This coming Sunday, all the press conferences will be out of the way, all the speculation will be speculated, all the predictions will be predicted, and the Pittsburgh Steelers will take the field to face the Arizona Cardinals.
Historic implications abound; Larry Fitzgerald will add to his record-setting postseason performance and a quarterback will win his second Super Bowl in historic fashion.
If Pittsburgh wins they become the first team to acquire a sixth Lombardi Trophy; if Arizona wins they overcome decades of postseason futility.
One of these two quarterbacks is likely to turn in a Super Bowl record performance. Both defenses stand a chance of doing the same.
Kurt Warner enters this game with whispers of potential Hall of Fame justification if he pulls out a win. I am one who thinks he should already have a ticket, but apparently he doesn't get in if he fails in his quest this weekend.
Warner's story is straight out of Hollywood: Undrafted grocery store bagger to AFL superstar, then on to NFL Europe before finally getting a shot to start in the NFL. A Super Bowl and two league MVP's, then washed up and done before his talent was again recognized in Arizona.
Now he's back in the big game, and his postseason play gives the indication that he hasn't missed a beat. Coolness in the pocket, quickness on the release, and laser sharp accuracy have defined this renaissance year for Warner.
He is dangerous because of what he has had to go through to get to this point; he understands the opportunity he has been given—or more correctly, earned—and plays the game like it may never happen for him again.
Let him get comfortable, and he will pick you apart like a buzzard tearing up roadkill. Harass him, and he will shift and make plays that boggle the mind. He's a tough nut to crack, and this is arguably the biggest game of his entire career.
Ben Roethlisberger can become only the second quarterback in NFL history to win two Super Bowls by the age of 26, joining the oft-mentioned Tom Brady with that distinction. A win by Big Ben would go a long way in solidifying his stature as a top play-caller.
He's big, he's shifty, and he runs around in the backfield like he's playing a pickup game in the city park. He holds the ball too long and takes a lot of sacks, but he also holds the ball long enough to make game-killing plays.
If you go to tackle him, you'd better hit him hard and wrap him up, and even then it's not a guarantee he will go down. Try to arm-tackle him and he will shed you like a duck sheds water.
Roethlisberger is another quarterback who I feel is on track to an eventual berth in Canton. He has his detractors, but he also has the resume to this point that should make him a lock at the end of his career.
Fitzgerald has elevated his game to the point of garnering comparisons to the great Jerry Rice, whose postseason record he has already shattered. Fitzgerald is no Rice—yet—but a big play performance in this contest will make him a very valuable receiver, and continued play of this caliber could one day justify the comparison.
The catches he makes in coverage, leaping over two and three defenders to pull in a pass that shouldn't have been catchable, make him a potent weapon to take apart any defense at any time.
With Anquan Boldin attracting attention on the other side of the field, "Leaping Larry" gives defensive backs headaches all day long.
Pittsburgh is still a run-first team, but they no longer have the size and power of a Jerome Bettis. Instead they have leaned on a revolving door of running backs this season, with "Fast" Willie Parker leading a corps of smallish—by Steelers standards—running backs who are one juke away from breaking off a huge run.
Parker and Mewelde Moore are just as likely to run around you as through you. Their speed is deceptive, and if you give them room to kick it into high gear, they will leave you standing.
Don't forget Gary Russell; if the Steelers need three inches for a first down or a score, Russell will stick his head down and drive through just about anyone to get it.
What is there to say about the Steelers defense? They turned in an unbelievable season in 2008, allowing only two teams to gain more than 300 total yards all year, and allowing only one 300-yard passer in any game, including the postseason.
They have been compared to the Steel Curtain defense of the '70s, but this squad has done things in different fashion. THAT squad was unbelievable; in the last nine games of the 1976 season they allowed two touchdowns and five field goals—total—and shut out five opponents, including three in a row against the Giants, Chargers, and Chiefs.
Eight of the 11 starters were named to the Pro Bowl that year, and four of them eventually made it to the Hall of fame. Compare that to this year's iteration of the "Steel Curtain" with only two starters getting the Pro Bowl nod, and it's easy to see that the talent on this defense is more spread out.
The Arizona defense has seen a resurgence of its own this postseason. Eight interceptions, four fumble recoveries, and a respectable average of 326 offensive yards allowed. They haven't allowed a single 100-yard rusher in the playoffs and have held their opponents to an average of 78 yards on the ground.
Not good news for Pittsburgh.
What does this all mean for the fans? Sentiments aside, this is shaping up to be a Super Bowl that will be remembered for a long time. These teams have opposing strengths; Arizona has a phenomenal offense in the playoffs, and Pittsburgh, as usual, is a defensive juggernaut.
Both of these teams have their detractors, to be sure, but both are playing this game with something to prove.
Regardless of the outcome, I think both teams will prove their point this Sunday. Winning is more than a matter of getting the most points; the victor will of course get the trophy, but the loser is likely to go down as the best team to not win the prize.
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