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Monday, January 30, 2006
Updated: February 1, 12:29 PM ET
Wake me up when it's over

By Skip Bayless
Page 2

DETROIT -- I'm writing this as I travel to my 31st consecutive Super Bowl.

This has always been my second favorite sports event -- The Masters wins by a single blade of Augusta National grass. But this year, the Super Bowl is beginning to feel like the Indy 500 without Danica.

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Super Bowl XL is anything but Extra Large. For most fans who aren't Seahawks or Steelers fans, this matchup seems like it should be returned and exchanged.

If you love your Seahawks or your Steelers, please quit reading now. This isn't for you. This is for everyone else out there who is trying -- and trying -- to get excited about the NFL's showcase game. I sense less buzz about this Super Bowl than any I've attended. If any Roman-numeral game has ever deserved only one week of buildup, it was this one.

Super Bowl life ends at 40?

While Seahawks fans are sleepless in Seattle, media members are sleepy in Detroit. Somehow, the Seahawks and Steelers in Detroit seems like a consolation game. After three sensational weekends of playoffs, this is an anticlimax. Now we're paying the price for all those upsets.

How can these teams ever generate enough star power to live up to the telecast's Oscar-worthy commercials?

No Peyton or Brady or Vick or buzz.

No rivalry or bad blood or controversy or buzz.

Only zzz.

These Super Bowl highlights shouldn't be immortalized by the towering tones of John Facenda. Shelley Duval should narrate: "Once upon a time, there were two teams..."

The problem here is that, for the first time, the Super Bowl features two underdogs, two Cinderellas, two teams that came from nowhere on destiny-kissed rolls. One underdog can make for a can't-put-it-down script -- see some kid named Brady vs. Kurt Warner's "unstoppable" St. Louis Rams four years ago. But though this year's point spread is Pittsburgh by 4½, this feels like a game without a favorite.

The Steelers, the first sixth seed to make it to the Super Bowl, barely made the playoffs thanks to a fairly easy closing schedule. They beat Kyle Orton's Bears in a snowstorm in Pittsburgh, then took care of Minnesota, Cleveland and Detroit.

But would they have won their first playoff game, in Cincinnati, if Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer hadn't been hurt on his second play? Doubtful. Would they have finished off the season's most shocking upset, in Indianapolis, if Colts cornerback Nick Harper hadn't weaved back into a sprawling ankle tackle by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger? No. Would the Steelers have been able to win in Foxborough if the Broncos hadn't upset the Patriots the week before in Denver? Highly doubtful. Would the Steelers have won in Denver if an early poor pass by Roethlisberger had been picked off in the flat by Champ Bailey and returned for a stadium-rocking touchdown? Probably not.

And now the AFC's sixth seed is favored over the NFC's top seed? This feels like a moderately interesting, Week 9 nonconference game.

Would the Seahawks have risen from 2-2 to home-field playoff advantage if Terrell Owens hadn't torn apart the Eagles? If Michael Vick hadn't regressed? If the Giants, Redskins and Cowboys hadn't been forced to do battle twice in the East and the Panthers, Bucs and Falcons hadn't beaten each other up in the South?

Things just kept breaking right for the Seahawks. Without bye weeks, the Redskins and Panthers were banged up before playoff games in Seattle -- where the Seahawks' 12th Man gives them the NFL's loudest and strongest home-field advantage.

Now we should write odes to a team whose MVP just might have been its fans? Who won't be much of a factor in Detroit?

A year ago, we had enough subplots to last us three weeks. We had the Belichick-Brady dynasty vs. the T.O.-McNabb Eagles. Would Owens' ankle and fibula miraculously heal in time for the game? Would Patriots enforcer Rodney Harrison separate Freddie Mitchell's head from his body after FredEx couldn't even remember his name?

I can't believe I'm writing this, but I'm starting to miss T.O.

This is a game without an established superstar -- unless you count Seattle left tackle Walter Jones, the lone cinch Hall of Famer. Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis is not -- not after never leading his league in rushing and never having transcendent postseason impact. Bettis, a six-time Pro Bowl player, has been very good. Not great.

Bettis' returning to his hometown to play in his first Super Bowl in what probably is his final game is a nice story. But that doesn't make him Jim Brown or Walter Payton or O.J. Simpson or Emmitt Smith.

As much as I respect the Rooney family, I couldn't help chuckling the other day when Steelers owner Dan Rooney compared this team to the Terry Bradshaw team that won its first of four Super Bowls. Come on. That team had nine future Hall of Famers -- Bradshaw at that point being the least likely candidate.

Best case, this Steelers team has three candidates -- Bettis, Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu.

Roethlisberger has the best chance of becoming this game's breakout Madison Avenue star. But as good as he is in his second season, it's laughable to hear angle-starved commentators already reaching to compare him with a young Marino or Elway. Calm down. Roethlisberger doesn't have Marino's trigger or Elway's mobility or either one's velocity. First let's see if Big Ben can beat the Seahawks.

Strictly from a football standpoint, this matchup is pretty intriguing. You have two pretty good, very hot teams that didn't play each other. Will the Seahawks be able to stand up to the spotlight and play as fast and furiously as they did at home? Will the "new" Steelers continue to be pass-first?

Whoops, another puncture in our Super Bowl balloon. The black-jerseyed, mud-and-blood Steelers often abandoned their running game early in their playoff road wins and opened up the offense and even resorted to trick plays. Though they're the Super Bowl home team, they've chosen to wear their white road jerseys. Now we don't even have a vaunted bully.

We have two very likable teams and coaches. We have Steelers coach Bill Cowher doing what a desperate, couldn't-win-the-big-one Mack Brown did at Texas -- backing off, loosening up, letting his young quarterback throw the ball. We have Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, slipping off an early-season hot seat and now admitting he was beginning to doubt his ability.

You can't wait for Sunday, can you.

That's why I'm rooting for Steelers linebacker Joey Porter. Not in Sunday's game, but during Tuesday's media day. Porter is the only player on either team whose mouth is big enough to launch this game back into watercooler America's consciousness.

Please, Joey, say: "It's hard to get excited about playing the Seahawks. They wouldn't have made the playoffs in the AFC."

Please say: "Matt Hasselbeck has a lot of Jake Plummer in him. He rattles in big games."

Please say: "I guarantee we'll win by three touchdowns."

You're our only hope, Joey. Don't let us down.

Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show, and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice a week on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.