Something special? Not just yet for on-the-verge Steelers


Steelers coach Bill Cowher, right, talks with quaterback Ben Roethlisberger before practice Saturday in Pittsburgh. The Steelers head for Detroit on Monday to prepare for Super Bowl XL against the Seattle Seahawks.

The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, January 29, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 29, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Steelers sense something special is going on here, the kind of season that is remembered and replayed not only for a few years but for generations.
A season in which a team has to try harder and travel a far more difficult road to win football's biggest game.
After a month virtually unrivaled in NFL playoff history, the Steelers are one victory away from a Super Bowl championship that, by degree of difficulty, might eclipse any of the four they won during the 1974-79 seasons.
The improbable three-game road sweep in the AFC playoffs. A game and a season saved by an improbable tackle - by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, of all people. Eliminating Super Bowl favorite Indianapolis a few weeks after the Colts seemed poised to go undefeated.
There's more: Jerome Bettis closing out a Hall of Fame career by going home to Detroit for the Super Bowl - and overcoming the fumble of a lifetime. Bill Cowher, the NFL's most tenured coach with one team, finally getting another chance for a championship ring in his 14th season. Roethlisberger resembling John Elway and Joe Montana in the playoffs in only his second season.
"Somebody should write about a book about this," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "Because it's better than fiction."
But here are the facts: The Steelers haven't won the last game of the NFL season since Jimmy Carter was president and Terry Bradshaw was their quarterback during the 1979 season.
"You work hard to travel this path, but if you're not able to finish the deal you'll be forgotten," Cowher said. "You have a chance to put your name up there with some of the great teams. That's the opportunity that you're selling to your players."
It's also why Cowher is trying to keep this off week close to a regular week, even if he knows that is impossible. Cowher is attempting to keep the edge, ambition and motivation the Steelers fed off while beating Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver during the first sweep of a conference's No. 1, 2, and 3 seeds.
The Steelers were off Wednesday - they haven't played or practiced since their 34-17 rout of Denver in the AFC championship game Sunday - but will work out Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Then, after another day off Sunday, they'll travel to Detroit on Monday to resume preparations for the Feb. 5 game against Seattle.
Cowher's decision to wear white jerseys in the Super Bowl, rather than the traditional black they wear at home, also reflects his desire to keep things as they have been during a seven-game winning streak.
"We're playing in the Super Bowl, so how can we have a letdown?" nose tackle Casey Hampton said. "I can't see how that can happen."
Cowher can, and he has cautioned his players all week - either in person or through the media - about the dangers of relaxing for even a moment. Like the Steelers, who feel they were unjustifiably overlooked heading into the playoffs despite going 26-6 the last two seasons, Cowher said the Seahawks believe they have something to prove.
Because they're located three times zones removed from the populous East Coast media centers, the Seahawks are convinced their 13-3 record didn't attract the admiration it warranted.
"This is a supreme team with the same aspirations we do," Cowher said. "They're playing with a high level of confidence. It's not going to get done by showing up and we really have not accomplished anything. That's the thing we have to keep in mind because some people will give you kudos, and will talk about all the good things we've done, but that can all change with one play, with one quarter or one bad game."
The 1976 Steelers, one of two Steelers teams from 1974-79 that didn't win a Super Bowl, are a perfect example.
Like these Steelers, they needed a long winning streak to overcome a three-game losing streak and make the playoffs. Like these Steelers, they peaked at the right time, with an unprecedented five shutouts in their final nine regular season games and a 40-14 road rout of Baltimore to start the playoffs.
But those two-time defending Super Bowl champions learned nothing is guaranteed.
Both of their 1,000-yard rushers, Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, were injured against Baltimore, forcing them to use backup Reggie Harrison in a one-back set against the Raiders. Predictably, they lost the AFC championship game in Oakland 24-7.
No NFL team has played better for a similar stretch - those Steelers of Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert and Mel Blount allowed only 28 points in their final nine regular season games - yet it wasn't good enough to win another Super Bowl. Or even get them there.
These Steelers say they've gotten Cowher's message.
"We've really come together and done some amazing things," linebacker James Farrior said. "We knew there couldn't be any more mistakes. We had to get focused and take each challenge one at a time. Each week it gets better, and this game will be even harder and we'll have to play much better. This is the big show now."
NFL Network to broadcast eight primetime games starting in '06
NEW YORK - The NFL Network will broadcast eight prime-time games on Thursdays and Saturdays beginning next season.
The eight-game package, announced by commissioner Paul Tagliabue on Saturday, will begin with a game on Thanksgiving night. All of the games also will be shown on local stations in the teams' home markets. The package was created by taking Saturday and Sunday games that originally would have been shown by the league's broadcast partners.
The league runs the 2-year-old NFL Network, which is in about 40 million homes. The addition of games to its lineup almost assuredly will increase that number.
The league also has lucrative deals with CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN and DirecTV.
"After discussing this new package of games with many potential partners, we decided it would be best presented on our own, high-quality NFL Network, which has developed so rapidly that the time had come to add live regular-season games to the programming," Tagliabue said. "In the end, we wanted these games on our network, which is devoted 24/7 to the sport of football, and not on a multi-sport network."
ESPN is paying $1.1 billion annually over eight years to broadcast the Monday night games. NBC has a six-year, $3.6 billion deal for the Sunday night package. CBS and Fox are paying a total of $8 billion over six years for the rights to Sunday afternoon games. DirecTV agreed to pay $3.5 billion for a five-year extension that runs through 2010.
- The Associated Press

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