Euphoric Seattle Now Faces Super Challenge

Times Staff Writer

Early Monday morning, about 10 hours after the Seattle Seahawks earned the first Super Bowl trip in their 30-year history, the soaring arches above Qwest Field were bathed in blue and green lights.

It was the afterglow of the Seahawks' 34-14 victory over Carolina on Sunday, one that will last until at least the Super Bowl -- and maybe much longer.

"I'm not sure it has completely sunk in yet, but there is just a great feeling of warmth and satisfaction and joy," said Seahawk owner Paul Allen, the reclusive Microsoft billionaire. "Especially for all the fans out there that have followed the team, and especially this year."

The Seahawks, who will travel to Detroit to play Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL on Feb. 5, were discounted by a lot of people who believed Coach Mike Holmgren should step aside and that the franchise might be better off without running back Shaun Alexander. That speculation faded, though, as the franchise led the league in scoring, went undefeated at home, and Alexander was selected the NFL's most valuable player.

Now comes the biggest test. Standing between the Seahawks and the Lombardi Trophy are the road-hardened Steelers, the first sixth-seeded team to reach the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh is the designated home team for the game and will play the Seahawks for the first time since losing to them in Seattle, 23-16, two years ago.

The Steelers have won seven consecutive games, the last three in difficult and hostile surroundings: at Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who looked so wide-eyed in the postseason last year, has a seven-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio this time around.

On Sunday, the Steelers sacked Denver's Jake Plummer three times, forced two interceptions and two fumbles. Safe to say they've already gotten the attention of the Seahawks.

Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said Monday he has had to remind himself that Sunday's victory was real, but then, "you're looking at a really good Pittsburgh Steelers team, and that is real.

"Failure in this game is a real option, so we're going to have to work really hard and be as focused as we've ever been, and the conditions are going to be tough. We're going to be away from home, we're going to be getting hit from all different directions with events and interviews and family and friends and people you haven't talked to for 10 years, but more than ever we have to be focused."

Hasselbeck's father, Don, was a reserve tight end for the Los Angeles Raiders when they beat Washington in Super Bowl XVIII. Matt attended that game, which was played in Tampa, Fla., and watched his father block a Redskin extra-point attempt.

"It's probably one of my favorite memories of all time," the Seahawk quarterback said. "My mom even has the pendant version of [a Super Bowl ring]. It's an incredible thing. She has never worn it; she always said that we could use it for our wives' engagement ring. That didn't happen."

And his dad's ring?

"It was big then, I'm sure it's a lot bigger now," he said. " ... The ring he got was pretty nice. I know the ring that we would get would be pretty nice too."

This game also offers the Seahawks another familiar ring: They probably will be underdogs, since the early line favors the Steelers. That doesn't concern Alexander, who relishes the thought. He said Holmgren has already told players they will be the "other" team in this game, not the team in the spotlight.

"We play against the Redskins and they talked about Joe Gibbs and his thing over Mike," Alexander said. "Then we play against Carolina and had a team that really stuffs the run, and now we play against Pittsburgh, and even though they are a sixth seed, they are going to pick them over us. [Holmgren] said that ... was going to happen.

"We win 11 games in a row and they say it was our fault that the other teams weren't as good. We can't worry about that. It is what it is. We are just going to go out there and play."

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