Top 9 Super Bowl storylines
by Gregg Rosenthal, Rotoworld.com
It goes without saying that the week before the Super Bowl is over-hyped and some stories will be beaten into our collective brain until we want to scream. We can even anticipate the tiring stories about the hype before they happen.
One antidote to all the noise is to focus on the football and personalities that make this matchup great. Here is a look at nine storylines you won't get tired of this week.
1. Dick Lebeau's going away present?
The 71-year-old Steelers defensive coordinator is football. His life in the NFL has spanned 50 years, pre-dating the Super Bowl era. His days as a ferocious cornerback with the Detroit Lions were immortalized by three Pro Bowl appearances and a starring role in the classic book Paper Lion. His time as a coach has been marked by innovation, consistency, and undying loyalty from his charges. Now there are unconfirmed rumors that his career could end in Tampa.
Let's hope the attention Lebeau gets will start a groundswell for his inclusion in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a player/coach. Football's story wouldn't be complete without a paragraph for the inventor of the Zone blitz and the seventh leading interceptor of all time.
Lebeau, always reticent and deadpan, will shudder if he becomes a big story. Like so many other football lifers, it has never been about the spotlight. It's about the love of the game, the love of his team, and the ability to teach that love to his players. That's a story we don't hear enough.
2. Edgerrin James' return to the big stage
The grill is gone, but the sense of humor and intelligence is still there. In a league full of press conference drones, James' candor and perspective is welcome. For one week, it's Edge's world and we're just living in it.
Adding to the fun is that this will probably be James' last game with the Cardinals. His playoff rebound has been impressive, but he's still a league-average back with an above-average price tag.
That makes this game all the more important for Edge, who has never won a championship. James could bolster his Hall of Fame credentials by adding a Super Bowl ring.
3. Meet Adrian Wilson and James Harrison
Two of the NFL's best defenders will finally get noticed this week: Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson and Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison.
There just aren't many NFL talents like Wilson. Built like a linebacker, Wilson is equally adept at stuffing the run, blitzing the quarterback, and playing center field. He's also intelligent, well spoken, and has a burning passion for football. He's exactly the type of underrated player the league should be proud to introduce to America.
Harrison has replaced Ray Lewis as the most feared player in the NFL. In a locker room full of tough guy bravado, even his teammates are in awe of Harrison's size and power. You know a dude is strong when his teammates nickname him Silverback.
And, oh by the way, he's the most unknown reigning defensive MVP of the last 20 years. This is clearly a man we need to know more about. Just don't ask him any stupid questions.
4. Mike Tomlin, badass
Mike Tomlin is like a coaching version of Tim Tebow, but cooler. Stick Tomlin in your Chuck Norris-isms now.
Tomlin has the uncanny ability to say the exact right thing, but in the most badass and inspirational way possible. He makes skinny little media members like myself want to play football.
Tomlin, the youngest coach to reach the Super Bowl, makes it to the big game only two years after his mentor Tony Dungy was the first African-American coach to win the Lombardi Trophy. Now no one is even mentioning the storyline. That's progress.
5. The Steelers defense's bid for history
A great defense doesn't seem to capture the public's imagination like a juggernaut offense. The '08 Steelers have been especially overlooked. Inferior squads like Baltimore and Tennessee got more publicity during the season, but Pittsburgh's numbers are insane.
Make no mistake; this is a historical defense. Few teams have ever finished first in points allowed, yards allowed, passing yards allowed, and rushing yards-per-attempt allowed. Pittsburgh went 14 straight games to start the season without allowing 300 yards of offense, tying a post-merger record. What more do you want?
Perhaps the Steelers defense isn't well known because they don't have a nickname and play such a team game. Any player can emerge as the hero in a given week. If the Steelers survive their toughest test of the playoffs, they will go down among the greatest ever, right next to the '01 Ravens, the '85 Bears, and the Steel Curtain.
6. The Redemption of Anquan Boldin
Forget the sideline argument with offensive coordinator Todd Haley and the questions about his contract. Look at Boldin's career, and you'll find a team-first player who has been a leader - more so than quiet teammate Larry Fitzgerald. Boldin is a younger, better Hines Ward: incredibly tough, with great hands, but more explosive after the catch.
Boldin's hamstring injury has limited him in the playoffs, so the week off will help him physically. Mentally, he will be ready to explode after a week of hearing about his attitude "problem" and Fitzgerald's dominance. Add it all up and Boldin should be a difference-maker on Super Bowl Sunday.
7. Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu's mind-meld
The Batman and Robin of the Super Bowl are stronger together than they are apart. Their personal histories are worth getting to know: Clark overcame a devastating sickle cell condition that cost him his bladder and spleen; Polamalu is soft-spoken and unconventional off the field, but a terror on it. Put them together and magic happens.
Polamalu is the star but teammates say that Clark makes it possible. While Polamalu roams, Clark plays center field covering for him. The two are said to share an incredible unspoken connection to anticipate each other's play. They will need it going against Arizona's trio of great wideouts.
8. The chess match between Ken Whisenhunt and his former team
In case you haven't already heard seven times, Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt and assistant head coach Russ Grimm were candidates to succeed Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh before Mike Tomlin beat out the insiders. This angle easily has the biggest potential for "Jerome Bettis is from Detroit" overexposure.
But look past the compelling personal narratives of the scorned ex-Steelers coaches and you see a better story that will take place on the field.
How will Whisenhunt try to rattle his former protégé, Ben Roethlisberger? How will Dick Lebeau surprise Whisenhunt with his complex blitz schemes when the two have faced each other in practice so often? The Cardinals coaches will try to continue their remarkable playoff run of perfect play calls because that's what it will take against Pittsburgh's dominant defense.
With the extra week to prepare, the Super Bowl often hinges on the game plan. Can Whisenhunt come up with one that will solve the Steelers defense and make him football royalty for life?
9. The Bidwells: Ultimate Underdogs
The Cardinals and Steelers are two of the seven franchises that built and defined the NFL in its formative years - 1930's and 40's. Along with the Giants, they are among the three teams who have their ownership date back to the ‘30's. When World War II ravaged the league's personnel, the Rooneys (Steelers) and Bidwells (Cardinals) actually joined forces to create one for the 1944 season, losing all 10 of their games. They were supposed to be called Card-Pitt, but the rest of the league called them the Carpets.
Aside from the Chicago Cardinals' brief run in 1947-1948, both franchises remained doormats until the 1970's. Then Pittsburgh took a sharp turn towards a dynasty under Chuck Noll and now the Rooney's are aiming for their sixth Super Bowl title. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have stumbled through three cities without coming close to another championship game.
The Steelers are everything an NFL franchise is supposed to be, while the Cardinals have been the opposite. As far back as the 50's, the Cardinals were always looking to move, once almost selling the club to eventual Chiefs owner Clark Hunt. When the Bidwells held out for a better deal, Hunt started the AFL.
The Cardinals have a long history, but they are usually a punch line or forgotten entirely. They are the Tampa Bay Rays - if the Rays floundered for 60 years in three different cities. Through all the losing, the Bidwells have been the one constant. Perhaps no ownership group in NFL history has been despised and derided by fans in so many different locales.
Now one game will change how we view both teams. The Steelers are looking for their record sixth Super Bowl ring. The traveling Bidwells are after validation.
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