Hope but no hype

These five are overlooked but could have an impact on Sunday's Super Bowl

No. 12 Maryland topples No. 2 UNC

January 26, 2009|By David Haugh | David Haugh,Chicago Tribune

You will hear all week in Tampa, Fla., about Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner's tight connection with the Almighty - and that's not a reference to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

You will see a lot of attention paid to Fitzgerald's being the son of a sportswriter, Larry Sr., because the media are fascinated that one of their own could spawn a child capable of making headlines instead of writing them.

Inevitably, you will have the dreaded comparison between Fitzgerald's hair and Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu's. You will have injury information about Hines Ward's knee guarded as if it contained President Barack Obama's BlackBerry address.

You will have all the big names, from Big Ben Roethlisberger to Edgerrin James, receiving bigger coverage than ever as they dominate Super Bowl story lines.

But here are five under-the-radar guys unlikely to create much buzz among the 4,000 credentialed media members - until Sunday's kickoff, when their contributions could affect the outcome as much as any other player's.

* Mike Gandy, Cardinals left tackle: It's hard to believe Gandy is protecting the blind side of a possible Hall of Fame quarterback in a Super Bowl.

For all the things former teammates and coaches with the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills might have said about Gandy being brooding or distant, the guy must be doing something right.

He has started 35 straight games since joining the Cardinals in 2007 and this year gave up only 6 1/2 sacks with one holding penalty.

Gandy's strengths - his quickness and awareness - will be tested by a complex Pittsburgh blitz package that could target him. If Gandy can hold his own against the rush and help keep the Cardinals' resurgent running game moving the chains, Arizona has a chance.

* Ike Taylor, Steelers cornerback: Fitzgerald has 419 receiving yards in the playoffs and, more than any other player in the Super Bowl, possesses the ability to dominate the game.

Though Taylor will have help from a blitzing pass rush and safeties over the top, the cornerback often assigned to the opponent's top receiver must believe he has to be the best player on the NFL's best defense.

If Taylor can be, it could create quite the Super Bowl legend for the 2003 fourth-round draft pick out of Louisiana-Lafayette.

It wouldn't be the first time Taylor has shut down an elite receiver. In back-to-back wins this season, he limited Randy Moss (45) and Terrell Owens (32) to fewer than 100 yards combined.

* Santonio Holmes, Steelers wide receiver: While the status of Ward's knee injury likely will warrant around-the-clock updates, the most explosive Steeler this postseason risks being overlooked.

Outside Pittsburgh, Holmes is largely unappreciated, but that could be changing.

Against the San Diego Chargers in the divisional round, Holmes' 67-yard punt return for a touchdown broke open the game. Against the Ravens in the AFC title game, his 65-yard touchdown catch from Roethlisberger gave the Steelers the momentum and lead they needed.

It bodes well for the Steelers that the last time they played the Cardinals, in September 2007, Holmes caught six passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns.

* Adrian Wilson, Cardinals safety: Talk of the NFL's best safeties usually starts with a debate over Ed Reed of the Ravens and Polamalu.

Somebody might throw in Brian Dawkins of the Philadelphia Eagles, and every now and then somebody west of the Rockies might mention Wilson.

He belongs in that company.

The strong safety and longest-tenured Cardinal has operated in relative obscurity since Arizona took him in the third round of the 2001 draft. But just as Polamalu did against the Ravens, Wilson has the ability to make a play to change an outcome.

Roethlisberger made a point to know where Reed was on every snap. Expect him to show that same sort of respect for Wilson.

* Clancy Pendergast, Cardinals defensive coordinator: The assistant coach many folks will ignore could make the most lasting impact if he pushes the right buttons to stop the Steelers' running game and keep Roethlisberger in the pocket.

Pendergast has found a way to get the Cardinals' defense to give up 8.1 fewer points and 42.7 fewer rushing yards per game in the playoffs.

Arizona also leads all teams in the postseason with seven interceptions and five sacks.

If that trend continues in Tampa, there will be hundreds of media members Sunday night Googling galore to find out the origin of Pendergast's first name.

SUPER BOWL

Steelers (14-4)

vs. Cardinals (12-7)

Sunday, 6:30 p.m., Tampa, Fla.

TV: Chs. 11, 4 Line: Steelers by 7

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