DETROIT -- The star runner in the Pittsburgh Steelers' backfield was not born in Detroit, does not have a Hall of Fame resume and was not a first-round draft pick. Heck, he wasn't drafted at all.
While the focus of Super Bowl week has been on Detroit native Jerome Bettis, the spotlight will shine on Willie Parker on Sunday.
Who is Willie Parker? The Buffalo Bills were asking the same thing after Parker ran for 102 yards, including a 58-yard sprint to set up the game-winning field goal, in the 2004 finale against the Steelers. That coming-out party provided the impetus for a breakout second season for Parker, who ran for 1,202 yards.
"That Buffalo game was a turning point for me," Parker said Wednesday. "It let me know that I could play in the NFL."
That seemed unlikely after Parker's uneventful career at North Carolina. He rarely got on the field for the Tar Heels. In fact, his 1,202 yards this season is 30 more than he gained in four years of college.
Parker said no one in particular was to blame for his lack of playing time, but it appeared any hope of playing in the NFL was lost when he wasn't drafted.
Steelers coach Bill Cowher was captivated by the 5-foot-10, 209-pounder's sub-4.3-second speed in the 40-yard dash. The team signed Parker as a rookie free agent.
Parker was inactive for nine games last season but impressed when he did play. Cowher went into this season planning to use Parker as a third-down back, but injuries to Bettis and Duce Staley forced Parker into the starting lineup.
Parker proved his big game against the Bills wasn't a fluke as he ran for 161 yards in the opener against Tennessee, the first of five 100-yard performances during the regular season.
Parker is the breakaway threat the Steelers have lacked under Cowher. But what Cowher likes the most about Parker is how he's grown as a runner. He has shown more toughness running between the tackles and has developed patience as far as setting up his blocks.
"When he came in he displayed a lot of things that kind of opened your eyes," Cowher said. "I think once he started, he proved his ability to become a big-play back -- one of those guys that can give you a 30- or 40-yard run because of his speed. He's answered a lot of questions about his durability and his ability to run inside, and he's learned a lot from sitting behind Jerome and watching him."
Parker credits Bettis for teaching him how to be a better runner. Parker has learned his lessons well. He can put those dark days at Carolina behind him.
"This is just a dream come true, to be where I am right now playing in a Super Bowl and starting in a big game like this," he said. "At North Carolina, I really couldn't even get on the field. Right now, I am just enjoying this moment."
Outspoken Steelers linebacker Joey Porter had been relatively quiet until Wednesday, when he heard what Seattle tight end Jerramy Stevens had to say during Tuesday's Media Day.
Asked about Bettis' much-publicized homecoming and his attempt to win a Super Bowl in what may be his final season, Stevens said, "It's a heartwarming story and all that, but it will be a sad day when he leaves without that trophy."
Porter took offense to those comments, which he viewed as Stevens guaranteeing a Seahawks win Sunday.
"I've been asleep all week but now I got woke up," Porter said "I've got my first taste of blood and now I'm thirsty for more. Until now, it was 'Watch what I say, I can't say this, I can't say that. Don't do anything silly,' but I'm ready now. I'm going to make sure he owns up to those words."
The South Pacific islands are where people go for rest and relaxation. It's also where NFL teams go to find talent. There are more than three dozen players of Polynesian descent in the league.
They will be well represented in Super Bowl XL. The Steelers have two Samoans (safety Troy Polamalu and defensive end Shaun Nua) and two Hawaiians (defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen and guard Chris Kemoeatu) on their roster. The Seahawks have linebacker Lofa Tatupu (Samoa) and tight end Itula Mili (Hawaii). Tatupu's father, Mosi, played in Super Bowl XX as a fullback and special teams ace for New England.
"I think a lot of people are searching that avenue of going to American Samoa, going to Hawaii and to Utah to try and find Polynesian football players," Polamalu said. "There are a lot of great athletes over there and it's a good thing that so many of us are getting a chance to showcase our talents."