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Zone defense, big plays turn the trick for Steelers

DETROIT -- It took 26 years to get it, but the Pittsburgh Steelers finally have "one for the thumb."

The Steelers won the fifth Super Bowl in their history Sunday, and they did it in much the same fashion as the great Steelers teams of the 1970s -- with a smash-mouth defense and some spectacular plays on offense.

Two dazzling touchdowns -- a 75-yard run by Willie Parker and a 43-yard reverse option pass from Antwaan Randle El to Hines Ward -- were the decisive plays in Pittsburgh's 21-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

Steelers coach Bill Cowher stood on the victory podium in the middle of Ford Field after the game and proudly handed the Vince Lombardi Trophy to his Hall of Fame owner, Dan Rooney, whose father founded the Steelers in 1933.

"I've been waiting a long time to do this: Mr. Rooney, this is yours, man," Cowher said. "I'm real proud of the team of the '70s, but we've got our own little niche right here."

The Steelers joined Dallas and San Francisco as the only teams to win five Super Bowl titles. It was their first Super Bowl since the 1979 season, after which the Steelers players vowed to begin their "one for the thumb" quest.

The Steelers became the first sixth-seeded team to win the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger became the youngest quarterback to win the Super Bowl, at 23 years, 11 months. And Steelers running back Jerome Bettis ended his career in his hometown by helping his team eat up the clock with hard running in the fourth quarter.

"It's been an incredible ride," Bettis said. "I decided to come back this year to win a championship. Mission accomplished. So with that I have to bid farewell."

In the '70s, the Steelers had the Steel Curtain defense. Now they have "the Blitzburgh defense," the zone-pressure scheme devised by Dick LeBeau, one of the greatest defensive coordinators in NFL history.

With apologies to halftime headliner Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, LeBeau was the most outstanding sexagenarian at Ford Field. The 68-year-old LeBeau devised the scheme that held the highest-scoring team in the NFL 18 points under its season average of 28 points per game.

Unlike the relentless blitzing the Steelers unleashed on Indianapolis in the playoffs, LeBeau's plan against Seattle was to play a lot more coverage. Because Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is so efficient at releasing the ball quickly, Pittsburgh used mostly four-man zone pressures and kept the Seattle receivers in front of them.

"The key was not giving up the big play," Steelers safety Troy Polamalu said. "When they throw so [quickly], it's really hard to get to the quarterback."

Hasselbeck completed 75 percent of his passes over the previous six games with 12 touchdowns and one interception. The Steelers held him to 53 percent completions (26 of 49) with one TD and one interception.

Seattle running back Shaun Alexander, the NFL's regular-season Most Valuable Player, was held to 95 rushing yards. LeBeau's defense has yielded just one 100-yard rushing effort in its last 34 games.

"Coach LeBeau, it's a shame he's not in the Hall of Fame, the way he's revolutionized the game with zone blitzes," Polamalu said.

Pittsburgh sacked Hasselbeck three times and threw off his timing just enough to stop Seattle's long marches. The Seahawks led the NFL this year in 80-yard drives for touchdowns (24 of them). Their only TD Sunday came on a 20-yard march after a turnover. Seattle crossed midfield four times in the first half but came away with only three points as the Steelers stiffened.

"The fact we stopped them early in the game when they had all the field position was big," said LeBeau, who earned his first title in 47 years as a player and coach. "Our guys did a great job of not letting them in the end zone. To keep that offense to 10 points is a great job."

Roethlisberger had his least productive game of the playoffs, passing for just 123 yards. But he made some big plays. At 6-foot-5 and 241 pounds he looks like a plodder. But he was a good enough athlete to star at point guard and shortstop as a high schooler. In the second quarter, Roethlisberger flashed his athleticism by scrambling out of the pocket and throwing across the field to Ward for a 37-yard gain to the Seattle 3. It came on a third-and-28 situation. Three plays later, Roethlisberger leaped just barely over the plane of the goal line to give Pittsburgh a 7-3 lead.

The Steelers still were clinging to a lead, 14-10, with 10:54 to play when Hasselbeck made a pivotal mistake. Seattle had the ball on the Steelers' 27, and LeBeau sent a four-man zone dog at the quarterback. Hasselbeck hurried his throw into double coverage -- he said he misread the break by his receiver, Darrell Jackson. Ike Taylor picked off the pass at the 5 and returned it 24 yards to the 29.

Four plays later, Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt dipped into his bag of tricks. Roethlisberger tossed the ball to the right to Parker, who handed off to Randle El on a reverse. Randle El, a prolific college quarterback at the University of Indiana whom the Steelers have made into a starting receiver, threw a perfect ball downfield for Ward, who got well behind a fooled Seattle secondary.

That play will go down in Steelers history alongside any of the great game-breaking receptions by Steelers Hall of Famers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.

The Steelers had an 11-point lead with 8:56 left to the delight of a crowd of 68,206, 90 percent of whom were rooting for Pittsburgh.

Ward, who had five catches for 123 yards, was voted the game's MVP.

Parker's scoring run was the longest run from scrimmage in Super Bowl history. It came on the second play after the second-half kickoff. He ran off right tackle, beating blitzing safety Michael Boulware near the line and racing down the right sideline.

"This is special," said Cowher, 48. "We have had a rich tradition in Pittsburgh . . . but I now have a little piece of it as well."


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