The moments that shaped the Steelers' Super Bowl season
The Steelers will play the Green Bay Packers on Feb. 6 in Super Bowl XLV. It is a dream matchup for the NFL and the Fox television network — the team whose legendary former coach shares the same name as the Super Bowl trophy against the franchise that houses six Lombardi trophies.
Super Bowl hype at Steelers headquarters shifts into another gear today.
The players return from an off day and the Steelers practice for the first time since beating the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game.
As the Steelers prepare for the Packers, it is worth looking back to how they arrived at this point.
In a nod to the Steelers playing in their eighth Super Bowl — they are wearing white as the away team, just as they did in Detroit (2006) and Tampa (2009) — here are eight key developments that helped shape the 2010 season and send them to Dallas.
Trade of Santonio Holmes
It looked like the mere dumping of a talented player who couldn't seem to get out of his own way off the field.
But dealing Holmes to the New York Jets in April provided the opportunity for wide receiver Mike Wallace to stage a breakout season.
The Steelers took the fifth-round pick they got in return for Holmes, the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII, and traded it to Arizona for starting cornerback Bryant McFadden and a sixth-round draft pick.
The player they got with that pick?
A guy by the name of Antonio Brown, who has made memorable plays in both Steelers playoff wins.
The 2010 NFL draft
The Steelers' philosophy has been to draft for two seasons ahead so they don't have to lean too heavily on rookies.
But they have gotten immediate contributions from a number of first-year players, starting with top pick Maurkice Pouncey.
Pouncey has started every game at center and made the Pro Bowl — an invite he will decline with the Steelers headed to the Super Bowl.
Emmanuel Sanders and Brown have become a big part of the passing game, and all the latter has done in the playoffs is catch the touchdown pass that beat the Ravens and close out the Jets with a clutch third-down grab.
"A lot of the young guys are a big part of what's going out there on the field," said receiver Mike Wallace, who is in his second season. "Without us, we probably wouldn't be going to the Super Bowl."
The signing of journeyman Jonathan Scott in March barely registered a blip. But he will start his 11th consecutive game at left tackle on Feb. 6 in his native Dallas.
Flozell Adams, who signed with the Steelers in late July, will return to Dallas as the team's starting right tackle after making a successful transition from the left side of the offensive line.
The signings of kicker Shaun Suisham and punter Jeremy Kapinos during the season also have loomed large.
Suisham has converted 16 of 18 field-goal attempts since replacing Jeff Reed. Kapinos has been steady while filling in for the injured Daniel Sepulveda.
Big Ben's redemption
Ben Roethlisberger promised to change following a sexual assault accusation in March.
He made good on that vow, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reduced the six-game suspension he had imposed on Roethlisberger to four.
Roethlisberger has been a better teammate this season and is nothing if not driven, as any number of opposing defensive coordinators will attest.
The Steelers' season could have been lost during the low point of a tumultuous offseason.
Now, Roethlisberger stands one victory away from joining Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman and Tom Brady as the only quarterbacks to win at least three Super Bowls.
Fast out of the gate
Rashard Mendenhall flashed through an opening on the right side of the line in the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, and he and the Steelers were off and running.
The 50-yard touchdown on the Steelers' first offensive play in overtime allowed them to beat the team that would finish with the best record in the NFC.
Mendenhall, meanwhile, has rushed for 1,440 yards and 16 touchdowns in 18 games, including the postseason. And he grounded the Jets in the AFC Championship Game with 121-yard effort Sunday.
'We expect to win'
Mike Tomlin figured to be all smiles after the Steelers physically dominated the Tennessee Titans in a 19-11 win in the second week of the season.
But the fourth-year coach was noticeably edgy after the Steelers weathered injury and heat-related issues to beat the favored Titans in Nashville.
"We're a little bit annoyed, to be quite honest, (of) the premature reporting of our death," Tomlin said on the third Sunday in September. "We're pleased that we're 2-0, but we're not astounded by it. We expect to win."
The Steelers turned perceived slights into motivational fuel all season.
It has helped power them all the way to Dallas.
Winning without Ben
Most fans would have gladly taken a 2-2 record at the quarter point of the season. But the Steelers surprised everyone but themselves by winning three of their first four games while starting Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch at quarterback.
Had the Steelers gone .500 in those first four games, they would have finished second to the Ravens in the AFC North.
And they would have had to go on the road for the playoffs.
Down goes Flacco
Troy Polamalu did not just add to the volume of highlights that are unofficially classified as "Did he really just do that?" in Baltimore.
His sack-strip of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco set up the decisive touchdown in the Steelers' biggest win of the regular season.
Polamalu shrugged off the play as mere execution of a perfect call by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
Steelers fans know better.