One last step toward a super finish

If the opening sequence of 65,350 rabid fans waving Terrible Towels in a sea of black and gold at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh did not send jitters up and down your spine in the 2009 AFC Championship game, you are just not a fan of football, no matter what team you call your own.

Three years ago, my first year as a displaced Pittsburgher in the land of Eagles and Ravens fans,  the Steelers did what was nearly impossible by going on the road and winning in all three playoff games before reaching Super Bowl XL and toppled the Seattle Seahawks.  I remember every moment of that game: I was the only Steelers fan in my dorm and in a friend’s room watching the game.  When it was over I was excited; the victory was bittersweet, but something was missing.  There is only so much running up and down a dorm hallway and screaming one can do by himself. When nobody else is right next to you sharing the same type of joy, that joy can run out rather quickly.

This year will be different.  I will be waking up early Sunday morning and trekking back out to my hometown of the ‘burgh, a self-proclaimed “drinking town with a football problem,” and I could not be more excited.

If there is any one way to describe Steelers fans, all one needs to do is watch the recent movie “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.”  The flick takes place in Pittsburgh and one scene involves a stammering, obliterated man stumbling around in Steelers gear talking about the recent Steelers game.  The man in that scene is almost verbatim what Steelers fans from Pittsburgh are like; and I would not have it any other way.

Every year after Super Bowl XL, I regretted not finding a way home for the game or the parade. This year I am fortunate to have the chance to go home for the game and I also have high hopes for another victory parade. This time I will not be absent from it.  After watching videos of the streets of Pittsburgh, flooded with fans running around chanting and screaming there is no way I will miss it the second time around.  Even my mom made it to the parade and somehow managed to squirm her way up to the front row to “almost touch Troy Polamalu’s hair.” Just hearing how excited she was on the phone while I was stuck in my dorm was enough to put me in a state of depression for a week.

But before I get ahead of myself, the Steelers must defeat a suddenly red-hot Arizona Cardinals team.  The last time the teams met was last season and Pittsburgh fell 21-14.  The Steelers were out-muscled and turned the ball over at costly moments while giving up key big plays, most notably a punt return for a touchdown by Steve Breaston.  Ken Wisenhunt received his moral win after not being hired by the Rooney’s, who surprisingly chose Mike Tomlin.

On Sunday they meet again in the biggest game of the season, and while many feel an upset is on the horizon I have reason to believe that is not the case.

There has been much talk about Larry Fitzgerald, Kurt Warner and their play thus far in the playoffs. While it is much deserved, I just cannot see them being as successful against the Steelers.  It is nearly impossible to get pressure on Kurt Warner because he releases the ball so quickly, but the Steelers employ a selfless defensive scheme that has players take on blockers and creates lanes for their teammates to wreak havoc.

Ike Taylor has turned into one of the premier corners in the league.  He can stick with anybody and is fast, tall and strong enough to stick with Fitzgerald all game.  His only problem is his stone hands that lead to a tendency to drop easy interceptions, but in Super Bowl XL he came up big with a pick to help seal the deal.

With safety nets like Polamalu and Ryan Clark, the deep ball threat can be taken away.  Anquan Boldin still has an iffy hamstring injury, and his blow up on the sidelines with offensive coordinator Todd Haley can either put the two on the same page or strain their relationship (I’m hoping for the latter).

Everyone has been talking about Edgerrin James and the Cardinals’ defensive resurgence, which is nice, but a Cardinals team that struggled running all season will not have a good game against the leagues best rush defense.

As far as their defense, many have neglected the play of the Steelers offense in the postseason, which was agonizing to watch during the regular season.  Santonio Holmes has been electrifying and the offensive line is giving Roethlisberger time to make huge plays.  Willie Parker is the second leading rusher in the postseason and has been playing well.  Hines Ward will play although he won’t be 100 percent. That will hurt the Steelers, but many on their roster were on the team during their last Super Bowl run and that experience will help propel the Steelers to another title.

When all is said and done, the Steelers should have their sixth title, the most of any team since the merger.  I will now go bang my head a few thousand times on a wooden table for fear of jinxing myself.