DETROIT -- Two of the most powerful running teams in football meet tonight for the NFL championship, but it's likely the two quarterbacks will play the biggest part in deciding the outcome of Super Bowl XL.
Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks have been relying on their passers to lead the way down the stretch of the season.
Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, a month shy of his 24th birthday, will try to become the youngest quarterback ever to win the Super Bowl. Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck, a 30-year-old who has been molded into a star by coach Mike Holmgren, can make it four times in the last five years that a sixth-round draft choice quarterbacks his team to the title.
"I don't want to pinch myself yet because if I'm dreaming I just want to keep going," Roethlisberger said. "It truly is almost too good to be true to be here. . . . I've been blessed to be on such a wonderful team."
The world finds out which team is the most wonderful when the game finally kicks off at 6:25 p.m. at Ford Field. Pittsburgh, favored by 3 1/2 points, is seeking its fifth Super Bowl title, Seattle its first. Holmgren can become the first coach ever to win the Super Bowl with two different teams. The Steelers aim to send star running back Jerome Bettis off into retirement with a Super Bowl ring.
An audience of about 150 million in the United States and 800 million worldwide will watch the extravaganza, which will include the national anthem sung by Detroit native Aretha Franklin and a halftime show by the Rolling Stones.
The Seahawks boast the NFL's Most Valuable Player in running back Shaun Alexander, who set a league single-season record by scoring 28 touchdowns. Seattle ranked third in the NFL in rushing. Pittsburgh, behind the one-two combination of Willie Parker and Bettis, ranked fifth in rushing.
In the playoffs, however, it's the quarterbacks who have shined brightest.
Pittsburgh has used a pass-first style in each of its three playoff triumphs, and Roethlisberger has responded with a postseason passer rating of 124.8. Hasselbeck has a rating of 109.6 in the playoffs, and it was his throwing that keyed the playoff win over Washington and that put the Seahawks into the lead against Carolina in the NFC title game.
"I think both guys are smart, resourceful and pretty good size guys to play the position," Holmgren said.
Besides quarterbacking, here are two other key factors to watch for:
*Pittsburgh's blitz versus Seattle's offensive line: The Steelers have one of the most creative pressure packages in the league. Seattle arguably has the best offensive line. The Steelers befuddled Indianapolis in their playoff upset three weeks ago by sending blitzers up the middle and creating a jailbreak on quarterback Peyton Manning. Steelers linebacker Joey Porter ate up Denver's tackles and running backs on blitzes two weeks ago. But Porter may not get much heat rushing against the best left tackle in football -- Seattle's Walter Jones.
It will be interesting to see if Pittsburgh defensive chief Dick LeBeau pits Porter against Jones or if he sends Porter up the middle and has a smaller, faster defender -- like manic safety Troy Polamalu -- around Jones' side. Seattle center Robbie Tobeck faces one of his toughest challenges of the year against Pittsburgh nose tackle Casey Hampton.
Seattle counters the pass rush in part by running its offense at a fast pace. The Steelers love to move around before the snap and disguise their coverages. Seattle doesn't like to let opponents do it. Holmgren is a master at calling good plays quickly and Hasselbeck runs the plays at a speedy clip.
"My job is to be thinking ahead and do that efficiently," Holmgren said. "I think we are more effective and they tune in better and they go at things harder if our tempo is good."
*Can Seattle stop the run with a seven-man front? Roethlisberger feasted on the Colts' and Broncos' secondaries in the playoffs. Whenever they brought a safety down into the "box" (the defensive area between the offensive tackles), Roethlisberger almost always threw the ball -- with success.
Seattle's defense ranked fifth against the run. But the Seahawks only played five of 18 games against teams that ranked in the top half of the league in rushing.
Pittsburgh likes to run to the right behind Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca, No. 66, especially when Parker is in the game. The Seahawks' defense is a rarity in that it made the title game despite starting two rookie linebackers -- middle man Lofa Tatupu and outside 'backer Leroy Hill. Tatupu usually drops into coverage. Hill often blitzes.
If the Seahawks can stuff the run, they have the pass rush to cause Roethlisberger trouble. Seattle led the NFL in sacks with 50.