's ill-fated pass, returning it for 76 yards to the Pittsburgh 20. This set a new Super Bowl record. The longest previous interception return was 75 yards, set in Super Bowl XI.

Three plays later, the Seahawks finally reached the endzone. As Darrell Jackson ran a pick route over the middle, Steeler safety Troy Polamalu got held up in traffic, leaving Seahawk tight end Jerramy Stevens wide open in the endzone. Hasselbeck obliged, hitting Stevens for the sixteen-yard score. Suddenly, the score was 14-10. The Seahawks were back in it.

After three consecutive three-and-outs, the Seahawks began what would turn out to be the key drive of the game -- from their own 2. Seattle marched into Pittsburgh territory almost unabated, completing five of six passes and rushing four times for five yards or more. Then, with 12:35 left in the game, the whole contest changed.

On first-and-ten from the Pittsburgh 19, Hasselbeck hit Stevens for an 18 yard gain. However, a highly questionable holding call on Sean Locklear turned first-and-goal from the 1 into first-and-20 from the 29. Hasselbeck was sacked on the next play by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Casey Hampton, and two plays later, tossed an interception to Ike Taylor. Taylor returned the ball to the Pittsburgh 29, and was credited an additional fifteen yards when Hasselbeck was flagged for a low block.

On their fourth play on this new drive, the Steelers called the gadget play many fans were waiting for. The scene was set: Up four points, a deflated Seattle offense on the sidelines, watching as the Steelers lined up on the Seattle 43 with 9:04 to go. Willie Parker was behind center, shaded to the left; Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El were lined up on the left as well. Roethlisberger took the snap, pitched the ball left to Parker, who then handed the ball to Randle El coming right on the end-around. Ward had run an elongated crossing pattern, ending up wide open in the right side of the end zone. Randle El, still running toward the right sideline, threw a near-perfect pass to Ward for the touchdown. Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10.

For the rest of the game, the Seahawk offense struggled to find a rhythm and failed to score any points. Once the Steelers got the ball back with 6:15 to play, the well-known ball control, clock grinding offense Pittsburgh demonstrated throughout the playoffs returned. The Steelers took almost four and half minutes off the clock on a drive that extinguished all three Seahawk timeouts and the two-minute warning.

Hines Ward was named MVP of the Super Bowl. It was Pittsburgh's fifth championship (coach Bill Cowher's first) and Seattle's first loss in the big game. Seahawk coach Mike Holmgren fell to 1-2 overall in Super Bowls.


February 5, 2006