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Super Bowl XL for the Clueless

Everything You Need to Know About the Big Game

(This story was published in 2006).

You’ve been invited to a Super Bowl party and you’re in a bit of a panic. The Oscars you can handle, but football? You think that Big Ben is the latest offering from Falcon and that Hasselbeck is the German translation of “Brokeback.” Fear not, because for the fifth straight year we offer you “Super Bowl for the Clueless.” You’ll thank us later.

WHAT: Super Bowl XL, the extra-large edition, will be played Sunday Feb. 5, with a 6:25 p.m. EST kickoff on ABC. It features the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers (14-5) vs. the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks (15-3). This is Seattle’s first trip to the Super Bowl and Pittsburgh’s first since the 1995 season.

WHERE: The game will be played in Detroit, not exactly the warm-weather venue one associates with the Super Bowl. The last time the game was played in Detroit, in 1982, a snowstorm on game day snarled traffic, as did a motorcade carrying Vice President George H.W. Bush. The site of this year’s game will be Ford Field. This is not a good time for Ford, which plans to layoff 30,000 workers in a giant restructuring; let’s hope Ford Field isn’t recalled before game time.

The high-rollers who usually flock to a Super Bowl site are not exactly overrunning Detroit. Robert Ewaniuk of Toronto-based Sportality, which books tours to major sporting events, has seen a 25% drop-off in bookings since last year's game in Jacksonville, the Los Angeles Daily News reports.

"Detroit is a non-destination," Ewaniuk said. "A Super Bowl is not just the game. Most people who want to go don't care who is playing. They want to go deep-sea fishing, play golf, go to a spa. You can do that in Miami, Arizona and Tampa Bay. What are you going to do in Detroit?"

FASHION NOTE: Pittsburgh is the home team, but has chosen to wear its road white uniforms. The Steelers appear a tad superstitious since they reached the Super Bowl by winning three playoff games, all on the road and all wearing white. Seattle will wear its blue uniforms, where Seattle went 10-0 wearing them at home but 0-2 on the road. "I love it," Seahawks quarterback MattHasselbeck said. "We're fired up about it. The linemen, they don't look good in the white on white."

Shaun Alexander

Matt Hasselbeck

Troy Polamalu's hair

Ben Roethlisberger

HAIR CLUB FOR MEN: Hair, or lack of it, is one theme running through this game. Pittsburgh is the more hirsute team, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger growing an unkempt beard and safety Troy Polamalu sporting locks that look like Rapunsil.

Big Ben, though, is not wild about the beard and will shave it off after the Super Bowl. "I'm just disappointed I have two more weeks of this beard to go," Roethlisberger said, jokingly, after the Steelers made the Super Bowl. "I just decided to do it. I think I was disappointed after a loss (at midseason) and just didn't cut it for a few days. After that, I just let it go."

In contrast, Seattle’s two biggest stars sport no hair on their heads, whether by nature or choice. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is only 30, but is severely folically challenged, so much so that a Seattle newspaper asked readers to send in doctored photos showing Hasselbeck with hair. If the Seahawks win, can a Rogaine endorsement be far behind? Running back Shaun Alexander is totally bald, but it appears more like he’s opted for the shaved-head look by choice.

THE SEATTLE GAY ANGLE: From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Monica Corsaro a Methodist minister leading an Equality Day rally at the capitol in Olympia, called out to the crowd, "We are gay, we are straight, and we are Seahawks fans!" to roars of appreciation. (God loves the Pittsburgh Steelers too, she noted.) No word on whether God is taking the points.

THE PITTSBURGH GAY ANGLE: This involves Kordell Stewart, no longer with the team. As quarterback of the Steelers in the late ’90s and through 2002, Stewart was dogged by rumors that he was gay. The rumors became very public and Stewart felt forced to deny them in front of his teammates. “You'd better not leave your girlfriends around me, because I'm out to prove a point,” Stewart said to his teammates at one point, a rather depressing way to prove his heterosexual bona fides.

But I was always impressed that Steelers coach Bill Cowher stood by Stewart at a time when the rumors were most rampant. ''What he does in his personal life is his business,'' Cowher told AP in 1999, ''but how he handles me and how he's been talking to me since I've known him, the man is a man. He's a man. ... When you lose, you allow the demons and all the crazy things to come in, and it can cause certain things to happen and cause a little friction in the household. But if you're strong enough as a team and a staff, you won't let that happen.''

Mike Holmgren

Bill Cowher

THE COACHES: A study in contrasts pits Pittsburgh’s Cowher (Coach Jaw) against Seattle’s Mike Holmgren (who looks like a walrus). Cowher is one of the better-looking coaches in sports, and has wonderfully animated facial expressions that tells you if the Steelers are winning or losing simply by looking at him. One opposing team fan wore what he called a Cowher Spit Shield that got a laugh on Monday Night Football. Cowher is 0-1 in Super Bowls.

One Browns fan (which means he hates the Steelers) at Penn State has set up a great website where you click on an unflattering picture of Cowher and make it even more unflattering. It’s loads of fun.

Holmgren is taking his second team to the Super Bowl, having won one Super Bowl title with the Green Bay Packers in 1996. But it was the loss to Denver in the Super Bowl following the 1997 season that still eats at Holmgren. He recently recounted that weeks after the loss he was watching a “Today” show segment on depression and could easily identify. "I'm looking at it and I'm saying, 'Yeah, no sleep. Sex life is bad,' " Holmgren said. "All these things and I said, 'That's me and I didn't know it.' "

THE TEAMS: The Steelers are like Pittsburgh, tough and blue collar, more a shot and a beer than Chablis. They pride themselves on their stout defense and tough running game. But the “Stillers” have changed their stripes in the playoffs, abandoning their run-first mentality by taking to the air early and often. This emphasis on passing allowed them to jump to a 21-3 and 24-3 leads in their last two playoff wins at Indianapolis and Denver. This change of philosophy is the biggest reason Pittsburgh is going to the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks have been one of the more obscure franchises in the NFL. Before this season they last won a playoff game in 1984 and Seattle is fairly remote by NFL standards. They won 11 games in a row this season and Alexander scored 28 touchdowns this season to set an NFL record. They are a solid but not spectacular team and questions remain about how good they actually are.

Big Ben and Friend (From Ben's Blog)

Grant Wistrom at Halloween

THE PLAYERS: It’s easy to like both quarterbacks. Ben Roethlisberger has a blog, whose highlight is a photo gallery of Big Ben with various WWE wrestlers.

He comes across as a down-to-earth kind of guy, about what you’d expect from someone from Findlay, Ohio. He even took his sister to her prom this season. Roethlisberger told HBO that when opposing fans yell, “You suck,” he responds, “I know,” and that generally disarms them.

The Steeler most fans will get sick of by the time the game rolls around is running back Jerome Bettis. This is the final season for “The Bus,” and he grew up in Detroit, two facts irresistible to the media. Other Steelers to watch include wide receiver Hines Ward, Polamalu, and linebacker Joey Porter, whose mouth is often bigger than his play. The hottest Steeler? For my money, I’ll take defensive lineman Aaron Smith.

Hasselbeck, the Seahawks QB, is also pretty cool and it’s obvious his teammates like him. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer asked his offensive linemen about Hasselbeck and got these gems:

From Robbie Tobeck: "The truth be known, Matt is the biggest dork on the team. Seriously. He's the biggest dork. He's a likable guy still, but Matt is good at the obvious joke. There again, it's like, 'Ha ha, everyone already thought of that.' He's always late with the punch line. But he tries hard. He tries really, really hard and that's kind of what makes him a dork. And, I'm not sure if you knew this about him, but Matt is also bald."

From Chris Gray: "I hear he's particular about his nails. I'm not sure if he goes so far as to get manicures, but he clear-coats them and is into his cuticles and stuff."

Responded Hasselbeck: "I don't paint my nails! During the season last year, I'd put nail-strengthener on my middle finger (on his right hand) because I'd keep that nail long to help with spirals. I don't have manicures, geesh!"

Other key Seahawks are Alexander, receiver Darrell Jackson, rookie linebacker Lofa Tatupu and defensive lineman Grant Wistrom. Every year, Wistrom holds a Halloween fund-raiser, but we think it’s just as excuse for Wistrom to dress up (see picture). The hottest Seahawk? Hasselbeck’s terrific smile and sense of humor make him a keeper. And he wouldn’t spend a lot of time fussing with his hair.

THE ENTERTAINMENT: After being burned by Janet Jackson’s nipple two years ago, the NFL is playing everything safe. The Rolling Stones will perform at halftime and they haven’t been edgy since the Nixon administration. The only suspense will be whether a defibrillator will be needed on stage. Aretha Franklin and Aaron Neville will sing the national anthem, accompanied by Dr. John. The pregame show will feature Stevie Wonder. So much for trying to reach the 18-29 demographic.

THE COMMERCIALS: Since many of you watch a little football in between commercials, we have a line on what some of the ads will be. The Wall Street Journal reports that Anheuser Busch will feature one where “two slacker guys try to escape from a grizzly bear, and Bud Light helps save the day. … In another, Anheuser's veteran Super Bowl pitchman, Cedric the Entertainer, walks down the aisle to score a pack of Bud Light.”

In addition, Career Builders monkeys will be back, along with Pepsi, GM, Ford, Ameriquest, Burger King and Subway, among others. ABC is charging $2.5 million for one 30-second ad.

HOMOEROTIC FOOTBALL TERMS: Tight end. Naked bootleg. Over the top. Line plunge. Going all the way. Getting penetration. Slot receiver. Man in motion. Going deep. He scores.

WORDS YOU CAN’T PUT ON A PERSONALIZED NFL JERSEY: (There are more than 1,100): COCKCOWBOY, ASS PIRATE, BALL SACK, CROTCH JOCKEY, CUM QUEEN, IN THE BUFF. Yes, someone at the NFL actually compiles a list and you can read it all here.

THE GAME: The Vegas oddsmakers have made the Steelers a slight four-point favorite. This seems odd since Pittsburgh was the lowest-seeded team (six of six) in the AFC playoffs and Seattle the top-ranked team in the NFC. Pittsburgh had to beat the top three seeds on the road to reach the Super Bowl, while Seattle played the teams seeded fifth and sixth in the NFC. The perceived superior strength of the AFC is why the Steelers are favored.

On offense, look for the Steelers to come out passing, then switch to a running game if they get a lead to run the clock. It’s worked for them this postseason. Seattle has been terrific in stopping the opponent from running, but only middling against the pass.

Seattle has a very dynamic offense, and it will be interesting to see how Hasselbeck fares against the innovative defensive schemes employed by the Steelers. Pittsburgh has very active linebackers, who can rush the passer as well as drop back and play pass coverage.

Both kickers are reliable, while the X factor could be the dangerous Antwaan Randle El (#82) for Pittsburgh on punt returns.

PICK: One thing leaps out at me – Seattle played 11 games against teams that finished with a .500 record or below. In those games, the Seahawks averaged 32 points. In the seven games (including playoffs) they played against teams with winning records, they averaged only 21 points. Seattle was the major beneficiary of playing an easy schedule in an easy division in the lesser conference. In addition, they lose the only two road games they played against teams with winning records (Jacksonville and Washington).

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, played nine games (including playoffs) against teams with winning records, and beating Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver on the road is very impressive. They have also scored at least 31 points in four of their last five games. Finally, Roethlisberger just knows how to win. He’s 30-4 as a starter, and has never lost to an NFC team. He won’t start now.Steelers 31, Seahawks 21.