Seahawks, Steelers leave no doubts
SEATTLE -- I'm not sure how I feel about a Super Bowl being named after a shirt size (XL), but nobody can argue about the two finalists. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks belong in the championship game, though nobody really belongs in Detroit during the first week of February.
But that's where we're all headed, even though it was only five degrees colder in Torino, Italy -- site of the upcoming Winter Olympics -- than it was in Detroit on Sunday night. In a pinch, Detroit now can handle the Super Bowl, the luge heats, and the Punt, Pass, and Ice Sculpt competition.
Jerome Bettis doesn't care. The Steelers' mass transit system is going home to Motown, courtesy of a 34-17 win at Mile Low.
And the Seahawks don't care. They're going to their first-ever Super Bowl. Tell them the game is in Fargo, N.D., and they'd arrive with smiles as wide as Mike Holmgrem's bald spot (not that there's anything wrong with bald spots).
The Seahawks did everything but turn the Carolina Panthers into endangered species. Their 34-14 NFC championship victory was so overwhelmingly complete that you could have filled out the coroner's report with just seven seconds gone in the second quarter. By then, Seattle was up 17, and Seahawks fans were wondering how many North Face parkas to bring to Michigan.
The game was so off-the-charts lopsided that Fox's Troy Aikman and Joe Buck started playing tic-tac-toe on the Telestrator. You actually wondered if the NFL had a Mercy Rule.
I picked the Steelers and Seahawks to win Sunday (a Denver radio station can vouch for the on-air selections), but not like this. Then again, who knew the two Jakes (Delhomme and Plummer) would combine for five interceptions and two fumbles?
At least Delhomme had an excuse. He was playing without a running game, playing on the road and playing in front of 67,837 espresso-jacked fans. Plummer was in the friendly confines of Invesco Field.
Poor Delhomme. He couldn't throw to Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith, because Seahawks coaches stuck a linebacker, a cornerback and Bill Gates on him. That explains why Seattle backup quarterback Seneca Wallace had exactly five less receiving yards than Smith (28-33). In fact, Delhomme didn't complete a pass until the second quarter.
Holmgren knew Smith was the Panther to stop. During pregame warm-ups, Holmgren told Smith, "You are a great football player. Congratulations on a great year."
Smith has been double-teamed and bracketed all season, but this was different. It was different because Carolina couldn't run the ball if you spotted them the line of scrimmage.
The Panthers already were without starter DeShaun Foster (broken leg) and Stephen Davis (injured reserve). But then third-teamer Nick Goings left the game with 1:20 remaining in the first quarter, courtesy of middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu.
"Injury update," said the press box announcer a few minutes later. "The report from the Panthers bench is that Nick Goings is 'shaken up.'"
Yes, he was -- like a martini. A woozy Goings later was led to the Carolina locker room and didn't play another down. If he's lucky, he won't remember a thing about this little Stephen King nightmare.
The rest of the Panthers had to stick around for the other three quarters. Fourth-team tailback Jamal Robertson replaced Goings. If Robertson got hurt, Rod "He Hate Me" Smart was next on the depth chart. After that, it would have been Ted Ferguson, Bud Light Daredevil. What with the Panthers rushing for a grand total of 36 yards, the visiting beer geek couldn't have done much worse.
"We just didn't function well in that department," said Carolina coach John Fox.
The Panthers didn't function well in any department, except as gracious losers. Fox, as usual, made zero excuses for the blowout.
I quit paying a lot of attention to the game once Darrell Jackson's 20-yard touchdown reception put Seattle ahead 27-7 early in the third quarter. Then again, so did the Panthers, who had to be wondering how fast their police escort could get them to the airport.
"I told them not to hang their heads," Fox said.
He's right. No way was Carolina going to win this game with the entire Pacific Northwest screaming in their helmet earholes and an 18th-string tailback as the emergency replacement. But 34-14?
"When it rains, it pours," said Smith, coming up with the appropriate Seattle weather phrase. "That about sums it up."
Holmgren, who was clinging to his job a year ago, becomes only the fifth coach to lead two teams to a Super Bowl (the Green Bay Packers twice, and now the Seahawks). As he stood on the makeshift stage at midfield for the trophy presentation, Holmgren turned to Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander and said, "Pretty good, huh?"
Of course, that was before Fox's Terry Bradshaw, mistakenly thinking he was working the Laugh Shack in Duluth, Minn., asked Seahawks owner Paul Allen if the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft could help him with his e-mail problems. A few awkward moments later, Allen hoisted the George Halas Trophy.
If you ask me, a Seattle-Pittsburgh Super Bowl works just fine. The early story lines: The Jowl (Holmgren) vs. the Scowl (Steelers coach Bill Cowher). Bettis ends (presumably) his glorious career in his hometown. Who will win the snowmobile given to the Super Bowl XL MVP?
Pittsburgh is a 3½-point favorite -- so say the Vegas wiseguys -- and that sounds about right. The Steelers hit Plummer so hard they nearly knocked his facial hair off.
Holmgren said he sneaked some peeks at the Steelers' win, "and they were awfully good."
"But you know what?" he said. "I have a dinner reservation tonight, and I've got to round up all my women in my life. They're waiting for me, and then I'll think about Pittsburgh tomorrow."
Fair enough. He earned a night off.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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