They will arrive in Detroit for the Super Bowl next week from diametrically opposite directions. The Pittsburgh Steelers have taken the hard road as a No. 6 seed in the AFC; the Seattle Seahawks steam in as an unchallenged No. 1 in the NFC.
Pittsburgh (14-5) knocked off the top three seeds in a heavy-duty AFC bracket.
Seattle (15-3) swept a pair of playoff games against the offensively challenged Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers, the Nos. 6 and 5 seeds in the NFC.
The Steelers had to win three straight road games to give favorite son Jerome Bettis a fitting Super Bowl sendoff with a return trip to his hometown.
The Seahawks stayed in the Great Northwest, listening to the roar of their 12th-man home crowd, to go where they've never gone before.
The Steelers came out of the stout AFC North, won by the 11-5 Cincinnati Bengals. The Seahawks won the duck-ugly NFC West by seven games.
They are as different as the conferences they represent. In two weeks, they will play a blue-collar Super Bowl at Ford Field while the Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots all sit and wonder why they aren't there.
This may not be the Super Bowl that TV executives wanted, or that purists preferred, but it is not without allure.
Story lines abound, starting with Bettis, the Steelers' burly running back.
Bettis almost certainly will close out a distinguished 13-year NFL career with his first appearance in a Super Bowl. Reduced to short-yardage runner and inspirational leader, Bettis will be countered by the Seahawks' Shaun Alexander, who was the NFL's Most Valuable Player this season. Bettis is a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame. For all his success, Alexander has a long way to go before he can think about Canton.
There is a delicious coaching parallel, too. Bill Cowher ended a nine-year Super Bowl drought and a three-game championship round losing streak when his Steelers pummeled the Broncos, 34-17, in Denver. After going 1-4 in AFC championship games in Pittsburgh, Cowher won in his first championship game on the road.
Seattle coach Mike Holmgren hasn't been to the Super Bowl since the 1997 season when, as coach of the Green Bay Packers, he lost track of downs and conceded a Denver touchdown that ultimately proved decisive in a 31-24 loss. Holmgren has spent seven years in Seattle trying to get back to that stage. A 34-14 rout of the Panthers yesterday served as his ticket.
Overlooked in his own postseason misadventures is the fact that Cowher now has been in the AFC championship game in six of his 14 seasons in Pittsburgh. Holmgren hangs his hat on the fact he became the fifth coach to lead different teams to the Super Bowl, joining Bill Parcells, Dan Reeves, Don Shula and Dick Vermeil. He can become the first to win with two different teams.
While both coaches have Super Bowl pedigrees, neither quarterback has been there before. This year's finale elevates Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck to new status among quarterbacks.
Elite status? That probably will be reserved for the winner, but both have earned their way. The 11th pick in the 2004 draft, Roethlisberger already has overtaken Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, the first and fourth picks that year, as the cream of that crop. At 23 years and 340 days on Super Bowl Sunday, he will become the second-youngest quarterback to start in the big game, behind only Dan Marino, who was 23 years, 127 days in 1984.
Roethlisberger was flawless against the Broncos, throwing for 275 yards and two touchdowns. In five playoff games over his two seasons, he has completed 63.5 percent of his throws for an average of 8.63 yards per attempt and 217.4 yards per game.
In his coming-out party, Hasselbeck threw for 219 yards to balance Alexander's 132 rushing yards. He hadn't won a playoff game until this season, but now the former sixth-round draft pick has won two and is headed to the Super Bowl.
Consider it another contrast to this year's game.