STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks refused to allow a lot of drama yesterday. Both of them jumped to big, early leads. Both won their conference championships and both are going to the Super Bowl. It'll be the sixth Super Bowl appearance for the Steelers and the first for the Seahawks. Commentator John Feinstein was watching the games. Good morning, John.
Mr. JOHN FEINSTEIN (Commentator): Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: You surprised that these two games were both one-sided?
Mr. FEINSTEIN: Yes. I think most people are. Since the dominant teams in football the last couple of years, the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts, were both beaten last week, I think the sense was that there was nobody left who could dominate a game the way the Steelers dominated the Denver Broncos, jumping to a 24-3 halftime lead, and the way the Seahawks dominated the Carolina Panthers even more, leading 34-7 in the fourth quarter. So, I think that the fact that the games were non-competitive is a big surprise. The two winners are not that big a surprise because the Steelers were certainly on a roll coming in and the Seahawks had been unbeaten at home all year, as were the Broncos by the way, before yesterday, and played that, and the Seahawks lived up to that, the Broncos did not.
INSKEEP: John, I want to ask something about the Steelers defense. Two straight games, people have been watching the Steelers have a lead in the fourth quarter, the other team has been trying desperately to come back, they've decided to go for it on a fourth down and on both occasions the quarterback for the opposing team didn't even get to throw the ball. He drops back and he's crushed. I mean, that was impressive defense under pressure two straight weeks.
Mr. FEINSTEIN: Yeah, their defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau, who was a great defensive back in the '60s with the Detroit Lions, is very aggressive in those situations and you're right. On both those plays, he came with what they call a blitz package, meaning they brought players other than their linemen into the backfield and surprised the other team by doing so, last week the Colts, this week the Broncos, and they made big plays.
INSKEEP: Which is the reason that the Steelers are now the lowest seed as I understand, to ever reach the Super Bowl. Is that right, the first sixth seed?
Mr. FEINSTEIN: That's exactly right. They're the first since they went to 12 teams making the playoffs, six out of each conference in 1990. The Steelers are the first team to be the number six seed in their conference to get through, and what that means they did is, they won on the road three straight weeks. They went and won at Cincinnati, at Indianapolis and at Denver. You play the entire regular season to try to get home field advantage as the Seahawks did in the other conference. The Steelers didn't do that. They barely sneaked into the playoffs by winning their last four games and yet they get on a roll at the right time and now they're in the Super Bowl.
INSKEEP: Okay, we've been blathering about the Steelers, which makes some people on our staff very, very happy, I assure you, but let's talk about the Seahawks, let's not forget them. Why is it that some people, it just feels like a surprise that they've made it this far, even after the great season that they've had?
Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, it does, in part because they were a mediocre team last year. They barely sneaked into the playoffs. Mike Holmgren, the coach, who coached the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl title in 1997, was stripped of his general manager duties. I don't think anybody thought of them as the dominant team in the NFC but Steve, there was no dominant team in the NFC this year and they did go undefeated at home. They played a relatively light schedule. They didn't play especially well last week against the Washington Redskins but they saved their best game for the conference championship. They were dominant from the start.
INSKEEP: Now very briefly, regarding the losers, how tough is it to lose this game at this step?
Mr. FEINSTEIN: I think this is the hardest game to lose because you don't get to go to the Super Bowl and you don't get to say you were a Conference Champion. You had a great season, 14 and 4 for Denver, 14 and 5 for the Panthers, and yet, people will look back and say, yeah, but you didn't get to the big game. So, you have to come back next year as if you accomplished nothing when, in fact, you accomplished quite a bit.
INSKEEP: John Feinstein, I can't let you go without asking about the NBA, pro basketball, an unbelievable number is in the news this morning.
Mr. FEINSTEIN: Kobe Bryant, 81 points, while we were all paying attention to football, Steve, the second highest point total in a game in history, behind, of course, the immortal Wilt Chamberlain's 100, back in 1962. But this has been coming. Kobe had 62 points in three quarters in a game last month. He's leading the league in scoring at just under 36 points a game. This is what he wanted, Steve, when he demanded Shaquille O'Neal be traded. He wanted to be Gladys Knight and the Lakers would be the Pipps. That's what he's got, and they only had the seventh best record in the western conference, in spite of all that.
INSKEEP: I take it the Lakers won last night.
Mr. FEINSTEIN: The Lakers won by 18, but they were down, that's why he got to play the whole game and score all those points. INSKEEP: John, thanks very much.
Mr. FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: John Feinstein's latest book is called Next Man Up.
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