- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2006

No Super Bowl team is built in a day — or in a single draft or offseason, for that matter. It has just seemed that way lately because of the string of out-of-nowhere conference champions and their overnight success quarterbacks.

There was Kurt Warner, not far removed from the Arena League, taking the Rams to the title in his first year as a starter. There was Tom Brady, a sixth-round pick, duplicating the feat with the Patriots … and Jake Delhomme, who wasn’t drafted at all, doing likewise with the Panthers.

It’s been quite a run of Jiffy Champs, enough to make you wonder if the model for constructing a Super Bowl team has changed in this fast-moving era of free agency. Have we really gone, in the space of 12 years, from “you build through the draft” to “just add water”?

Not necessarily — as the Steelers and Seahawks, this year’s conference winners, reminded us Sunday. Both clubs, after all, have been pretty good for a while, just not good enough to reach the trophy round. It’s taken Pittsburgh’s Bill Cowher a decade to get back to the Super Bowl after his first visit; Mike Holmgren has needed almost as long, seven years, to assemble the necessary components in Seattle.

In other words, they’ve done it the old-fashioned way — brick by brick, tattoo by tattoo — with ample amounts of that vanishing virtue known as patience. It wasn’t so long ago, in fact, that Cowher weathered three straight non-playoff seasons, a downturn that would have rendered many a coach jobless.

But owner Dan Rooney, whose family has owned the team, well, forever, “is a football guy,” Cowher said after his Steelers stuffed the Broncos 34-17. “And he was very supportive through [those] years, and I’m very appreciative of that. … Nothing drives me more than to hopefully be able to hand him the [club’s] fifth [Lombardi] trophy. If I could do that, it would make me feel like I’d done what he hired me to do 14 years ago.”

For the Steelers, the process began in 1996, when they traded with the Rams for Jerome Bettis, now the wizened Face of the Franchise. Seventeen draft picks, three free-agent signings and a couple undiscovered gems later, a Super Bowl team has been assembled, one that might very well win the whole pot.

The final ingredient, as it often is, was the coming of age of a quarterback. In this case, it is 23-year-old Ben Roethlisberger, who learned from his mistakes in last year’s playoffs and in the past two weeks has outplayed Pro Bowl quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Jake Plummer.

“He showed he is a great talent,” said John Lynch, the Broncos’ head-bustin’ free safety, “not only throwing the football, but he ran around out there and made plays as an athlete.”

None was prettier than the 17-yard touchdown pass Roethlisberger fired to Hines Ward in the final seconds of the first half, a virtual knockout blow that increased the Pittsburgh lead to 24-3. He made the throw off his back foot, which isn’t exactly advised, but if you’ve got an arm like Ben has …

The Seahawks have witnessed the same kind of flowering with 30-year-old Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck has always had ability, but he developed a nasty habit of making the wrong pass at the wrong time — such as his much-replayed playoff game-ending interception against the Packers two years ago. His growth has become increasingly apparent in this postseason, though, as he has beaten the Redskins without any assistance from NFL MVP Shaun Alexander and dissected an equally fine Carolina defense in the NFC Championship game.

Which isn’t to say Hasselbeck has lost all spontaneity. He’ll still reject a play from the sideline and call for a handoff to his little-used blocking back (who will then scurry 32 yards, the longest run of his career, to set up the clinching score against the Redskins). He just keeps his bouts of temporary insanity to a minimum now, that’s all.

Holmgren has been grooming Hasselbeck for six seasons, the first in Green Bay and the last five in Starbucks-land, and there were times when it seemed a doomed project. There also were doubts about whether the coach still had it, about whether he could win big with a quarterback not named Favre. But here he is, shooting for his second title with a different quarterback because, like Cowher, he has an owner (Paul Allen) who understands that good things — such as championship rings — can come to those who wait.

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