DETROIT -- Now there can be no doubt about the Pittsburgh Steelers' destiny.
In a manner that defined their charmed life in the playoffs, the Steelers captured their first Super Bowl title in 26 years with a ragged, 21-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks last night before 68,206 at Ford Field.
Without much offensive punch or a dominant defensive performance, the Steelers persevered to win the franchise's fifth NFL title - "One for the thumb," they declared - in the unlikeliest of ways.
They got a record 75-yard touchdown run from Willie Parker, the running back who went unnoticed all week. They got a pivotal interception from Ike Taylor, the cornerback who got unmercifully beaten all game. And they got a championship-clinching throw from Antwaan Randle El, the college quarterback-turned-NFL receiver.
It completed an improbable eight-game turnaround in which the Steelers went from near playoff elimination at 7-5 to Super Bowl champions. The sixth-seeded Steelers (15-5) defeated the top three seeds in the AFC on the road and beat the NFC's top seed in Seattle (15-4), becoming the first wild-card team to win the title since the 2000 Ravens.
As the final seconds wound down, a pro-Steelers crowd at Ford Field waved Terrible Towels, and teary-eyed coach Bill Cowher celebrated his first Super Bowl victory in 14 seasons in Pittsburgh.
"History wasn't going to determine our fate. Our effort made history," Cowher said. "That's what was special to me."
It appeared as if the Steelers could have been headed to a disastrous defeat in the fourth quarter.
With Pittsburgh holding a 14-10 lead, the Seahawks drove to the Steelers' 27-yard line before quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was intercepted by Taylor on an overthrown pass.
The Steelers capitalized four plays later with their trademark trickery when Randle El took a handoff from Parker on a reverse and threw to Hines Ward while on the run. The pass hit Ward in stride for a 43-yard touchdown, putting Pittsburgh ahead 21-10 with 8:56 left in the fourth quarter.
"We pulled out the bag of tricks," said Ward, who had five catches for 123 yards and was voted the game's Most Valuable Player.
The championship journey proved to be a fitting end to the illustrious career of Jerome Bettis, the backup running back whose return home overshadowed Parker.
Clutching the Vince Lombardi trophy for the first time, the NFL's fifth all-time leading rusher, nicknamed The Bus, announced his retirement.
"The last Bus stop is here," said Bettis, who rushed for 43 yards on 14 carries. "I came back to win a championship. Mission accomplished. I have to bid farewell."
The triumph was far from a perfect goodbye.
The Steelers were out-gained, 396-339. Ben Roethlisberger, 23, became the youngest quarterback to win the Super Bowl but was off his game after an impressive playoff run. The second-year pro completed only nine of 21 passes, threw two interceptions and finished with a passer rating of 22.6, the lowest ever by a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
Even the usually stout Steelers defense allowed the Seahawks to cross midfield eight times on 12 drives.
"You imagine yourself coming out and playing your best football. It wasn't that way," Roethlisberger said. "We got the win, and that's all that matters."
Other than Randle El's touchdown throw, Pittsburgh's only offense came on the final drive of the first half and the first one of the second half.
With the Steelers trailing 3-0 in the second quarter, Roethlisberger completed passes of 12, 20 and 37 yards before making a 1-yard leap that barely broke the goal line.
Then, on the second play of the second half, Parker followed a block by pulling left guard Alan Faneca, beat out-of-position safety Michael Boulware (brother of the Ravens' Peter Boulware) and raced untouched for a 75-yard touchdown, the longest run in the Super Bowl's 40-game history.
"I knew it was going to be a great play when it was called," said Parker, who managed 18 yards on his other nine carries.
The Steelers could have secured their eighth straight victory earlier if not for a Roethlisberger mistake.
With Pittsburgh ahead 14-3 and deep inside Seattle territory, Roethlisberger was intercepted at the 4-yard line by Seahawks cornerback Kelly Herndon, whose Super Bowl-record 76-yard return set up Seattle's only touchdown.
Three plays later, Hasselbeck connected on a 16-yard pass to tight end Jerramy Stevens in the end zone, closing the gap to 14-10.
But the Seahawks couldn't overcome their mistakes - penalties, dropped passes and poor throws - and were held to a season-low point total.
Receiver Darrell Jackson's pass-interference penalty in the end zone negated his 16-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter. Offensive tackle Sean Locklear's holding penalty negated an 18-yard pass to Stevens to the Pittsburgh 1-yard line. And drops by Jackson and Stevens continually stalled the NFL's highest-scoring offense.
"We did let a good opportunity to be world champions slip away," running back Shaun Alexander said.
Catching the breaks has been a theme of the Steelers' championship run.
In the wild-card round, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer went down with a serious knee injury on his first pass. In the divisional round, the Indianapolis Colts' Mike Vanderjagt, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, missed badly on a game-tying field-goal attempt.
And in the AFC championship game, Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey missed a possible interception that could have been returned for a touchdown when it bounced off his chest.
"We went the hard route this year," said Steelers linebacker Joey Porter. "We did everything they said we couldn't do and we got it done today."
Records set or tied in last night's Super Bowl:
Longest run from scrimmage-75 yards, Willie Parker, Pittsburgh (Old record: 74, Marcus Allen, L.A. Raiders vs. Washington, 1984).
Longest interception return-76 yards, Kelly Herndon, Seattle (Old record: 75, Willie Brown, Oakland vs. Minnesota, 1977).
Youngest winning starter at QB-23 years, 340 days, Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh. (Old record: 24 years, 184 days, Tom Brady, New England vs. St. Louis, 2002.)
Lowest passer rating, winning QB-22.6, Roethlisberger. (Old record: 51.9, John Elway, Denver vs. Green Bay, 1998.
Highest punting average-50.2 yards, Tom Rouen, Seattle. (Old record: 48.8, Bryan Wagner, San Diego vs. San Francisco, 1995).
Most receptions, first quarter-5, Darrell Jackson, Seattle.
Most Super Bowls won-Pittsburgh, 5.
Fewest first downs, first quarter-0, Pittsburgh.
Fewest fumbles-0, both teams.
Fewest first downs by penalty-0, both teams.
Source: Elias Sports Bureau
Seattle 3 0 7 0-10
Pittsburgh 0 7 7 7-21
First quarter Sea-FG Brown 47, :22.
Second quarter Pit-Roethlisberger 1 run (Reed kick), 1:55.
Third quarter Pit-Parker 75 run (Reed kick), 14:38. Sea-Stevens 16 pass from Hasselbeck (Brown kick), 6:45.
Fourth quarter Pit-Ward 43 pass from Randle El (Reed kick), 8:56. A-68,206.
First downs 20 14
Total Net Yards 396 339
Rushes-yards 25-137 33-181
Passing 259 158
Punt Returns 4-27 2-32
Kickoff Returns 4-71 2-43
Interceptions Ret. 2-76 1-24
Comp-Att-Int 26-49-1 10-22-2
Sacked-Yards Lost 3-14 1-8
Punts 6-50.2 6-48.7
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 7-70 3-20
Time of Possession 33:02 26:58
Rushing-Seattle, Alexander 20-95, Hasselbeck 3-35, Strong 2-7. Pittsburgh, Parker 10-93, Bettis 14-43, Roethlisberger 7-25, Ward 1-18, Haynes 1-2. Passing-Seattle, Hasselbeck 26-49-1-273. Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger 9-21-2-123, Randle El 1-1-0-43. Receiving-Seattle, Engram 6-70, Jurevicius 5-93, Jackson 5-50, Stevens 3-25, Strong 2-15, Hannam 2-12, Alexander 2-2, Morris 1-6. Pittsburgh, Ward 5-123, Randle El 3-22, Wilson 1-20, Parker 1-1. Missed field goals-Seattle, Brown 54 (WR), 50 (WL).