Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Seattle Seahawks: Why the Steelers Won Super Bowl XL

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When I wrote my last article previewing the upcoming match-up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks, I never thought I would get the kind of reaction I have gotten. Five years later and Seahawks fans are still upset about calls that were made in the game and how they were “jobbed” out of a Super Bowl win.

I’ve even read comments that the NFL fixed the game to allow the Steelers to win because more money would be made if the Steelers won than if the Seahawks did.

Were there bad calls made? Maybe, maybe not. Are there bad calls made in many football game played every week in the NFL. Yes, there are. Because of the subjective nature of some calls (pass interference, holding) it is impossible to say that every call made is correct or incorrect. A lot of calls are judgement calls, interpretations in the minds of the officials.

Blaming the refs, however, is the easy way out and always comes off sounding like sour grapes.

With that, I would like to present my case as to why the Steelers won SB40 and the Seahawks lost it, through no collusion by the NFL or the game officials.

Fact No. 1 – During the 2005 season and playoffs, the Seahawks weren’t as good as the Steelers on the road.

Despite the fact Ford Field was filled with Terrible Towel-waving Citizens of the one and only Nation on Feb. 5, 2006, the Super Bowl has never had a true home team. Therefore, a team that can win consistently on the road will have an advantage in the neutral-site Super Bowl.

If you look at the eight games the Seahawks played on the road that season aside from the Super Bowl, they won five and lost three. That is a win percentage of 62.5.

The Steelers, on the other hand, won more games on the road than the Seahawks played during the regular season and playoffs. They had to play eight regular season games on the road, and then three playoff games away from home as the sixth seed. In those 11 road games, the Steelers won nine times for a 81.8 win percentage.

All of this tells us that the Steelers performed better on the road that year than the ‘Hawks did, which is an advantage.

Fact No. 2 – The Steelers played a much harder schedule.

I know a team can’t control their schedule of opponents, but it bears examining in this case. Tougher games against tougher opponents, means a tougher, more resilient team.

The Seahawks played four eventual playoff teams in the 2005 season and had two games each against the Cardinals, Rams, and 49ers in their division. This is not exactly a murderer’s row of teams you have to play. Not one of their division opponents finished with more than 6 wins on the season.

The Steelers, on the other hand, had to play five eventual playoffs teams during the regular season. They eventually played three games against the AFC North champion Bengals (two in the regular season once in the playoffs), and two games against the Colts, who were the number one seed in the AFC. Plus, the usual gritty games against the Browns and Ravens in their division.

The combined win percentage for the teams the Seahawks played during the regular season was 45.7%. The Steelers’ regular season opponents finished with a combined win percentage of 52.0%.

All of this leads me to…

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  • Jerred Clouse

    As a Hawks fan, I was surprised how much I learned from this article. I agree that it is sad that we still hold strong feelings about the game, that some people think there was a NFL conspiracy and I also agree that it always sounds like sour grapes, particularly 5 years later. Having said that, let me serve you some sour grapes. Your article largely outlined why the Steelers should have been considered the better team, ie better road team, harder schedule. I totally agree with them being considered the stronger team going into the Super Bowl. I also agree that the Steelers made some big plays that had nothing to do with bad calls (ie longest Super Bowl run in history). However, me and my grapes would argue that the Hawks simply outplayed the Steelers and on that day, were the better team. I would point to the fact that the Hawks had more yards, more first downs, more time of possession and less turn overs. The Hawks had big plays, but had many of them called back. I agree that penalties are purely subjective, so there is no point to get into them…but having said that, it doesn’t help that the lead referee said there were blown calls that changed the outcome of the game, and he said that five years later…unprompted. Of course he didn’t say that the Hawks should have won, but it doesn’t help Hawk perception or our sour grapes.

    Thanks for the interesting and well written article.

    • Todd

      Hi, Jerred,

      I understand the frustration of Seahawks fans losing a game in which they won most statistical categories, but let me remind you that the turnover differential does not guarantee a win. More first downs does not guarantee a win. Most of all, time of possession does not guarantee a win.

      As evidence, let me point out that in the 2009 season the Indianapolis Colts won a game in which they possessed the ball LESS THAN A QUARTER OF THE GAME! (14:53 to be exact). They also had only 14 first downs against the Dolphins’ 27 first downs.

      Just because it has never happened before doesn’t mean it can’t happen. There is a first time for everything.

      Thanks for the comment, though.

    • Robert

      all i got to say is, its the superbowl, all calls should be taken very seriously, you already know during the regulra season games, every time there is a missed call in a game, i look at the statistics, was it a close game, could they have came back, etc. as far as the schedule and road record,who cares, its all about making it to the big dance, theres teams that make it to the big dance perfectly then choke, “Saints”, “Mavericks”. Also, that ref who made the missed calls, was interviewed and he said he hasn’t been able to sleep since that Superbowl and he’s a ref, ive never seen a ref admit guilt and has loss sleep over it.

  • Ben DuBose

    Not being a fan of either team I would like to comment on thia this article. That Superbowl game was the last one I watched live, I just record and watch later (if it was any good). I wrote it off as another Superbowl destroyed for the fans by bad reffing.You must write for your fans but this article makes me believe you still don’t feel good about that win. You got the win and the viewers were denied a good football game, get over it.

  • Joe

    As a Hawks fan, I’m still bitter! Though I don’t think it’s a conspiracy or the Steelers’ doing. That being said, we did give up the big plays and your reasoning is sound on why Pitt won. However, I’m still not convinced that the three calls didn’t shift the momentum in the Steelers’ favor, and we all know that football is a game of momentum. Had those three calls not been made, I wonder the outcome. But then again, we’ll be doing that till we get to the Superbowl again… Cheers!

  • Andrew

    totally bias nonsense completely ignoring the facts, you don’t mention the takedown hold by # 66 on bens non scoring dive and ignore that haggans is offside and unabated to the qb on locklears non hold in 3q robbing us of 1st and goal at the one where alaexander scores easily over the left side.throw in the laughable pass interference that took points off the board and mats 15 yarder for tackling a guy.better team lost and you know it

  • Jeramy

    Game was rigged, period. I don’t hold a grudge against the Steelers as much as I do the NFL. They played the money card that year. Fact is, Steelers Fans are the most die hard and committed I’ve ever met, and they spend money. Sehawks Fans are dedicated as long as the game plays in Seattle.

    The blown calls definitely made the difference in the game. That said, I’m glad to see the playoffs have seemed reasonably officiated the last few years, and perhaps we have a new sense of “fairness” after the world saw the debacle that took place at XL.

  • Michael

    As a fan of football, neither Steelers nor Seahawks, I must interject. This article is FULL of bias. Clearly the writer is a die-hard Steelers fan. Since this referee debacle the NFL has changed alot regarding how calls are made, and the placment of the ref to make the right call. THE CHANGES MADE TO REFEREE PLACEMENT ARE A DIRECT RESULT OF THIS GAME!!! The refs have even gone as far to apologize for their poor judgement. This debate ended years ago – the Steelers won the game and the Seahawks had the rules changed going forward. End of story – get over yourself – don’t be the last one to the party…

  • Donnie Shell 31

    I am really sick of these bitter Seattle fans. they lost it it has been 6 years get over it. you cant blame the refs for your team laying an egg on footballs grandest stage. 12th man rising it should be called 12 girls whining. championship teams overcome adversity not blame everyone else for a poor performance.

    • Michael

      There aren’t any Seahawks fans still complaining about this. This is a lengthy debate posted by a Steelers fan, on a Steelers fansite. The ‘hawks moved on years ago… do they even have anybody that played in that superbowl still signed to their team? I didn’t think so. Pretty sure the only ones that haven’t moved on are the Steelers…

      • Todd

        I hate to disagree with you, Michael, but if you look at my previous article, in which I talked about the Steelers-Seahawks games that will happen this year, Seahawks fans came out of the woodwork talking about SBXL.

        I’m afraid there are plenty of Seahawks fans who are still complaining about this.

        Thanks for the read.

        • Michael

          Todd, Thank you the clarification! You have to understand that here in Seattle SBXL was a big let down. When a seahawks fan says the game was not fair, we aren’t taking away from the steelers win – it’s not like the steelers cheated! The game WAS officiated poorly. It is a fact. As a result, fans will remember that we never really got a fair chance. Statistics do not win games – but by defination show the most likely outcome. The Steelers have won a bunch of superbowls, why go back and re-hash this game? The one that clearly is not a representation of a great Steelers team? Why take offense to seahawks fans still being angry? The article came across to me as “hey hawks fans, you lost because you suck, the steelers are a better team” There may be a little truth in that. We should have found a way to win and we didn’t. Those that were impartial to SBXL noted that the refs broke down and that the seahawks SHOULD have won. While I respect your opinion, actions taken by the nfl since this game would argue that the competion was not completly fair. Although I do not agree with your point, thank you for the article.

          • Todd

            Hi, Michael,

            It’s tough to decide if you are being factitious or sincere, so I’m going to hope you are being sincere. If you are, you are most welcome for the article.

            That being said, I did not intend to write this article until my editor asked me to. This article is a product of the backlash from my previous article that previews the upcoming match-up between Seattle and Pittsburgh again this year.

            I never intended to say the Seahawks lost because they suck. Indeed, in the article I give them credit for winning their division and conference in such dominating fashion. However, at the time, the NFC West was arguably one of the weakest divisions in the NFL and didn’t really pose much of a challenge to the ‘Hawks.

            The point of the article was that the officiating may have not been top notch, there was more to the Steelers’ win (or the Seahawks’ loss, if you want to view it that way) than the referees.

            Even a Seahawks’ fan has to admit that there were several key plays that the Steelers executed and the Seahawks didn’t.

            That was the difference in the game. Not a missed call here or there.

  • Donnie Shell 31

    All i meant to say was saying the refs gave them the superbowl is without merit.

  • Megslin

    I find it hilarious that seahawks fans clearly went out of their way to bash this article. They need to realize, there are three sides to every argument, yours, mine, and the truth. As a Steelers fan, I wholeheartedly support this article, but understand why others may have issues with it. But here’s something that you cant dispute: Since this game, my team has been back to the Superbowl twice. How’s yours done? Why not blame yourselves for the loss, and get a better team. Thanks.

    • Donnie Shell 31

      I couldnt agree more thank you.

      • Todd

        Are you the Donnie Shell?

        Thanks for the read. I appreciate it.


    • John

      Here in Seattle, all we have done is blame ourselves for that loss. No team has had as many roster moves in the last 5 years as the Seattle Seahawks (not to say that many worked). The ref issue was dismissed a long time ago around here. It’s impossible to go back and say “well, if this call had gone differently” My point is this: you never know what would have happened. If these two teams met again the game would be different. *The outcome would have probably still been identical.* As usual, you Steelers fans want to pour salt in an old wound and that still hurts. Everyone knows the Steelers have been playing a better team… duh!? Seattle had a losing record last season, why even bring this up? Its akin to kicking someone while they are down… pretty low in my book.

      • Todd

        Hi, John,

        Thanks for the comment.

        Unfortunately, this article came to be because my previous article, which was a preview of the Steelers-Seahawks game that will occur in the upcoming season brought about several comments about SBXL. I had no intention of writing this article, but felt I had to after several people commented about my preview article.

        I’m afraid Seahawks fans brought this article on themselves. This is not a Steeler fan “pouring salt” in old wounds.

    • Jerred Clouse

      You’er confusing some facts. It’s not like Hawks fans walk around talking about this on a daily basis. What is irritating is that we have valid points that Steeler fans just choose to ignore. Why don’t you ever respond to the fact that the head referee apologized for blown calls that “affected the game”. Is this Seahawks just being crazy? Answer that. How do you explain that it was the ONLY SUPER BOWL IN HISTORY that the team with less yards, less time of possesion, less first downs and more turnovers won the game? Is that Seahawk fans making stuff up? Answer that. And your biggest confusion is assuming that returning to the Super Bowl somehow explains who was the better team in Super Bowl XL. Previous and future success of the Steelers doesn’t explain anything for that day when the Hawks out-played the Steelers. It’s not about proving that we are right, but stop pretending like we are just making things up.

      • Todd

        Hi, Jerred,

        I’m sorry, but I can’t explain why the head referee apologized. From my point of view, he had nothing to apologize for.

        As for the team with less time of possession, fewer first downs, and more turnovers winning the game, I think I explained that adequately. The Steelers made more big plays. Two of their three touchdowns were for 40+ yards, including the longest rushing play in Super Bowl history.

        I don’t recall saying anything about the Steelers MAKING the Super Bowl in later years. I recall mentioning they were OUTPLAYED in a later Super Bowl, hence, they lost.

        There are calls in every game that can go either way. It just seems like Seahawks fans spend a lot of time whining about the calls that supposedly “robbed” them of the game and not nearly enough time studying how the Seahawks didn’t make the plays to win the game. That was the point of my article.

        Thanks for commenting. I appreciate the read.

  • Ron

    REading articles like this (and yes it is interesting)confirm what I already know; Everyone’s entitled to an opinion ….

    • Todd

      Isn’t America great?

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  • steelersgirl74

    You know, you’d think it was commom sense that the Seahawks will NEVER be at the same level of greatness as the Steelers. The seahawks DID NOT out play the Steelers. The calls were just that calls of a ref. Every game has bad calls, but to sit around like a bunch of two year old pouters for five years, stomping their feet saying it’s not fair!!! Get over it!
    The seahawks will ALWAYS suck, unless they get a new head coach with morals and knowledge of the game of football, get another QB. They did not draft a QB, instead took guys with positions they didnt need. They have Charlie Whitehurst, and let Matt Hassleback go, not that he will be missed! Come on! They seriously have to guess why the suck? I live in Seattle and I hate all the whining, and crying. Either improve the team or get use to sucking!!

  • Chris

    this article leaves out a number of bad calls the refs made.

    1) Jerramy Stevens fumbling the ball after a clear catch and run in the first series.

    result: hawks maintain decent field position and are able to edge into FG range instead of giving the Steelers an early field position edge +3 points to Seattle

    2) Matt Hasselback Fumbling the ball while scrambling, yet is strangely called “down by contact” despite nobody touching him at all.

    3) the blatant block in the back by the Seahawks during Herndon’s interception return that knocked Roethlisberger down at the Hawks 45, that SHOULD have put the spot at the Hawks 35 instead of deep into steeler territory.

    result: seattle scores a few players later. +7 seattle.

    but all the calls went against seattle, of course.

    helps to have an announcer that hates the steelers.

  • Cyrus

    I fully expected the Steelers to win that game with ease. But the Seahawks moved the ball well. One of those holding calls on Locklear was ridiculous. The other was questionable. The personal foul on Hasselbeck might have been the worst call I’ve ever seen, in any sport. I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it. I think the Steelers were the better team and would win the matchup 7 times out of 10. But the Seahawks were going to win THAT game with accurate officiating.

    • Todd

      Hi, Cyrus,

      I have to admit, the personal foul on Hasselbeck was a mystery to me, too. Even on the replay when I was writing this article, I simply didn’t see what the issue was.

      Thanks for the comment.

  • steelersgirl74

    This kind of girl cheers for a team like the steelers. Innocent until PROVEN guilty retard!! Ben was not ever found guilty!! Unlike the Seahawks head coach whose school was just stripped of their titles because of what Pete did! Oh, let me help you spell “apologized” it’s hard I know it’ll ne ok. Plus, I could give a crap what Oprah would do? I know it’s hard for you to always lose. Keep crying, it’s all your good at! Sit back and watch the steelers kick the crap out of the Seahawks everytime they play. Hahaha your a loser!

  • Curt

    This game was awful. I kept waiting for the so called Steel curtaint to make a play before a referee bailed them out. It was like watchng a kid cheat at Madden. The Steelers played with mulligans all game long. To top it off there was Big Perverts phony touchdown for falling down near the endzone. If this wasn’t a fixed game it was the closest thing to watching pro wrestling in Super Bowl I have ever seen. We were accurately predicting the penalties while we watched this game. I still remember looking at my brother and both of us saying at the sasme time “this game is fixed.”

    • Todd

      Hi, Curt,

      I’m sorry, but it is simply not possible for the NFL to fix a game. Too many people would have to know about it and the story would undoubtedly get out.

      In this day and age, conspiracies simply don’t exist in sports. Someone always, ALWAYS, “outs” the rest of the conspirators. There is too much profit in being “the guy” who broke the story.

      I would have an easier time believing one rogue referee was trying to alter the game (a la Tim Donaghy in the NBA) than an entire crew of referees in on a fix. That being said, I doubt that was the case in SBXL.


  • Jeff

    I am a Hawks fan.

    I just wanted to get that out of the way so that my comments are taken in the right context.

    My opinion is this: The Seahawks fans of 2005 felt like the NFL rigged the game because the entire previous week they had been hearing about the retirement of Bettis in the media and how it would be a storybook ending to a career instead of giving praise to a good team that was making its first Super Bowl appearance. Then some questionable calls crushed the morale of the Seahawks players during the game and to us in Seattle it felt like the NFL got its wish.

    I was amazed at the media the week before the game. The Steelers had been to the Super Bowl five times before, but this was Seattle’s first (and only) trip to the Big Game. Instead of the story being about how a team whose team won its division by 7 games and beat out its conference, to make their first ever appearance at the Super Bowl, it was about how Jerome Bettis was going to retire and an unlikely Super Bowl win would be the capstone of his career. We felt slighted. We felt like there was an east coast bias in the coverage. We felt like the media ignored our accomplishments and our team.

    But, we would show them all during the game! Right? No. It seemed like any time the Seahawks got something going, there was something to break the momentum. A questionable call – which brought back a play and would eventually lead to a punt… A quarterback trying to force a play – throwing an interception… A weird call – against a quarterback for tackling a guy below the knees on an interception… A mystery touchdown – remnant of the Vinnie Testaverde touchdown (which also happened against Seattle) in which his helmet breaking the plane seemed to be good enough for the refs and is the reason we have instant replay today. It felt like the game was fixed… and who fixes games if not the NFL?

    If the plays are called differently do we win the game? I don’t know, maybe… maybe not. But I do know if the plays are called differently then we compete. If it’s called evenly then it’s a good game that doesn’t feel as if it were a highly touted east coast team beating up an anemic west coast team that doesn’t deserve to be there. If it’s called evenly then we show the world that we were not as bad as we appeared on that day and it’s a game for the ages instead of a 60 minute slog through DrearysVille.

    That is why Seattle fans have trouble with that game. We were very good that year. The media didn’t acknowledge that fact and the refs helped prevent us from showing it. No one took us seriously then in that year when we honestly deserved it. We just were looking for respect, and it felt like the NFL was complicities in preventing us from getting it.

    I know respect has to be earned, but we felt we had earned it through our play. We had been working for 30 years to get to the Super Bowl. It was the 30th anniversary of our franchise. That would have been a good storyline. But the national discourse was about Jerome Bettis. We dominated our division and deserved to be there. We wanted acknowledgement for our accomplishments. But the media and the NFL made us feel like Pittsburg’s 6th visit to the Super Bowl was more important than our first, and that Jerome Bettis was the storyline.

    That is why *I* still chafe at SB XL.

    • Todd

      Hi, Jeff,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I totally understand how Seahawks fans could have felt slighted by the media coverage leading up to SBXL.

      I can also understand feeling like your one and only chance might (to date) have been taken away by “questionable calls.” The problem I have is that most Seahawks fans want to say the ONLY reason the Steelers won was because of the officiating. I’m sorry, but I simply cannot agree with that sentiment.

      With your well reasoned, well written, and dispassionate remarks, you have earned the respect of this Pittsburgh fan.

      • Jeff


        I wish more internet discussions were well reasoned and less vitriolic.

        People yelling at each other fail to reach any point where they can come to any consensus, because they are too busy trying to score points on the other side.

        Oh well, I am glad a few of us can get together and have a conversation.


  • Curt

    I think you have to be pretty stupid to watch this dissapointing game and not suspect the fix was in. It could have been a great Super Bowl but it was ruined by the one sided officiating. I suspect Cohwer’s tears at the end are crocodile tears because he knew the game was in the bag before it was ever played.

  • thomas gallaway

    The score would have been 7 nothing instead of 3 nothing if they don’t call Jackson for the push off (bad call). That is a huge difference. Also, Ben didn’t score that touch down even though he jumped around like he did after the call. The bad holding call in the forth quarter, (Madden probably knows more about football than you do) eliminates a 1st and 10 on the 1 yard line. That is a touch down for the Seahawks in 2005. So if those calls were not blown (refs admitted it affected the game) the score at that moment would have been 21 to 10 Seattle. The Stealer quarterback quarter back was 9/21 with two picks during the game, they don’t comeback from that score. Just think with no bad holding call there is no Hasselback interception, no fake low block call on someone making a tackle – which put the Stealers around midfield and the better team would have won the game. Think before you write next time.

  • M. Scheer

    Sorry but you’re completely wrong…and this is coming from a St. Louis fan that hates the Seahawks. On top of watching my Rams, I have watched the playoffs and superbowl every year for the past thirty years and have never seen anything quite like this. I will use one example and one only. The Big Ben touchdown. He was obviously tackled with the ball never crossing into the endzone. After he was down with other players on top of him he slid the ball across the goal line. Now if it was a snap decision by the ref to give him the touchdown I would understand. But that call was challenged and somehow they came to the conclusion that it was touchdown when any idiot could see otherwise. Other than that there are a couple points outside examples that I would like to make. First, the official gave a tearful apology to the Seahawks for his bad calls saying, “I will have to live the rest of my life feeling like I robbed a whole city.” The man cried. If that doesn’t prove to you that something was amiss, then you must be completely biased. And finally, during the game, John Madden himself said that there was something “fishy” going on with the officials in this game. He was agreed with by the other announcer too. With those three points you can’t honestly say there wasn’t anything wrong with that game. Whether it was accidental or on purpose we’ll never know. But that game was a farce. As a football fan I was truly offended to see the way Superbowl XL was officiated. There are many more than just Sea-chicken fans that feel this way.

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  • iocco

    Been a seahawks fan all om my life. The sad part of all this aint one bad call by the refs. The sad part about it, is the steelers def line toyed around with what was arguably the best of line in football that year. They just kept throwing Hass off balance, hurried him all day long, 037 was not known for his smash mouth running, but for finesse. and the Steelers set the tone to smash mouth.

    For God´s sake, they beat us by 11. take away 7 and we still came behind.

  • Go Blue

    Best piece I have ever seen on XL by a Steeler apologist. Thank you. I particularly liked the graphics regarding Ben’s touchdown. What people never mention is the fact that Ben and the ball went backwards before he settled short of the goal line. Regardless, the true travesty of SB XL is the misconception that the Steelers won in spite of Ben and his abysmal QB rating. The fact is that they could not have won without him. With the exception of his poor throw which should have put the game away, but instead led to Seattle’s only TD, he showed remarkable poise whenever it was needed to make a play (by design or improvisation) – something that Seattle’s QB did not.

  • david struthers

    let me guess. Jackson pushed off, but Irvin didn’t do the exact same thing in dallas all those years and didn’t get called for. Yup, you must be an east coaster. Moron!

    • Craig

      Well to be quite honest, offensive pass interference was not as much under the microscope then as it is now. And it still isn’t called that much. To me that says that when it is called, it must be pretty significant. And you may also want to include an example that is less than a decade old and somewhat more relative – I’m sure Michael Irvin would laugh at the comparison to Jackson. Lastly, please refrain from insulting the writers – what’s written is a legit argument. Some have decided to actually engage in the conversation with their comments. If you don’t agree fine. But name calling is so callow.

  • Aaron Barak

    As a 9er’s fan, its pretty sad to see an entire article written to defend their teams SB win. That fact it even needs to be written says all that needs to be said. I watched that game with my wife and her family who were die hard steelers fans and it wasnt a pretty site. Nobody felt good about that game, the calls were terrible. It was the worst SB game i can remember and am only glad the 9ers missed it. Hawks got robbed, and the steelers got robbed too…they might of won clean, but now we will never know. Would love somebody who isnt a steelers or hawks fanboy to write a good article about this game rather than the biased writ that ended up in print.

    • Craig


      You were actually glad the 49′ers did not make it to a Super Bowl? What kind of fan says that about their team no matter what the outcome? Are you just that used to mediocrity for the past 8 seasons?