BY IAN HERBERT
Daily Sports Writer
Published January 30, 2006
DEARBORN - No distance is too far for the fans of a team that has never played in a Super Bowl.
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As running back and league MVP Shaun Alexander left the first press conference of Super Bowl week, a few stray fans swarmed around him to get autographs on helmets and posters before he ducked into an elevator.
Fifty feet away, a few dozen other Seattle fans waited for signatures from their Seahawks.
The Seattle Seahawks arrived in Detroit for next Sunday's Super Bowl XL at 4:40 yesterday afternoon. Much of their first press conference revolved around "respect."
"Respect was a word that I used in my opening remarks to the team at the beginning of the season," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "I understand why we're underdogs. The only way to handle it is - not by talking - but by playing the game."
Alexander said he's seen the Seahawks go from a team that people used to laugh at to one that demands respect.
Even though they advanced to the Super Bowl as the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the Seahawks enter the game as four-point underdogs. Their opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a wild card team that was the AFC's sixth seed.
The Steelers are set to fly into Detroit Metro Airport on a charter flight at 10 this morning. Their arrival is closed to the public.
Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselback said that when the NFL announced Detroit was the host, he heard people complain it was going to be cold and that, together with a number of other of factors, made the city a poor choice.
Hasselback said he thought differently.
"My immediate reaction was: 'Are you kidding me? It's the Super Bowl,' " Hasselback said. "Why does that matter what the weather's like? I've actually been to Detroit a few times before, and I liked it here."
Mack Strong, the Seahawks' Pro Bowl fullback, has been with the team for 13 years, more than any other player. He said that until the Seahawks' pep rally this morning at Qwest Field, it never really set in that he was heading to the Super Bowl.
"This is the most exciting time of my life, professionally," Strong said. "That's the only way I can describe it."
About 15,000 of their now notoriously rabid fans cheered for the team at the field before they boarded the plane, Strong said.
Holmgren jokingly described the plane ride from Seattle to Detroit as "very rough."
Paul Allen, the team's famously rich owner who made his living by co-founding Microsoft, bought a plane for the team to use for travel. Holmgren said he slept most of the way, but added that the plane is equipped with "all these electronic gadgets." All the seats are first-class seats, and the flight crew was the same they've had all year, making the entire trip very comfortable, he said.
The Seahawks (15-3) will be playing in their first Super Bowl ever, but their coach, Mike Holmgren, has been to four as a head coach and an offensive coordinator. They got to the Super Bowl by winning two home games against the Washington Redskins and the Carolina Panthers - both by double-digits.
Seattle started the year 2-2, but the only game the Seahawks have lost since Oct. 2 was a 23-17 loss to Green Bay in the last week of the season, after they had already clinched the NFC's No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Quarterback Matt Hasselback threw just eight passes in that game and running back Shaun Alexander split carries with Maurice Morris.
The Seahawks have five players who will be starting in the Pro Bowl and two more who are listed as reserves. Alexander - the NFL's leading rusher and MVP - leads the list, and he's joined by Hasselback, fullback Mack Strong, offensive tackle Walter Jones and guard Steve Hutchinson, a former Michigan standout.
All five of Seattle's Pro Bowl starters are on the offensive side of the ball. At 28.2 points per game, the Seattle offense was the most prolific in the NFL. The team averaged 370 yard per game - second in the league.
The final challenge of the Seahawks' dream season will be the Pittsburgh Steelers, who took a much different path to the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh finished the year 14-5 and grabbed the sixth and final playoff spot.
The team then won three straight road playoff games against the Cincinnati Bengals, the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos. The Steelers also rely on a quick defense that's one of the best in the league. That unit allowed just 16 points per game (tied for third in the NFL) and 284 yards per game, which was fourth in the league.
The Steelers have two Pro Bowl starters - strong safety Troy Polamalu and guard Alan Faneca - and three reserves.