February 6, 2006
Bill Cowher:
Hey, coach! You just won your first Super Bowl, vaulting you into the elite among NFL coaches! It's OK to unclench your jaw now! Really!
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:
12TH.  FAN.

It was the towels.

As soon as I saw those tens of thousands of Terrible Towels waving inside Ford Field, I realized the Steelers were going to win -- and that I had made a terrible miscalculation in my pregame prediction.

We had been talking all week about the wrong "12th Man." The Seahawks may have been unbeaten at home, but this wasn't Seattle. It wasn't even a neutral site. Not even close.

If you watched the game on TV, XL's most memorable visual was that sea of yellow towels, swirling as the former MVPs marched in, as the players stormed the field, as the national anthem wound down, as the game kicked off. And then throughout the game, capped by the frenzy in the final seconds.

This was Steelers Nation. The address might have said "Detroit," but it might as well have been a domed Heinz Field.

No team has ever enjoyed a more one-sided, dominant home-field advantage in a Super Bowl.

So when we look back on this champion Steelers team, we can put them on a special pedestal for being the lowest-seeded team to ever win a Super Bowl, arguably the toughest path to a title any NFL team ever hurdled.

We can admire the way they became road warriors and won those three AFC playoff games on the road -- but that ended in Denver. As they entered the arena deafened by cheers, the fact they wore their road jerseys instantly became the game's wildest irony.

Make no mistake: They were the home team in Detroit, and they played like they had the advantage: Confident (if not entirely successful) play calling. Limited penalties. Basking in the glow of their fans.

(It didn't hurt that in comparison, the drowned-out Seahawks contingent weakly waved their rip-off sea-foam green, Not-So-Terrible Towels.)

For me, the story of the night -- the game's most defining winner -- wasn't the Bus, Big Ben, Dan Rooney or Bill Cowher. It was Steelers Nation: Staking its claim as the best fans in pro football.

Steelers fans might have won my award as the night's biggest winner, but throughout the rest of the night, more winners and losers revealed themselves:

Winner: MVP Hines Ward.
From Holdout to Hero!
Capping a season that began with an emotional preseason holdout followed by a well-deserved midseason contract extension that ensures he'll finish the prime of his career as a Steeler, Ward's catches all seemed to be impossible to grab or came at critical times, but the capper was the TD catch off the pass from Randle El on the brilliant reverse call.

Runner up: Ben Roethlisberger.
Youngest SB-winning QB Ever!
His stats weren't great (22.6 QB rating), but his 2nd-quarter midfield toe-tapping to find time to hit Ward inside the 5 was one of the game's few highlights, and his TD lunge showed he can manipulate the refs with the best of them. Should have been ruled down at the 1-foot line (as the ref seemed to originally signal).

Hon. Mention: Jerome Bettis.
Retiring on Highest Note!
Like Walter Payton 20 years earlier, on paper, the Bus didn't have a Super Bowl finale befitting his career (particularly those two shots at the goal line in the first half). But he's going out on top, with a ring, having enjoyed a homecoming week as good as any to end a career.

Loser: Matt Hasselbeck.
Costly 4th Quarter INT!
He flashed moments of knowing what he was doing, but things went downhill. He combined with Holmgren on that debacle at the end of the first half, but his 4th-quarter pick reminded us of the ol' "We'll take the ball and we're going to score!" version.

Willie Parker: Longest run (75 yards) in SB history
Dr. John, Aaron Neville, Aretha: Anthem was a nice version
"One for the Thumb": Steelers' slogan the new "Threepeat"?
Josh Brown: The anti-Vinatieri -- he missed two field goals
Officiating: Seemed Steel-friendly; perception is reality
Tom Brady: Possibly unnerved by boos, his coin flip was weak
Runner-up: Griping about refs
There's NO conspiracy, folks!
That offensive pass interference call on Darrell Jackson was ticky-tack (if it happened in the second half, after the refs had warmed up, there was no way it would have been called). Big Ben's TD should have been ruled down. And the offensive line seemed to be under particular scrutiny. But cool it, Seahawks fans. There was no big conspiracy to keep the title from you and hand it to the Steelers. This isn't the NBA, you know.

The Coaches
Winner: Ken Whisenhunt. The Steelers offensive coordinator's next stop might be designing plays for Randy Moss as head coach of the Raiders, but for now, he designed one of the prettiest trick plays in Super Bowl history -- the game-clinching TD thrown by Antwaan Randle El off a reverse from Willie Parker to Hines Ward (it was the first TD pass by a WR in Super Bowl history).

Loser: Mike Holmgren. The anemic 3 points in the first half were punctuated by the ineptitude of his team's execution in the final seconds. He couldn't even pull off the standard end-of-half TV interview without appearing to be confused. The second half was more of the same.

The Ads
Winner: MasterCard/MacGyver. My Super Bowl game pick might have been way off, but my prediction that the MacGyver ad would be among the night's best was right on. Too bad it came so late in the game.

Loser: Diet Pepsi. Who's thinking "Brown and Bubbly" at a Super Bowl party? That could be the worst tag line of the year, only compounded by Jay Mohr and Diddy pitching it.

Winner: FedEx/Cavemen. Not only was this the most clever ad, it was ingenious in that you could be at a loud party, but still enjoy the jokes through the caveman subtitles on the screen. "Not my problem?" We've all been there.

Loser: GoDaddy. I know they had to go to their 14th choice before getting approval, but just referencing last year lacked any cleverness. What does the company do again?

Winner: Anheuser-Busch. My favorite was the Bud ad in which the hairless lamb "streaks" onto the field of football-playing Clydesdales. That was phenomenal. (My criticism? Where was the Bud Light Daredevil?)

And, as said on Friday, anything with monkeys is great. Way to go, CareerBuilder. You even added jackasses this time.

(For the record, Bud Light's "Magic Fridge" won the top spot in USA Today's annual Ad Meter; Bud's tearjerker with the pony Clydesdale was runner-up. Fridge benefited from running early, I suspect; the pony had the "Awww!" factor.)

The Hoopla
Winner: Stevie Wonder. His pregame medley, accompanied by John Legend, Joss Stone, India.Arie and Wonder's own 4-year-old son on drums (!) was the musical highlight of the night.

(And Kenny Mayne's interview with Wonder during the pregame show was the most touching thing I've ever seen Mayne do.)

Loser: The Rolling Stones. I'm sorry, didn't they give this same show right around Super Bowl I? Mick Jagger even made a similar joke.

Also, I think Mick might have an eating disorder. When he revealed his midriff, I wondered if, say, Christina Milian would have been given the same leeway. Even on a youngish 62-year-old, we don't want to see that.

And did the censors cut that one graphic line from "Start Me Up" (and the controversial one from "Rough Justice")? You might not have even noticed. The word is that the Stones knew about it in advance and were fine with it.

Football Hall of Fame
Just so we have this straight:

The QB of the Cowboys' three Super Bowl titles in the 1990s is Hall-worthy, but his star WR isn't. The Hall voters aren't supposed to consider off-field issues, but that's obviously not the case with Michael Irvin.

Meanwhile, Harry Carson craps all over the Hall, going so far as to say they should take him off the ballot -- and they vote him in! Voters are like the girls who love the bad boys who treat them badly. (He backed off his anti-Hall stance later in the weekend, but still ...)

In a mild upset, Warren Moon made it, the first African-American QB to be selected. Moon never won a Super Bowl, but those five Grey Cups must have put him over the top. (Does that mean they should they save a HOF seat for Flutie?)

Finally, John Madden made it (off of the second-chance "seniors committee"), and he might be the first Hall of Famer in any sport to be eligible as a coach, a broadcaster and -- perhaps Madden's MOST Hall-worthy contribution to pro football -- as a video game icon.

XL: Last Word
Is it me or was that the least exciting Super Bowl in recent memory? Even the blowouts of the mid-'80s had fireworks. This game ended up as far away from "XL" as the cynics predicted it would.

But I also think we'll remember the Steelers as memorable champs -- for the path they took, for the week of Bus Mania, for the crazy pro-Steelers fan scene inside Ford Field -- even if the game was a dud.

Take today's Quickie poll and weigh in on where you rank the game.

Porter/Stevens Feud:
Let's see: Joey Porter had all of 3 tackles and Jerramy Stevens, despite catching a TD, was widely regarded as a dud for his multiple drops.
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie: Live!
Big Game Showdown
Page 2 Index
SB XL MVP Ballot
Hines Ward
Steelers paid the right guy
Ben Roethlisberger
Made plays when he had to
Willie Parker
75-yd run longest ever
Antwaan Randle El
First WR to throw SB TD
Shaun Alexander
90 gritty yds; underused?

Knicks trade Antonio Davis for Jalen Rose: Isiah Thomas is the worst executive in the NBA, possibly all of sports. More on this Tuesday.

Duke barely survives FSU at home; Illinois isn't so lucky, losing at home to the worst team in the Big Ten; Florida whoops Kentucky at home; G'town beats Pitt at home and confirms its Big East bonafides.

"Break Up Strong": Lance and Sheryl Crow have split up! (More on that tomorrow, too.) Best bets for Lance's new g/f: Actress or athlete.

Tiger 2-fer-'06: Beats Els in Dubai. Maybe you want to reconsider that Federer-will-win-more-majors-than-Tiger argument.

Coming this week: CBB Rivalry Week (I'll explain tomorrow why Duke-UNC still rules) and a Winter Olympics preview (Obscure names? I'll have 'em!)

NBA: Clippers beat Raps to move to 11 games over .500 for the first time in team history; Magic deny weekend's Francis-to-Nuggets trade rumor.

I don't know about you, but that Dove ad made me feel really good that I ate an extra plate of chicken wings and that whole bag of chips.

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