American Football: Bettis dreams of home advantage

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The Independent Online

History shows that when it comes to the play-offs, there is no place like home. However tomorrow night, two teams who have won on their travels will seek one more for the road, and the right to appear in Super Bowl XL next month.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers have both exceeded expectations in winning two away post-season games, but now comes the difficult part. Pittsburgh will have to win in the rarefied air of Denver, while Carolina visit the fortress that is Seattle's Qwest Field.

The bad news is that both the Broncos and the Seahawks are perfect on home soil this season, nine victories from nine attempts. The perfect 10 will mean a Denver-Seattle Super Bowl in Detroit.

However, many believe another evening of upsets lies ahead. Seattle boast the best running back in the game in Shaun Alexander, named as the league's Most Valuable Player for his record-setting single-season haul of 28 touchdowns. But this is a young side lacking post-season experience.

The Panthers have retained the core of the team which contested the championship game two seasons ago, and with the prolific receiver Steve Smith to counter Alexander's productivity, they have a chance.

Pittsburgh are the emotional choice, if only because their 13-year veteran running back Jerome Bettis is set to retire. Widely admired on and off the field, Bettis has never played in the Super Bowl, having fallen at the final hurdle three times since 1998. Adding further poignancy to his quest is the fact that this year's game is being staged in his home city.

"I've been on the losing side of quite a few of these," he said. "That's what's driving me more than anything else, not that the Super Bowl is in Detroit."