Super Bowl Handicapping: Have We Seen This Arizona Team Before?
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 01/21/2009
This Arizona team, after pulling upset after upset to reach the Super Bowl, is looking a lot like the Pittsburgh team that won it all in 2005.
From former Steelers players and coaches to players that played at local Pittsburgh colleges, you may need only two degrees of separation to connect nearly the entire Arizona roster to Pittsburgh in one way or another.
The AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers, the No. 2 seed from the AFC, will face off against the NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals, the No. 4 seed from the NFC in Super Bowl XLIII on Feb. 1 in Tampa Bay.
When Bill Cowher decided to leave coaching after the 2006 season the first family of the Steelers, the Rooney's, narrowed the coaching search down to quite the short list of coaches. The list contained Mike Tomlin, the current Steelers head coach who has his team in the Super Bowl in just his second year, Ken Whisenhunt, the current Cardinals head coach who has his team in the Super Bowl in just his second year, and Russ Grimm, the current Cardinals assistant head coach who gets a lot of credit for the team's offensive performance this year.
It appears that the Rooneys could have done no wrong in selecting a coach.
Ken Whisenhunt was the offensive coordinator for the Steelers when they won Super Bowl XL and Russ Grimm was the Steelers offensive line coach.
Other former Steelers coaching members on the Arizona staff include linebacker coach Billy Davis, Wide Receivers coach Mike Miller, defensive assistant Matt Reich and special teams coach Kevin Spencer. Both Miller and Reich grew up in Pittsburgh.
The little Super Bowl experience the Cardinals have on their roster is thanks to the Steelers. Of the five players on the Cardinals roster with Super Bowl experience four received that experience in Super Bowl XL as members of the Steelers.
The four former Pittsburgh players on the roster for Super Bowl XL and now with the Cardinals are linebacker Clark Haggans, backup quarterback Brian St. Pierre, tight end Jerame Tuman and special teams specialist Sean Morey.
The connections do not stop there. Two of the top receivers for the Cardinals have Pittsburgh connections. Larry Fitzgerald played collegiately for the University of Pittsburgh where he was nearly named the first sophomore Heisman Trophy winner. Linebacker Gerald Hayes also attended Pitt. Another wide receiver, Steve Breaston, who took on the role of No. 2 receiver last week, went to high school in Pittsburgh. He attended Woodland Hills, a traditional local powerhouse. Offensive tackle Levi Brown was a high draft pick for Arizona out of Penn State and guard Reggie Wells attended a local Pittsburgh high school, South Park, and a local college just outside of the city, Clarion University.
Pittsburgh was extremely familiar with a Baltimore team that it had played twice earlier this season before the AFC title game. The Steelers may be even more familiar with Arizona, even though they have not played them since last season.
The amount of familiarity the Arizona coaches have with the Steelers personnel may be a big reason why the Steelers are only pegged as seven-point favorites despite what is expected to be a largely biased Pittsburgh crowd in Tampa. The Steelers have also been favored in both playoff games, covering both lines while the Cardinals have been underdogs in all three of their playoff games despite being home for two of them.
Familiarity breeds contempt, Cardinal backers are hoping that familiarity also can breed an upset.