American Football: Seattle sail into Super Bowl as Pittsburgh prove mettle
This year's Super Bowl will be contested between the Seattle Seahawks and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who overcame Carolina and Denver respectively to book their places in American football's showcase event in Detroit on 5 February.
The Seahawks, who destroyed the Panthers 34-14, claimed their first Super Bowl berth in their 30-year history, while Pittsburgh, who upset Denver 34-17, have a chance at winning their first title since 1979.
Of the two, Pittsburgh had the tougher road to Detroit. They qualified for the play-offs as the lowest-ranked seeds, but became only the second team in the game's history to win three successive games away from home to claim their Super Bowl spot, their triumph on Sunday following road victories in Cincinnati and Indianapolis.
"We went to three different cities and shocked the world three different times," the linebacker Joey Porter said. "We weren't supposed to be in this situation, but we pulled it off."
They succeeded through outstanding play from their young quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, and punishing defence, which forced a succession of Denver errors. Roethlisberger completed 21 of his 29 pass attempts for 275 yards and two touchdowns. In contrast, Denver's passer, Jake Plummer, threw a pair of interceptions and also lost two fumbles.
It means that Pittsburgh's much-respected running back Jerome Bettis will end his 13-year career with a first Super Bowl appearance, and in his home city. It promises to be an expensive occasion. "He said all the meals will be on him when we get there," the linebacker Larry Foote said. "After the game he was so happy he kept saying 'yes, yes' to everything."
Unlike the Steelers, Seattle had qualified for post-season play as the top-ranked team in their conference, so their Super Bowl appearance is less of a surprise. The real shock in their rout of the Panthers was their humbling of the Carolina receiver Steve Smith. During the regular season Smith established his reputation as the sport's most complete receiver, but Seattle's unheralded defence restricted him to only five catches for 33 yards.
Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck threw two touchdowns, while the running back Shaun Alexander added 132 yards and two more scores on the ground.
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