MOTOWN BOUND

A few weeks ago, the NFL sent out Super Bowl invitations to a handful of teams.

On Sunday, Detroit received two RSVPs.

They had bite marks.

The combatants for football’s biggest game will not be tiptoeing into town on Feb. 5. The way the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks chomped through their conference championship games Sunday, the new motto around here may be “Super Bowl XL: Hide the Women and Children.”

Pittsburgh, in winning, 34-17, swallowed the Denver Broncos, even more defiantly than they swallowed the mighty Indianapolis Colts the week before. Seattle began the day by chewing on the Carolina Panthers and ended the day, well, chewing on the Carolina Panthers. Final score, another blowout, 34-14.

No, it won’t be a high-gloss Super Bowl. There’ll be no Tom Brady, no Terrell Owens, no Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. But it will feature a storied franchise that has won four Super Bowls against a franchise that has never been to one.

It’s steel versus cappuccino.

And, yes, it’s The Bus.

“We’re going home,” Jerome Bettis, the Detroit-raised Steelers running back, told the TV cameras on the sidelines Sunday. “We’re going home.”

And here, now that the stage is set, are the facts his hometown Detroiters want to know.

From steel mills to coffee pots

1) Will we have stars? Yes. Pittsburgh and Seattle may not be New York or New England, but they do offer some marquee value. The Steelers, of course, bring Bettis, Hail Fellow Well Fed. He is 33, on the brink of likely retirement, and he may be the football equivalent of another aging Pittsburgh athlete who once inspired his team to a title, Roberto Clemente. The Steelers also have Ben Roethlisberger, a budding superstar quarterback; Troy Polamalu, a frenetic, long-haired defender who stepped out of a Gauguin painting; and coach Bill Cowher, whose jaw will arrive in Detroit a few hours before the rest of him.

Seattle brings its star running back – and league MVP – Shaun Alexander, plus Matt Hasselbeck, another budding quarterback star, and coach Mike Holmgren, a familiar face who used to go to Super Bowls with Brett Favre and Green Bay.

Decent cast. Decent stories. And much better than the Denver-Carolina match-up we could have seen.

2) Will these fans spend money? Sure. Pittsburgh was probably the best thing that could happen to a Detroit Super Bowl, because Steelers fans are loyal and they travel and they can drive here and hang around for a few days even if they don’t have tickets. They may not have seats, but they gotta eat, right? Ca-ching!

Seattle fans, who have never seen their team in a Super Bowl, may or may not make the long journey en masse. On the other hand, if they do, we don’t have to worry about them fretting over the Detroit weather. When it has rained on your head for a month straight, what’s a little cold?

3) Will there be storylines? Oh, yes. For one thing, these are fresh faces for the NFL’s biggest showcase, and that can be good. New guys are often personable, happy to make a name for themselves, versus the veteran personalities who are weary of the process and just want to get to kickoff. Then, there’s the city angles. You have an old economy town, Pittsburgh, hard by the three rivers and the closed steel mills, against a new economy town, Seattle, hard by the Pacific Ocean and computer firms.

The Steelers are owned by old school royalty, the Rooney family, whose patriarch, Art, bought the franchise back in the 1930s for $2,500.

The Seahawks are owned by Paul Allen, who co-founded Microsoft and who might spend $2,500 on lunch.

Oh, and in case we’re overlooking the pure sports angle, Seattle was the best team in the NFC, a favorite all the way, while Pittsburgh was the No. 6 seed, and the first team to beat the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds en route to the Super Bowl. They won all three games on the road.

Our Super Bowl will be the closest thing to a home game that Pittsburgh sees all post-season.

No party like a Detroit party

Did you watch the games on television Sunday with renewed interest? It was fun to see signs like “Next Stop Detroit” and “Detroit Hawk City,” wasn’t it? Although we have been hearing about this Super Bowl for years, it took on a certain tangible reality when the network announcers bellowed “the Steelers are going to Detroit!” or Holmgren screamed the fans “are all coming to Detroit with us!” We’ve heard similar sentences before, with similar inflection, but it’s usually “they’re going to New Orleans!” or “we’re going to Miami!”

Now it’s Detroit. Nice. I know it’s just a sentence, but a crown is just a crown, too. It’s still the difference between looking at a king and being one.

So the guests of honor have been announced for a Motown party that has been scheduled for years. It will be original. It will be unpredictable. It will be the franchise that once gave us Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, Franco Harris against the franchise that once gave us, uh, Jim Zorn.

And in a nice twist of geographic fate, the most celebrated player likely will be a beefy running back who went to Mackenzie High School and spent part of his televised news conference answering questions about our hometown – and his.

“What’s great about Detroit?” he said. “It’s a great city. It’s a great city, and you all will see when you get there in two weeks.”

Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/mitch.

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