American Football: Pittsburgh deliver on Bettis' date with destiny
Tuesday 07 February 2006
The result glossed over the fact that this was, by any standards, a disappointing contest between two teams who seemed to stumble on the grand stage. However, the compelling personal tale of Jerome Bettis did have its happy ending.
Bettis, Pittsburgh's elder statesman, was able to retire with a Super Bowl ring, after 13 seasons of hard graft, and in his own home town. The man nicknamed "The Bus" made his departure official before the Steelers had even returned to their locker room. His contribution, 43 yards on 14 carries, was hardly the stuff of legends, but like the game itself, the result meant more than the performance.
"It is truly an amazing feeling, I'm the happiest person in the world," he said, clutching the Vince Lombardi trophy to his chest. "It has been an incredible ride, but this is the ending. I decided to come back to win a championship, and it's mission accomplished."
Stevie Wonder entertained the crowd during the pre-game show, and Aaron Neville and Aretha Franklin belted out a particularly soulful national anthem, but then the game started and the party went flat.
The only scoring of a dismal first half was Josh Brown's 47-yard field goal for Seattle, followed by a one-yard touchdown run from the Steelers' quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.
Even the Rolling Stones seemed muted by the affair. The old rockers went through the motions at half-time, their lyrics carefully modified for sensitive American ears, but when Mick Jagger complained about his lack of satisfaction, he was probably speaking for most of the game's viewers too.
Perhaps Jagger inspired the two teams, because early in the second half, the match exploded into life. On the second play from scrimmage Willie Parker, Pittsburgh's speedy running back, broke a tackle and raced 75 yards untouched for Pittsburgh's second score of the night. It was also the longest run in Super Bowl history.
Another record was to follow shortly afterwards. The Steelers were driving again when Roethlisberger, having thrown one interception, tossed up another, Seattle's Kelly Herndon punishing him for a record 76-yard return.
The Seahawks duly scored their only touchdown, Matt Hasselbeck throwing a 16-yard pass to Jerramy Stevens, and the Seahawks, having been shut down, were in with a chance.
This, however, was not a day for quarterbacks to shine. Hasselbeck completed plenty of short passes, but rarely threatened to test Pittsburgh's supposedly suspect pass coverage.
Roethlisberger, the second-youngest quarterback ever to start a Super Bowl, fared even worse, completing just nine of 21 passes, including two interceptions.
Instead, it was left to a wide receiver to conjure up the game's big offensive play. Roethlisberger handed the ball off to Antwaan Randle El, who looked poised to run downfield. Instead he stopped, and hurled a 43-yard pass to Hines Ward.
A quarterback in college, Randle El's pass was perfect, Ward collecting it for a score, and the Seahawks were finished. Ward would end up with five catches for 123 yards, figures compelling enough for him to be named the game's Most Valuable Player, although a strong argument could have been made for the versatile Randle El.
Some may also have championed Parker. Overshadowed during the week by the Bettis story, Parker's tale is another tear-jerker. He was barely given a chance during his college career at North Carolina, and came to Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent.
Such players are usually considered little more than ballast during training camp, but Parker's speed caught the eye of the head coach, Bill Cowher, and he was given his chance. This season, Parker rewarded that faith with 1,200 rushing yards. He is Bettis's heir apparent. "I wouldn't have thought in a million years that I would be where I am today," he said afterwards.
"Don't let anybody ever tell you, you can't do something. I stuck with it, that's why I'm where I am today."
As the clock wound down, the Seahawks lamely surrendering, the team's owner, the Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, stared bleakly from the sidelines, the billionaire unable to buy his team a title.
His coach, Mike Holmgren, had failed in his quest to become the first man to coach two different teams to a Super Bowl, having first achieved the feat with the Green Bay Packers nine years ago.
In contrast, Cowher finally laid to rest the charge that he was unable to win the big one. No coach has won more games over the last 14 seasons than the Pittsburgh native with the Desperate Dan jawline. Now his credentials have been stamped with his sport's ultimate seal of approval.
The city of Detroit belonged to Pittsburgh on Sunday night. Bettis, a hero in both towns, had retired a champion. The extra-large Super Bowl may not have lived up to expectations, but for Bettis and a noisy army of Steelers fans who celebrated long into the night, the only thing that seemed to matter was the result.
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