Here is my story in this morning's News Tribune previewing today's game.
By Frank Hughes
The News Tribune
PITTSBURGH – One of the key outcomes of Seattle's victory at San Francisco last week was a sense of redemption for the pair of shellackings the 49ers put on the Seahawks in 2006.
Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren drew inspiration from those losses and used it to motivate his team to reestablish supremacy in the NFC West.
Is it any coincidence Holmgren chose to use the previously mothballed Seneca Wallace in that game? Perhaps it was a subconscious communiqué to players and coaches alike that he will sacrifice anyone – including the one player he heretofore said was not to be not sacrificed – to effectively stamp out any suitors to the team's three-pearl string of division crowns.
Isn't it odd, then, that at a time when coaches tend to use whatever kindling they can to ignite a team's competitive fire, Holmgren is not for the second consecutive week using revenge as the foundation for preparation?
After all, mere mention of the Pittsburgh Steelers evokes venomous recriminations from many in the Pacific Northwest, including at one point Holmgren, who in the aftermath of the Seahawks' 21-10 loss in Super Bowl XL voiced the disillusionment about the game's officiating felt by an angered and frustrated fan base.
And yet, in the week leading up to the Seahawks' first meeting with the black-and-gold titans since that game, Holmgren has actively downplayed the Super Bowl story line, at least publicly.
"It's a different deal," Holmgren said Monday.
To a man, his players have voiced similar sentiments, even the normally loquacious Matt Hasselbeck.
"What's it been, two years now?" the quarterback asked rhetorically. "We've kind of put that game behind us."
Yeah, and nobody in Boston, Hasselbeck's hometown, remembers Bill Buckner.
Perhaps there is something to the element that these are very different teams, with half of Seattle's starters gone, a third of Pittsburgh's jettisoned and coach Bill Cowher now a talking head on television.
Given that two years ago Julian Peterson was in San Francisco, Patrick Kerney was in Atlanta, Brian Russell was in Cleveland and Brandon Mebane was in class, it would be disingenuous and unfair of Holmgren to employ as motivation something that affected 50 percent the roster.
Perhaps without saying it, Holmgren is relying on the subtle nuances of competitive and personal pride from those members of the team who do remember the perceived railroading in Detroit, while simply preparing in a normal fashion those for whom the game was a Sunday excursion.
There is another aspect that seems to get overlooked when the subject of that Super Bowl is discussed: The Steelers were mere pawns in the game, beneficiaries, to be certain, but not the perpetrators of the questionable calls.
Cowher had nothing to do with the interference call by back judge Bob Waggoner on Darrell Jackson that nullified a potential first touchdown for the Seahawks.
Jerome Bettis didn't have a say in the low-block penalty on Hasselbeck following an interception. Ben Roethlisberger did have an impact on his touchdown run at the goal line, but he didn't raise head linesman Mark Hittner's hands in the air to signal a score.
Even to this day, Roethlisberger seems dumbfounded by the vitriolic reaction to the outcome, failing to understand the sense of injustice felt by the Seahawks and perpetuated by their fans.
"Wow, they are still talking about that?" Roethlisberger said Wednesday when queried about the rematch. "I'm sure you think about it because that's the team you played. We're not sitting here looking at it as a rematch; we haven't even looked at the film of that game."
It certainly is easier to walk away the winner.
Maybe, in the end, Holmgren's approach this week has more to do with self-preservation than anything else. It takes too much energy to be consumed with anger and remorse, and constantly channeling that energy toward something in the past detracts from the ability to succeed in the future.
And so, Holmgren says, while he occasionally revisits that February day in 2006 and sometimes second-guesses himself – "I am human," he said – he has moved forward, shaping his thoughts around what might be rather than what might have been.
"That's a part of our history, the Seahawks' history," Holmgren said. "And where it may be a rather infamous part, for the fan to believe whatever they believe after watching that game, there's nothing I can say or do to take away the feelings after that game.
"The people I have met, that have talked to me about that, the first thing I usually say is, 'Listen, we did the best we could, but we've got to move on. Both of us have to move on.'
"And a lot of them say, 'Well, I can't move on.' I don't think there's any changing anyone's opinion. But a lot of us move on at some point."
That might be true. But a win today sure would feel good.