Okay, I was wrong. Make it 21-10 Steelers. I was never good with math. But these numbers tell the sad story of the game: Seattle had 86 yards of offense and a touchdown nullified by referees' whistles in its Super Bowl XL loss to Pittsburgh. An Xtra Large number when you consider that in addition to the 86 positive yards taken away, the penalties moved the Seahawks backward another 70. More than 150 yards difference in the biggest game of the year.
The men in Black and Gold weren't nearly as formidable as the ones in black and white.
It wasn't just that Seattle was whistled 7 times to Pittsburgh's 3 (or 70 yards to 20). It was when the flags flew. A couple of 18-yard completions deep into Steeler territory (one at the 1 and the other at the 23) were wiped out, as was a 34-yard punt return across midfield. Throw in the highly questionable ruling on Ben Roethlisberger's (pronounced "'s") end zone dive - which from no camera angle showed the ball ever crossing the goal line - and the ridiculous 15-yard penalty on Matt Hasselbeck for the unconscionable act of tackling Ike Taylor following Taylor's 4th quarter interception, and you have all the makings of a Let's-Don't-Ruin-This-Jerome-Bettis-Homecoming/Retirement-Love-Fest-By-Letting-The-Other-Team-Up-And-Win-This-Thing conspiracy theory that'll have Seahawk fans sleepless in Seattle all summer.
I can't remember a meaningful game decided by 11 points that seemed like it could have gone the other way by at least that many.
I'm happy for Bill Cowher. He's won me over through the years with his passion, his system, and his love for his wife and three daughters. He deserved a championship. Ditto for Bettis. The Steelers certainly made some big plays, none more so than Antwaan Randle El's reverse heave to Hines Ward with 9 minutes left to provide the final margin of victory.
Seattle kicker Josh Brown didn't help by Vanderjagting two long, but makeable field goals. And Seahawks' coach Mike Holmgren - while getting big ups for his taste in spouses (his wife, Kathy, and their oldest daughter missed the game because they were on a medical mission trip to the Congo) - is anything but a sympathetic figure in the aftermath thanks to a shockingly uninspired coaching performance. Seattle ran its hurry-up offense at the end of each half with all the efficiency of an Edsel, blowing precious opportunities to score in each case. And if you're a Seahawks fan, can you really spend the offseason satisfied with Holmgren's decision to punt from his own 48 on 4th and 13 with 6:28 to play and Seattle down 11? At that point, your hopes are hanging by the last thin thread on the Go Daddy girl's spaghetti strap. If you make it, you've got plenty of time to score, kick off, force a punt, and get the ball back with a chance to tie or win the game. Even if you don't get a first, you either force a field goal or a punt, and you're still within two scores. Punting in that situation seemed so...decaf. And 'Hawks fans will have a latte time to wonder "What if?" If that's Seattle's Best, I'll pass.
Still, the Seahawks weren't their own worst enemy in their maiden Super Bowl voyage. The refs played that role. Even if a couple of the calls were technically correct, the infractions were nothing worse than you see on nearly every play of every NFL game. Worse yet, this crew breached the fraternal order of referees' one and only rule:
Call Such A Good Game That No One Notices You're There. Instead, head ref Bill Leavy is now to Seahawks fans persona non grata. And make that a Venti with extra foam at the mouth.
Actually, Pittsburgh probably had some good fortune coming after nearly having its checkered flag at Indianapolis taken by one of the worst rulings in NFL history. Kind of like trebled damages. You get the win plus two more. And it was in Detroit that another official used a single coin to take the Bus for a ride. On Thanksgiving Day 1998, Bettis called tails at the overtime coin flip, only to have referee Phil Luckett rule that he said heads. It was tails, the Lions got the ball to begin OT and promptly went downfield for the game-winning score.
An official can sleep off a Turkey Day blunder. (That particular fowl, after all, is known for its natural sedative.) But blowing the biggest game of the year by constantly interrupting the flow of the game and sucking the life out of one of the contestants by overofficiating is an entirely different animal: a goat. One that will no doubt be roasted over the open spit of Seahawks fans forever.