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NFL getting the Super Bowl fans of tradition have been waiting for

PITTSBURGH

This one is for the romantics. If you consider scabs, contusions and trauma to be romantic.

And this one is for the purists. If you can overlook a climate-controlled stadium and the Black Eyed Peas at halftime.

This is the Super Bowl the NFL finally deserves. It's got tradition. It's got two of the world's most loyal fan bases. It's got a pair of defenses that play with mayhem in their hearts, and abandon in their eyes.

This is the Super Bowl when Pittsburgh and Green Bay finally get to play a game that will have a prominent place in the history books.

"I wish we were playing them in the snow. In the sleet. In the rain. And I hope (Green Bay quarterback) Aaron Rodgers forgets to catch the bus and misses the game," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. "This game should be in the frozen tundra. But it will be inside and they'll be throwing the ball all around so I'm going to sleep very early every day.

"This is a good game for the league. Two great defenses, two amazing quarterbacks, two storied franchises in the NFL. I think this is a game everybody is going to enjoy seeing."

In recent years, the Super Bowl has often felt more stylish than traditional. Indianapolis. New Orleans. Arizona. Seattle. Carolina. Markets mostly bereft of NFL history, and fan bases a generation or two shy of perspective. Not this time. Pittsburgh and Green Bay have combined to win nine Super Bowls, making this the most gaudy showdown in the game's history.

No expansion teams. No relocated franchises. No get-rich-quick fan base. Two franchises that were around when the modern era began with divisional play in 1933.

"They have a great team and we have a great team," Steelers receiver Hines Ward said. "So it's going to be fun listening to all the different matchups and predictions the next couple of weeks."

For all their grand history, the Steelers and Packers have only a nodding acquaintance. Sort of like royalty from neighboring territories.

The first time they met, the country was in the middle of the Great Depression and the Steelers were known as the Pirates. Over the next eight decades, each franchise played more 1,000 games, but they ran into each other only 32 times.

Green Bay won their first nine meetings and dominated the NFL for long stretches right up to the end of the 1960s. Since then, the Steelers have been the bigger bully, winning six Super Bowls and going 7-2 against the Packers during the last 40 years.

"Let us bathe in this a little bit," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said when asked about the Packers. "We will be ready to deal with those guys tomorrow."

You really can't blame Tomlin for choosing silence. As the Steelers proved Sunday in a 24-19 victory over the Jets in the AFC Championship Game, talk really is cheap. The Jets like to think of themselves as having the nastiest defense in the league, but the Steelers are the ones who are keeping Roger Goodell in first class with all the fines they've paid for excessive hitting.

Seriously, this is a scary bunch. Running backs can hear James Harrison coming on Thursday. Troy Polamalu is a safety on the depth chart and a ninja in every other way. The Steelers are the best in the league stopping the run, and they had more sacks than any team in the NFL. Which is why a lot of teams try to run on first down, pass on second and pray on third.

Oh, it's true the Jets put up a respectable fight toward the end Sunday night. New York drove to the edge of the Pittsburgh end zone on three of its four possessions in the second half. But the bottom line is New York's offense was only able to produce 17 points, and that's rarely going to be enough to win a championship.

You see, defense is a way of life in Pittsburgh. Come January in these parts, you can expect snow, beer and goal-line stands. The Steelers aren't content with simply stopping offenses, they want to smother them. Humiliate them. Point them to the nearest IV.

Look back at Pittsburgh's Super Bowl titles. They've had a couple of glamour quarterbacks, but those teams were all built around defense. In their first Super Bowl season in 1974, the Steelers had the No. 2 scoring defense in the NFL. The next five Super Bowl winners in Pittsburgh were ranked Nos. 2, 1, 5, 3 and 1 in defense. And this year? Yeah, back to No. 1.

And now, for the first time since the strike season in 1982, the NFL's top two scoring defenses will be meeting in the Super Bowl.

Rodgers and Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may be on the marquee, but blitzes, coverages and tackling will provide all of the plot twists.

This should be old-time football. This should be played in yesterday's shadows. This should be the NFL of your childhood.

At, you know, $3,000 a ticket.

NFL getting the Super Bowl fans of tradition have been waiting for 01/23/11 [Last modified: Sunday, January 23, 2011 11:59pm]
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