Seahawks have slightly more Super experience

Neither the Seahawks nor the Steelers has much Super Bowl experience, but the players don't expect that to be a factor once the game starts.

Updated: February 4, 2006, 8:17 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

DETROIT -- Scan the roll call of the 2,266 men who have participated in at least one play during the previous 39 Super Bowl contests, nine-plus pages listing everyone from New England tailback Rabih Abdullah to Denver offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman, and you will find the surnames Hasselbeck and Tatupu.

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Prior to the inception of the Super Bowl, NFL championships were determined outdoors, often in rain, snow and freezing cold weather. But with the inception of the Super Bowl, weather was almost totally eliminated from the NFL championship games. The league committed to creating an "event" in neutral temperate destination cities like Los Angeles, Miami, and New Orleans, and in 1986 the NFL instituted a weather rule, so cities with a January temperature under 50 degrees and no domed stadium needed not apply. With some exceptions -- Detroit marks the third time the game has been played in a cold weather city -- the NFL prefers to play the Super Bowl in warm weather cities. Bob Ley hosts.
But it's Don Hasselbeck and Mosi Tatupu, the fathers of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, respectively, the sons being two Seattle Seahawks stars likely to play significant roles in Super Bowl XL on Sunday evening.

There is a Maddox, too. But it's former Buffalo linebacker Mark Maddox, who played in four Super Bowl games, not Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback Tommy Maddox, the journeyman who has never advanced beyond the conference championship round.

Of the 20 guys named Jones or the three-dozen Smiths, none is left offensive tackle Walter Jones of Seattle or Pittsburgh pass protecting counterpart Marvel Smith. There are a couple of Wards and 15 Jacksons, none of them wide receivers Hines Ward of the Steelers or Darrell Jackson of the Seahawks. Five men named Parker, and none of them Willie Parker, the Steelers' will-o'-the-wisp tailback. Thirty-one Browns, but not Josh Brown, the Seattle kicker. There are two Alexanders, both tailbacks, but Charles and Jeff had just 2,791 rushing yards combined in their careers. Seattle tailback Shaun Alexander, the NFL most valuable player this year, has more than that in just the last two seasons.

So now we've hammered home the point with all the subtlety of a bludgeoning, right?

"Yeah, when you look around," said Seattle center Robbie Tobeck, who started for the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII, "there really aren't many guys on either roster with much [Super Bowl] experience."

If I'm lined up in the slot, the guy across from me isn't thinking, like, 'Uh-oh, he's played in a Super Bowl before.' You play the game in the moment. It's nice to have some positive reinforcement to fall back on, so maybe that gives the guys who have done it before a little edge, but not much.
Joe Jurevicius, Seahawks WR

What little Super Bowl experience there is, however, lies primarily with the Seahawks.

There are five Seattle veterans who have played in past Super Bowl games -- Tobeck, wide receiver Joe Jurevicius, defensive end Grant Wistrom, defensive tackle Chuck Darby and punter Tom Rouen -- and they have a combined seven appearances. But just one Steelers player, 13-year veteran cornerback Willie Williams, has made a previous Super Bowl appearance.

Williams has played in just one of Pittsburgh's last dozen games, hasn't dressed for any of the past five contests, and probably will be inactive Sunday, as well. So whatever wisdom he imparts likely will be delivered in street clothes.

He started in Super Bowl XXX, when the Steelers lost to the Dallas Cowboys. How long ago was that? Only five players from the Pittsburgh roster in that game are still in the NFL; Williams is the only one with the Steelers; and he actually left the team for seven seasons -- to play for the Seahawks, coincidentally -- before returning for a second incarnation in 2004.

Seattle, in fact, has more players with Super Bowl experience on its injured reserve list, linebacker Jamie Sharper and safety John Howell, than Pittsburgh numbers on its active roster.

But will it matter at all Sunday night, once the festivities of the week are concluded and the teams settle in for the real reason they are here?

"Maybe a little, but I doubt that once the ball is kicked off, guys are going to be thinking about who's been here before and who hasn't," said Jurevicius, who played for the New York Giants in a Super Bowl XXXV defeat, then won a ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers two years later in Super Bowl XXXVII. "If I'm lined up in the slot, the guy across from me isn't thinking, like, 'Uh-oh, he's played in a Super Bowl before.' You play the game in the moment. It's nice to have some positive reinforcement to fall back on, so maybe that gives the guys who have done it before a little edge, but not much."

Indeed, the last thing Jurevicius is going to be dwelling on come Sunday are the four catches for 78 yards he had against the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. Nor is Darby, who will be charged with slowing the Pittsburgh ground game, likely to flash back to the beating he helped administer to the No. 1-ranked Raiders offense in that game, not while he's trying to ward off a block from Steelers center Jeff Hartings or chasing tailback Parker around.

In the last 20 Super Bowl games, the team with the most cumulative experience in previous championship encounters won 16 times. But that's in large part because there were repeat winners, teams that were making multiple appearances over a relatively short period of time and whose rosters had not turned over very much. That won't be a factor Sunday: Pittsburgh is making its first appearance in a decade, and Seattle is playing in its first championship game ever.

"It might be important that both coaches have been here before because they know what to expect, how to prepare," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said. "For the players, well, it's not like any of us were with the Patriots, who have been here a lot recently. I don't think any of our guys is worried that [the Seahawks] have a few more players who have been to the Super Bowl because they haven't been to this Super Bowl. And this game will have a life of its own."

Where Seattle's past Super Bowl veterans perhaps have been able to help their teammates, Wistrom acknowledged, is during the week before the game. But that won't have any bearing on Sunday evening.

"Just getting guys through all the distractions of the week, trying to convey to them to have some fun with it, and not let everything get to you, that's probably where it has maybe been helpful," Wistrom said. "But when they snap the ball, all bets are off and it's up to every individual to take care of his business. You have to settle in and tell yourself that, bottom line, it's still a football game. You rely on your football experience, and not necessarily your Super Bowl football experience."

In terms of experience, the teams are, it seems, matched pretty evenly. The Seahawks' 22 starters on offense and defense average 5.8 seasons of league experience and 28.2 years of age, and Pittsburgh's averages are 5.5 seasons and 27.2 years. The oldest unit is the Seattle offense, at 7.9 seasons and 30.2 years, and it is matched against a Steelers defense that averages 6.2 seasons and 28.0 years. The Steelers' offense has an experience edge (4.8 seasons, 26.5 years) over the Seahawks' defense (3.7 seasons, 26.3 years).

But even those numbers, players insist, likely aren't too meaningful. It still comes down to the most simplistic equation, one that fans dread hearing but which resonates in every game, and that's which team makes the most plays.

"I know people get tired of hearing that," Pittsburgh receiver Ward said, "but it's just the truth. You're in a pressure situation, you need a play, and either you or one of your guys makes it. And I think this is going to be the kind of game where one or two plays make a difference. We feel like, right now, we're making plays."

The Steelers also feel that the seven-game winning streak they needed to craft to even arrive at this point, a stretch that includes three postseason victories on the road against the AFC's three highest-seeded qualifiers, has prepared them well for the challenges they will face from the Seahawks.

After they lost at home to Cincinnati on Dec. 4, the Steelers were 7-5, two games behind in their divisional race and trailing in the wild-card chase. Pittsburgh has not lost since and could not have afforded even a single defeat. The Steelers feel, essentially, that their last seven games have all been playoff-caliber moments.

"We're basically a team that had absolutely zero margin for error," free safety Chris Hope said, "and we came through. So I don't think whatever margin the Seahawks have in terms of Super Bowl experience is going to affect us very much. Believe me, of all the things we've got to think about, that's not real high up there on the list."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

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