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Steel Will

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.

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Without much offensive punch or a dominant defensive performance, the Steelers won the franchises 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 picked on all game.

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And they got a championship-clinching throw from Antwaan Randle El, the college quarterback turned NFL receiver.

It completed an improbable turn around from a 7-5 record in December to Super Bowl champion. The sixth-seeded Steelers (15-5) defeated the top three seeds in the AFC on the road and beat the NFCs 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 their Terrible Towels and teary-eyed coach Bill Cowher celebrated his first Super Bowl victory in 14 seasons in Pittsburgh.

History wasnt going to determine our fate. Our effort made history, Cowher said. Thats 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, when Randle El took a handoff from Parker on a reverse and threw to Hines Ward on the run. The pass hit Ward in stride for a 43-yard touchdown, putting Pittsburgh ahead 21-10 with 8:56left in the fourth quarter.

We pulled out the bag of tricks, said Ward, who finished with M-5five catches for 123 yards and was voted the games Most Valuable Player.

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The championship also capped the illustrious career of running back Jerome Bettis. The NFLs fifth all-time leading rusher, nicknamed The Bus, announced his retirement after winning his first Super Bowl.

The last Bus stop is here, said Bettis, the Detroit native who rushed for 43 yards on 14 carries.

I came back to win a championship. Mission accomplished. I have to bid farewell.

The game got off to one of the slowest starts in Super Bowl history as both offenses kept backfiring in the Motor City.

The Seahawks, who were the highest-scoring team in the NFL, moved the ball into Pittsburgh territory four times in the first half but continually stumbled.

Guard Chris Grays holding penalty negated an 18-yard pass to the Steelers 23-yard line. Receiver Darrell Jacksons pass-interference penalty in the end zone negated his M-516-yard touchdown catch. And Jerramy Stevens who was called soft last week by Steelers linebacker Joey Porter dropped a pass that would have continued a drive inside the Steelers 40.

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As a result of Jacksons penalty, Seattle had to settle for a 47-yard field goal by Josh Brown, putting the Seahawks ahead 3-0 with 22 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Steelers struggled for most of the first half because of their play-calling, which had been a strength in the playoffs. They were conservative at times with runs and screens and impatient with forced deep throws.

Pittsburgh didnt gain a first down until its fifth and final drive of the half. Thats when Ben Roethlisberger seemed to lose his jitters and regain his confidence.

After starting 2-for-8 with an interception, Roethlisberger completed three of his next four throws to jump-start Pittsburghs only substantial possession.

He improvised a shovel pass to Ward for a 12-yard gain. He zipped a 20-yard throw to Cedrick Wilson on a deep post. And he improvised again on a 37-yard toss to Ward, moving out of the pocket to avoid pressure and throwing across the field to the Steelers leading receiver at the Seattle 3-yard line.

After Bettis was stopped on two runs, Roethlisberger followed the burly running back on the left side, leaped from 3 yards out and barely broke the goal line with the ball.

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The line judge was late signaling the touchdown, and the call was upheld after a replay review. The 11-play, 59-yard touchdown drive gave Pittsburgh a 7-3 lead with 1:55 remaining in the half.

The Seahawks tried to respond with a familiar strategy, attacking Taylor. After quickly driving to the Steelers 40, Seattle went after the Pittsburgh cornerback on its last two passes but with no success. Jackson could keep only one foot inbounds on a near touchdown and caught the next one out of bounds.

Browns 54-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide right, ending a futile half for the Seahawks. It marked only the M-5third time in 19 games this season that Seattle failed to score a first-half touchdown.

Pittsburghs momentum carried over into the second half, when Parker raced into history on the second play of the third quarter. Dashing past out-of-position safety Michael Boulware, Parker went untouched for a 75-yard touchdown, the longest run in the Super Bowls 40-year existence.

It gave the Steelers a 14-3 advantage just 22 seconds into the second half.

After Brown missed another field-goal attempt (from 50 yards), Pittsburgh marched within 7 yards of possibly putting the game away. But Roethlisberger couldnt get enough air to hit an open Wilson in the end zone. His flat pass was intercepted at the 4 by Seahawks cornerback Kelly Herndon, who set a Super Bowl record with a 76-yard return.

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Three plays after Roethlisbergers second interception of the game, Hasselbeck connected on a 16-yard touchdown pass to Stevens, closing the gap to 14-10.

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com


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