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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Off to Super Bowl XL!

On Thursday, I'm off to Super Bowl XL (that's 40 for you who don't know Roman Numerals) -- my fourth Super Bowl. Look for this blog space for updates and copies of interviews with key participants in what should be a terrific Super Bowl. My predicition is Seattle 27, Pittsburgh 14.


I guess deep down, as well as the Steelers have done over the last part of the season, and of course the NFL Playoffs, it's hard for me to absorb the idea that they're that good. I think it's that they play with such an "in your face" emotion that a part of me hopes they meet their match. That just came out of my head, through my fingers, onto the typewriter, and into this blog.

The other part is that I like the way the Seahawks approach the game. It's more clinical.

So this is not an approach I would use in Las Vegas. Don't pay any attention to me from the emotional perspective.

Now, the intellectual perspective says this: take Seattle and the points. Pittsburgh's advantage -- the constant ability to say "the whole World's against us" -- has been removed. They can't use that as a claim, and Seattle can in a modified way.

I also believe Seattle presents a test they've not faced this year: a version of the true Walsh Offense. Now, before you say "Denver," my response will be that many of the classic signature approaches that are common to that offense are not used by the Broncos. The style of drop that the quarterback takes, the use of three - step -drop passes, the timing of the passing system. It looks like a version of the Walsh offense that was learned by someone with their own idea that they installed. As a result, the "signature" of that offense is totally different -- and less able to attack the kind of 3-4 that the Steelers play.

A Bunch of Parties

The game aside, I plan to go to only a few select parties and pace myself. I can't see spending a lot of money to attend a party. Let's face it, it's all the same: music , drinks, and people. Folks milling around looking at other folks, then going on to another party after they're board with that one.

No thanks. I'd rather hang out at the NFL Headquarters Hotel...I can do all of the same and see a gaggle of celebrities without spending any money at all.

That's the plan.
Super Bowl XL -- Monday, January 30, 2006

(On the decision to limit QB Ben Roethlisberger’s media availability during the week) “I’m really not too involved in that. I know we just tried to limit Ben’s access this week so I think it was just the way it is. You’ll have plenty of chances to talk to him throughout the course of the week. That was just the way it unfolded.”

(On reaching the Super Bowl 10 years ago and having an appreciation for how difficult it is to reach this point ) “There’s no question. We’ve been close many times, having lost a few AFC Championship games and so certainly I think you cherish the opportunity that you have coming here and you try to relay that to the players. I think the fact that they were as close as this group of players was last year and went through the disappointment of the home playoff loss against New England I think is very fresh in a lot of memories and recognizing that you can get close but the disappointment is still very real and very vivid. To be honest with you, the only game that you ever really remember is the last game you play. I think we recognize the opportunity that we have and look forward to making sure we prepare and keep the priorities in line this week.”

(On telling all of the players on the roster that they can be a big impact in the game) “I think it’s true in any game. We talk about it all of the time that there are probably four or five plays in a game that will have tremendous influence on the game and it’s hard to say when that play is going to present itself so we’ve talked about finishing plays, doing the little things and playing with great effort. I think with our football team, we really don’t rely on any one element. I think that’s the thing that’s been very evident throughout the season that each week has been a different guy that’s stepped up. The biggest thing is going through the preparation and understanding that you never know how a game is going to unfold and playing hard on every play and making sure you know what you’re doing on every play is at least going to give you an opportunity to be a part of one of those four or five plays that tremendously influence a game.”

(On the origin of showing his emotion on the sideline) “You’re talking about all of these negative images that you have of me but I smile a lot, too. The cameras only show when you’re mad. It’s nothing that’s planned or premeditated. I like to think it’s an emotional game that’s played with a lot of passion; I like to see our players play that way. Obviously at times maybe my emotions get the best of me but you have to be yourself, that’s the most important thing. You can’t be anything more than that. I really don’t give much thought to what takes place during the course of a game, I’m as much involved in it as the players are. Sometimes you agree with a call, sometimes you don’t agree with a call. Sometimes you love a play, sometimes you don’t like a play. It’s an emotional game and I love it. It’s three hours of fun.”

(On the demands of the schedule and how the team will prioritize this week) “Again, we talked about this with the players. We had an extra day off last week, we didn’t start until Thursday just to make sure that the players were involved with their families and just all of the logistics of getting them here and what that entails. We had Thursday, Friday, Saturday morning. We had three good days of work, and came here today. We came here today and got acclimated to the Silverdome and where we’ll be meeting and practicing. I think the biggest thing when we talk to these guys, not just Jerome (Bettis), with everybody, is that when we come here there will be a lot of demands on many of these guys but to come here and prioritize things and try not to get out of the routine that they have and just understand that Wednesday, Thursday, Friday is just like a regular game. I think they understand it. Like we talked about, to get here is one thing, but don’t mistake what we’re here to do. I think the priorities of a lot of the veterans on this team that have filtered down, understanding that getting here is one thing, but the most important thing is that we focus and get ourselves prepared because we’re playing a very good football team. These guys (Seattle) didn’t win 15 games for nothing. They have a good offense, as good as we’re going to play this year, an opportunistic defense, fifth against the rush, these guys lead the league in sacks. We are going to have to play our best football game and to take anything away from that is going to not allow us and give ourselves the best chance to execute on Sunday. I think we understand the opponent that we have and where our priorities need to be.”

(On what strikes him after watching Seattle on tape) “They play with great speed. You look at it and there’s no question that from the time they break the huddle to the time they snap the ball there’s an upbeat tempo that they have. Matt Hasselbeck is in control of that offense. They have the league MVP in Shaun Alexander and probably one of the best offensive lines in

Super Bowl XL -- Monday, January 30, 2006
football. There’s no question that the offense is one that’s a very quick-tempo, upbeat offense that we have to try and find a way to get a little bit of disruption in there and not give them the big play. They’ve got some big-play players on that team and when that thing gets rolling, (Matt) Hasselbeck runs that offense as well as any quarterback runs an offense in the league.”

(on Casey Hampton’s consistent season) “A couple of years ago he went to the Pro Bowl and he really played very well. Last year unfortunately he got hurt in the fourth or fifth game of the season and he came back this year. You look at Casey and Kendall Simmons as two guys who came off of ACL’s and had solid years. But Casey has been so solid for us. He’s kind of the rock in the middle of that defense and he’s a guy that uses up two blockers, he’s got great balance, he can still go sideline to sideline and has a good feel for the game and understands what teams are doing to him. He’s a very steady, consistent player and he’s going to another Pro Bowl this year and he’ll have a lot of sacks but I think when people watch him on tape they’ll see how good a football player he is and how important he is to our defense.”

(on his Pittsburgh roots, representing the Steelers for so many years and the meaning those two play into winning a Super Bowl) “I’d like nothing greater than to be able to hand Mr. (Dan) Rooney the trophy. There’s nothing more of a driving force than that. He’s been very supportive of me. He’s been there and we’ve been so close but yet we’ve not been able to do that. That to me would be very gratifying personally and I think obviously for our coaches and players, as close as they’ve been, to say that one year we were really special, is the way to cap it off. Coming back, every coach goes through the year and there’s only one team who’s really happy at the end of the season and that’s a true statement. Certainly we’ve had our fair share of disappointments but every year you try to tool back up and you deal with free agency. It’s such a stable organization that we have, we all kind of work hand-in-hand and tinker a little bit and sometimes it takes good breaks. Sometimes there are injuries that take place and it’s hard to overcome that. You have to have the ball bounce your way a few times. I don’t think you’re ever really as far away as some people may perceive you to be and maybe in some cases you’re not as close as some people perceive you to be. I think within the system that we have the great thing is every year you go in and realistically a lot of teams are able to make that big jump. Once you get into the playoffs anything can happen. I just think we’ve had a good group of coaches, a good group of players, a rock-solid organization that’s allowed us to at least stay competitive year-in and year-out. So far this year we’ve had the ball bounce the right way but we’ve worked very hard to get to this position and we’re not going to lose sight of that. We have to play our best football every week we go out. We are not that much better than other teams in the league, we aren’t and we know that. We’re not going to get this thing done by just showing up. We’ve never been able to do that. It’s always been about preparation, it’s about unselfishness, about the realism that exists in our team that we have to go out there and play our best football every week, not overreact at some of the adversities that take place but just to stay focused through the course of 60 minutes and somehow we can find a way to win.”

(on his heroes growing up in Pittsburgh as a Steelers fan) “We’ve all had heroes, I know Jack Lambert for me because I was a defensive guy. I think what the team did in the 1970s for the city of Pittsburgh -- I was in college and high school at the time when they were winning Super Bowls -- it kind of put Pittsburgh on the map. It became a city of champions when you had the Pirates winning and the Penguins winning. I think that it’s always been known as a sports town, a blue-collar town, and I think a lot of people in Pittsburgh who grow up there learn how to compete. You learn how to understand sports and that nothing can be handed to you and I think that’s why you see a lot of good coaches that come out of there because there’s a work ethic that exists and you learn how to compete at an early age, know the difference between winning and losing and you’re very proud of that. I’m very proud to be from that. Right now, it’s not so much about the reflection of that as much as it’s about trying to seize this opportunity here that we have and just trying to stay focused on that. I think you can reflect when the season is over and our season isn’t over yet.”

(on his tenure with Pittsburgh and being with an organization that has given him stability over the years) “I’m very appreciative that I received their support through the 1998-’99 years, 6-10, 7-9 and certainly maybe in some other places a change may’ve been made. I think we have a very healthy organization that starts at the top. There are no egos and we try to get things done as a team. Obviously we’re in a performance-now business and I don’t think you take anything for granted

Super Bowl XL -- Monday, January 30, 2006
and I’ve never done that so I’m not na├»ve to think that if we don’t have a bad year that I’ll be another one of those guys that shows up on Black Monday. I think that’s what keeps you going is understanding that you are in a performance-now business, that you don’t sit there and live off of your royals and start reflecting too much or else someone else is going to pass you up. You have to stay a step ahead, you have to stay competitive and when the season’s over it’s about trying to keep your staff together and then it becomes about free agency and then the draft. It’s a year-long sport but you better have good people around you and I think we have good people in the personnel department with (director of football operations) Kevin Colbert and the personnel department I think does a great job. There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle and I think the consistent organizations are more than just players and coaches, it’s everyone pulling in one direction.”

(on what has impressed him about RB Willie Parker) “It’s all speed, that’s the one thing that you see in Willie Parker. Willie came in one year ago and made our football team and we liked him because he flashed and he got a chance to play in Week 16 against Buffalo and at that point showed something. We had rested some linemen and he ran against a defense that was near the top of the National Football League, I think second in the NFL, and he ran for over 100 yards, broke a run there. I think when we came into the season the idea was to try and get him in on third down and give him some touches kind of like (Antwaan) Randle El. We got into camp and Duce (Staley) got hurt in camp and then Jerome (Bettis) got hurt in the preseason and really we were down to just Willie. He had a chance to start and I think once he started he proved his ability to become a big-play back -- one of those guys that can give you a 30- or 40-yard run because of his speed. In the process, being behind Jerome Bettis, he’s learned how to run inside. If you watch him run at the beginning against Tennessee and Houston and then watch him run near the end of the season you’re going to see a guy who has really grown as a back. He’s able to see holes, he’s a patient runner and when he’s making decisions he puts his head down and falls forward to get some extra yards and move the pile. I think those are things he’s learned from watching guys like Jerome Bettis, with the Hall of Fame career he’s had, he’s been a great mentor for Willie. Like I said, he can give you a big play at any time and I think it’s a good mix that we have with those two guys.”

(on how he will prepare the Steelers for their new role as a favorite) “Remind them where they were seven weeks ago, that’s the thing in my mind. Seven weeks ago you find that people liked you because it was unconditional. We’re involved now seven weeks later and it’s all conditional. They love you because you just won seven straight games. It’s important that you separate the two and recognize where you are and the journey that you had because we’re not done with that journey. This thing wasn’t about week-to-week; it was about finishing a deal. This is the eighth game that we’ll play from that time on where we had no margin of error. So it will be a constant reminder about not so much where we are right now, but where we started from. That in itself will put a lot of things into perspective.”
(on the Silverdome) “It’s great. It’s about five minutes from the hotel. The locker room is good. The field, that’s where Jerome (Bettis) had the infamous coin toss. We get to practice there all week. We’re going to go over there about 10 a.m. and meet and have lunch over there and have practice just like we do back in the South Side (of Pittsburgh) so it’s really going to be like a normal week of preparation. The accommodations couldn’t be better. I’m very pleased with the arrangement that we have over there.”
(on players with an X-factor like WR Antwaan Randle El) “I know Randle El has a lot of skills. He can throw the football and was actually our second quarterback this year when we had some injuries at quarterback so he’s taken more reps this year at quarterback than he probably ever has. As a returner he’s very special. He’s returned the ball better now in my opinion than he was at the beginning of the season. He’s starting to hit some things north and south. As a receiver he’s very solid. I think that he compliments that receiving corps when you look at what Hines (Ward) is to us and what Cedric Wilson has become and Nate Washington, a young rookie. I really like this receiving corps and Antwaan gives you a lot of options.”

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