Final Two Looking for the Big One

Holmgren had no problem touching the Lombardi Trophy at his final news conference before Super Bowl XL.
Holmgren had no problem touching the Lombardi Trophy at his final news conference before Super Bowl XL. "I'll touch it any chance I get, and hope to be able to touch it again," he said. (By Andy Lyons -- Getty Images)
By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 4, 2006

DETROIT, Feb. 3 -- When the coaches of the two Super Bowl teams annually conduct their final news conferences on the Friday before the game, each is asked to pose with the Lombardi Trophy -- given Sunday night to the victorious club -- before exiting the stage. And, almost invariably, at least one of the coaches refuses to touch the coveted, glistening trophy, not wanting to seem presumptuous by clutching the hardware before earning rightful possession of it.

Seattle Seahawks Coach Mike Holmgren was asked here Friday if he had any such superstition. "No," Holmgren said. "I'll touch it any chance I get, and hope to be able to touch it again."

Holmgren and his Pittsburgh Steelers counterpart, Bill Cowher, met with reporters in separate sessions before hunkering down with their teams for their final preparations before their Super Bowl meeting Sunday evening at Ford Field. The two men are friends who became NFL head coaches in the same year, 1992. They once served together on the NFL's competition committee and can swap stories about living in female-dominated households because both have only daughters, three for Cowher and four for Holmgren.

But they enter Sunday's game in different places professionally. While Cowher is looking for a breakthrough Super Bowl triumph to reward the patience that Steelers owner Dan Rooney has shown in him for 14 seasons, Holmgren will be attempting to carve a niche in league history. After taking the Green Bay Packers to two Super Bowls and winning one, he is trying to become the first coach to win a Super Bowl with two different teams.

"It's a beautiful trophy," Holmgren said Friday. "It represents a whole bunch of stuff for people in our business, and I've had the privilege of holding it before and hope to do so again. . . . First of all, having the privilege to coach in this game is special. If you're fortunate enough to win the game, that's something else again. To be able to do it a couple of times -- unbelievable. For two different teams, that's kind of a little bit of a sidebar, in my opinion."

Holmgren's team arrived here Sunday as the underdog even though it had been the top seed in the NFC playoffs and the Steelers only were the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs. But he did his best to keep his players in their familiar regular season practice routine and shrugged off any slights, real or perceived.

"Unless you're on the West Coast or specifically in the state of Washington or in the Pacific Northwest," Holmgren said, "you'd probably be hard-pressed to name a bunch of our defensive players. . . . My feeling is, we're in a pretty good place. We practiced well. That's always an indicator to me."

Holmgren also defended his friend, Cowher, against the charge that his coaching career can't be complete without winning a Super Bowl.

"He's done so much in this business," Holmgren said. "I have tremendous respect for him. He is a good friend. Winning a Super Bowl or two Super Bowls or whatever -- I don't think that's, to me, the ultimate judge of what kind of coach anyone is."

Cowher spent the week talking about how he cherishes the personal bonds he has developed as a coach. But after losing his previous Super Bowl appearance as the Steelers' coach 10 years ago to the Dallas Cowboys, he acknowledged Friday that he needs to secure the big prize to make his tenure feel complete.

Broadcaster John Madden told a story this week about attending the funeral of Wellington Mara, the New York Giants' longtime owner, in late October and being told by Cowboys Coach Bill Parcells that none of the league's current coaches ever would know what it's like to work for such a wonderful man, as Parcells once did with Mara. Madden said he replied that one current coach knows the feeling -- Cowher, from working for Rooney.

"We've had some highs and lows in Pittsburgh," Cowher said Friday. "I'm just very proud to be with the Pittsburgh Steelers for this long, and nothing would be more gratifying to me than to be able to hand Mr. Rooney this trophy. That's what he brought me there to do in 1992. And until that gets done, there will always be a void there. That's why we're in this business."

The Steelers are the favorite because they're the team with the rich tradition and the national following, and because they went on the road and beat the top three seeds in the AFC playoffs -- Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver -- after having to scratch and claw their way into the postseason.

"We've played well the last seven weeks because we've prepared well," Cowher said. "We've played a little bit with a chip on our shoulder and recognized that we had a tough road ahead of us, and we took nothing for granted. . . . There's been a sense of urgency, almost a desperate state, with the way we've played the last seven weeks, and I don't think Sunday will be any different."

The biggest stories of the week involved Cowher's team: Steelers tailback Jerome Bettis is in his home town to play what is likely to be his final NFL game, and linebacker Joey Porter spent two days verbally assailing Seahawks tight end Jerramy Stevens. Cowher took a boys-will-be-boys approach with the antics of the often-volatile Porter, and said Friday that he wants his players motivated to win Sunday for themselves, not for Bettis.

"We want to win this game because we want to make this a special season, and anything less than that would make it a good season," Cowher said. "Jerome Bettis is an inspiration. He's been an inspiration throughout the playoffs. But it comes down to going out Sunday and doing the things we've been doing for the guy next to you, whether it's Jerome Bettis or Troy [Polamalu] or Aaron Smith or Kendall Simmons. . . . I think we all kind of just want to play the game right now.

"I feel like we have about four press conferences a day and keep talking about the same things. But all the talk is almost over. We can go out there and play the game and see how it unfolds."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company