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thedrifter
02-05-06, 09:34 AM
Czar's countdown to Super Bowl XL
John Czarnecki / FOXSports.com

Super Bowl quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Hasselbeck are worried about using the new balls that will be used for every play in the first half of Sunday's Super Bowl XL per the NFL.

The main headache for passers is that the league never did a competent job of rubbing off the slick surface covering every football, ones they plan to donate to charity and give to the Hall of Fame and to the coaches and players in the game as souvenirs.

Unlike baseball, the league's officials have never been diligent in rubbing off the slippery surface covering every football. Big Ben will be wearing gloves due to a right thumb injury, and he believes he should be able to grip the new footballs.

"My only concern is how the receivers and guys like Jerome Bettis deal with the slippery new footballs," Roethlisberger said. "I understand the reason for putting so many footballs into play for this game, but I do know how difficult it is for my teammates to catch them."

Hasselbeck didn't know about the league's system of using a new football for every single play in the first half of the championship game.

"I don't like the new footballs, but I'm sure I will be able to deal with them," Hasselbeck said. "It's part of the deal, and every player on the field has to handle this situation. Most of the new footballs will be given to charity and that's a good thing."

Seattle vs. Pittsburgh; 6:25 p.m. ET

What to watch for: If the Seahawks can survive the first Pittsburgh haymaker and not crack under the pressure of the zone blitz, we'll know if they can compete with the Steelers and make Super XL a game.

On offense, Seattle has several "special" plays in the game plan — like the championship game pass to backup QB Seneca Wallace. So look for some trickery from the Seahawks, who are prepared for the same from the Steelers, a noted trait of any Bill Cowher team. Remember, in his only Super Bowl, Cowher called for an onsides kick that worked in the loss to the Cowboys in Super XXX, 10 seasons ago.

Pittsburgh believes that NT Casey Hampton could dominate Seattle center Robbie Tobeck, and if that happens, it will allow the Steelers' linebackers to corral NFL MVP Shaun Alexander.

Conversely, the Seahawks are worried about the zone blitz and probably will do more maximum protection for QB Matt Hasselbeck in order to hit some big pass plays against Pittsburgh's secondary. Seattle feels it can go deep against FS Chris Hope, who often drops 20 yards off the line, and CB Deshea Townsend.

The Seahawks are confident they can score if they can protect Hasselbeck, because coach Mike Holmgren loves the one-on-one matchups on the outside. On the flip side, Pittsburgh sounds like it really wants to test Seattle's run defense. The Steelers aren't convinced that undersized rookie LBs Lofa Tatupu and LeRoy Hill can handle Jerome Bettis, who out-weighs them by 30-35 pounds. But if Pittsburgh indeed comes out running the ball, the team will be going away from Ben Roethlisberger and all the success (seven TDs and 68 percent passer) he's had in the three playoff wins this season.

On one hand it makes sense to test the Seattle front, but Pittsburgh has gotten here by throwing the football and jumping out to quick leads on their opponents. Seattle, too, would rather have Bettis running the ball, and the swifter Willie Parker. The Seahawks plan to be pretty vanilla on special teams, hoping that ex-Bengal Peter Warrick can give them some positive yards in the punt return game. If it comes down to special teams, Pittsburgh has a huge advantage.

Czar's scoop: Many within the Steelers' organization believe that offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, especially if Pittsburgh wins this game, will bypass the opportunity to coach the Oakland Raiders. The word is that Whisenhunt doesn't want to accept all of the retained assistant coaches hired by Raiders owner Al Davis. The names most associated with the vacant Oakland job are former Raiders coach Art Shell, Ravens assistant Jim Fassel and current Raider assistant coach John Shoop, who was laughed out of Chicago when he was the offensive coordinator there.

Seattle coach Mike Holmgren has one year left on his contract, and owner Paul Allen would prefer to sign him to an extension in the next month or two. There is no doubt that Holmgren will either be the game's highest-paid coach (if he wins) or among the top three. Everyone expects Steelers safety Troy Polamalu (ankle) to play and play well. Polamalu has been an all-around demon in the playoffs, and he has stamped himself as the game's finest safety. Interestingly, Polamalu was the player that Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian wanted to select in the first round.

At the time, the Steelers were hinting to everyone that they were going to draft Penn State RB Larry Johnson. Of course, Pittsburgh was fibbing and elected to make a trade with Kansas City for the 16th pick in order to keep Polamalu away from the Colts; and the Chiefs made the swap because they figured to end up with Larry Johnson. Polian then was forced to select TE Dallas Clark with his 24th overall selection. Today, it's a fascinating twist of fate. Just think what the Colts would be like if they had Polamalu instead of the Steelers. Think they would have won that playoff game?