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Root, root, root against the Steelers

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  February 2, 2011 10:13 AM

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patssteelers.jpgNo matters what happens Sunday, the Patriots must live with this: they will have beaten this season’s Super Bowl champion just as surely as they have beaten the other participants in the recent conference championship games, a reality that only validates the belief that the Patriots have let another championship slip through their fingers.

And yet, for Patriots followers, there is a solution.

Do not root for Green Bay.

And root against Pittsburgh.

For all of the potential benefit that may have come from, say, a New York Jets victory in the Super Bowl – nothing can inspire the home team like success by a rival – there are few such residuals if the Steelers win. New England has had some semblance of a rivalry with the Steelers over the last decade or so, but they are in different divisions. In these parts, nothing ever stokes the fire quite like a team from New York – Montreal is a possible exception – and the Steelers just don’t invoke the same bitterness as the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets.

Nonetheless, here are five reasons you should be rooting against Pittsburgh:

5. In a manner of speaking, they are the Yankees – or the Canadiens - of football. In the Super Bowl era, no NFL team has had more success than the Steelers, who are participating in their eighth Super Bowl, tied with the Dallas Cowboys for most in history. Already, the Steelers have won more Vince Lombardi trophies (six) than any other team. Pittsburgh’s only loss in the big game came in Super Bowl XXX, with Neil O’Donnell (three interceptions) at quarterback against the Cowboys.

Translation: the Steelers have never lost a Super Bowl in which either Terry Bradshaw or Ben Roethlisberger has been the starting quarterback.

Fact: Steelers fans are insufferable and they act as if football superiority is a birthright. A little humility is never a bad thing. Pittsburgh went 12-4 during the regular season, but the Steelers went 2-4 against playoff teams and benefited from a soft schedule that includes creampuffs like Cleveland (twice), Cincinnati (twice), Buffalo and Carolina. Talk about good fortune.

4. The Patriots made the Steelers look like a Pop Warner team.
OK, so the Patriots caught the Steelers on a short week on November 14, when the Steelers were coming off a Monday night game. But the Steelers were between tilts against the Bengals and Raiders, which made the Patriots an obvious focal point. On top of it all, the Steelers were at home, on national television, and the game had importance with regard to home field advantage.

We all know what happened. Pittsburgh got spanked. Tom Brady shredded the Steelers for 350 yards and three touchdowns in a 39-26 New England victory that wasn’t really that close. Pittsburgh did not allow more than 22 points to another team all season and, minus the Patriots affair, allowed just 12.9 points per game this season.

The Steelers didn’t match up well with the Patriots and everybody knows it, which is what made New England’s playoff loss to the Jets all the more infuriating.

The good news? The Packers have the same capability to spread out the Steelers and shred a suspect Steelers secondary that is weakest at the corners. The game is being played indoors. The Packers should be able to throw. So long as the Packers can protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers, they should be able to move the ball and score.

3. Ben Roethlisberger’s character.
Admittedly, if we try hard enough, we can find personal flaws with players on every roster in the league. Still, Roethlisberger is a quarterback. By definition, he is supposed to be a leader. And yet, Roethlisberger’s legacy is, at the moment, defined as much by his renegade off-field behavior as it is by his on-field success.

Ask your wife or girlfriend if she likes Roethlisberger. Ask your daughter or, better yet, your mother. At least twice, Roethlisberger has been accused of sexually assaulting women, the latest allegation resulting in a suspension from commissioner Roger Goodell. The Steelers publicly expressed their displeasure with the player and reportedly discussed trading him.

This week, Roethlisberger is claiming to have discovered "inner peace," which is, of course, malarkey and propaganda. Time will tell whether he has truly grown up. In the interim, he is what he is, a winner who, like Tiger Woods, seems to possess virtually no respect for women. Is it possible to respect the player when the man is such a scoundrel?

2. Roethlisberger’s ability to claim superiority over Tom Brady.

Of course, these arguments already exist on some level. Brady has won three Super Bowls, Roethlisberger two. Brady has lost one. Roethlisberger is undefeated. If the Steelers win on Sunday and Roethlisberger plays reasonably well – or, more importantly, makes key plays – those insufferable Steelers fans will be armed with ammunition difficult to defend.

Roethlisberger will have as many Super Bowl titles as Brady without a loss. He will have a career postseason record of 11-2. And no matter how much more polished Brady’s game is, Vince Lombardi’s golden rule applies to quarterbacks more than anyone: winning is everything.

During Brady’s 10-year career as a starter, only two other quarterbacks have a combined winning percentage over .700 in the regular season and postseason: Peyton Manning and Roethlisberger. During Roethlisberger’s seven-year career, only two other quarterbacks can make the same claim: Manning and Brady. If Roethlisberger gets that third ring this week, there is nothing to prevent him from claiming his place as the most successful quarterback of his era.

1. The Patriots legacy.
Since Brady became the starting quarterback of the Patriots, the AFC has been a three-team race. By late Sunday, of the 10 Super Bowls that will have been played during Brady’s career, nine included the Patriots (four), Steelers (three) or Indianapolis Colts (two). Aside from Brady, Manning and Roethlisberger, the only other quarterback to start for the AFC in the Super Bowl is Rich Gannon.

In February 2005, there was little doubt as to who was most successful among the Patriots, Steelers and Colts. New England had gone 3-0 in the Super Bowl during Brady’s four years as a starter and everyone else in the league was looking up at New England.

Since that time, the tables have turned. The Steelers and Colts have been to more Super Bowls (two each) than the Patriots, and each team has won as least won title. The Steelers are now going for their third in six years. Patriots fans would be wise to point out that the Steelers avoided facing New England altogether during each of their last trips to the Super Bowl, but that is hardly the Steelers’ fault.

This year, like some of the others, New England opened the door for the Steelers to win football’s ultimate prize.

Now the Patriots must ask the Green Bay Packers to close it.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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