Agganis Lives

   Miss the days of 15-round championship fights?

   The Cardinals and Steelers had to survive the classic championship distance to get there today, Arizona rallying late to pull out the decision on the scorecard, while Troy Polamalu landed the big right hand in the 13th round for Pittsburgh.

   We've had worse conference championship days than this (well, Willis McGahee might disagree on this day of headbanging). But we have a Super Bowl with an instant theme: the Steelers' ex-coordinators (Mike Tomlin and Ken Whisenhunt) meeting again.

   Pittsburgh looks like a 10-point or so favorite, and given another great defensive performance today, I fully understand why. The Steeler D forced Joe Flacco into mistakes he hasn't made since leaves were still on the trees, and took away the running game. Bodies dropped like flies, and the majority were Ravens.

   Ben Roethlisberger made the big plays he had to, and enough small ones to overcome the clock bungle at the end of the first half in which Pittsburgh threw away three points. The Steelers managed to minimize Ed Reed as a major factor and avoided turning the ball over in their own territory. They needed a Rocky Marciano-like performance today, and got it.

   But let's see that Pittsburgh secondary tested against a more sophisticated passing attack.

   Arizona was Ali-like, piling up the big early lead, and keeping a little something in reserve when the Eagles started throwing, and landing, the big shots in the second half.

   The phrases "Kurt Warner" and "Hall of Fame" were juxtaposed during the day, and I'll concede, not without reason. This is the second time he's pulled a quick turnaround on a loser and put it in a Super Bowl (granted, he had great receivers in both Arizona and St. Louis). But that kind of talk is earned after leading a drive that rescued his team from what would've been a legendary choke.

   That said, I might give Tim Hightower a game ball. His lack of productivity down the stretch landed him on the bench behind Edgerrin James, but he came through twice on the final drive: getting out around right end on the fourth-and-1 at midfield, and bulling his way into the end zone with Warner's shovel pass.

   This certainly wasn't a Super Bowl matchup anybody anticipated back in September, but I have the suspicion we're in for a better game two weeks from today than the pigskin pundits will expect. The Cards are only the second 9-7 team ever to reach the Super Bowl; the Steelers played the other one ('79 Rams) in Super Bowl XIV, which Pittsburgh won in a better game than anyone had the right to expect.

   Now wake me up when the pregame hype ends.


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