But what about the game?

Amidst all the hoopla, we just may see some interesting football.

click to enlarge CARDINAL ACHIEVEMENT: The Cards' astounding Larry Fitzgerald in action. - Gene Lower
Gene Lower
CARDINAL ACHIEVEMENT: The Cards' astounding Larry Fitzgerald in action.

It's not what you'd call a dream match-up — Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals — but then dream match-ups are hard to come by in the Super Bowl. You think the folks in San Diego were thrilled in 2003 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came west to play the Oakland Raiders? Were the denizens in Detroit overjoyed to see a Steelers/Seattle Seahawks tilt in 2006? (Well yes, they probably were; they live in Detroit.)

If Sunday's big game at Raymond James Stadium finds itself in a somewhat unfortunate light, it's because last year's Super Bowl was a dream match-up — New England Patriots (an on-the-verge-of-perfection team with cover boy Tom Brady) vs. the Giants (the New York Giants) — and turned out be probably the greatest game, and one of the biggest upsets, in Super Bowl history.

Purely from a Tampa Bay booster standpoint, the best possible contest this year would've been the Steelers against the Philadelphia Eagles. An all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl. Imagine the possibilities: Hordes of frothing Northeastern fans fleeing the cold and driving south (probably without tickets) to hang out in the sun and run up big drink and chicken wing tabs.

Instead, airlines are gouging fans flying in from Arizona, charging in excess of two grand a ticket. And fares from Pittsburgh are sky high as well.

But, as the saying goes, it is what it is. And I think what it is, is a good chance for an extremely entertaining game. Super Bowl XLIII (43) pits teams with contrasting styles, but not to the extent that most pundits claim. Yes, the Steelers, those vicious decapitators from a working-class city, are a marauding horde, as tough as a roadhouse steak. The Cardinals favor finesse, with poised, veteran quarterback Kurt Warner at the helm, and maybe football's most astounding player, Larry Fitzgerald, at wide receiver. He must've had a Super Glue dispenser implanted in his hands — it seems that every game he makes a leaping, acrobatic catch (or three) that makes the defensive backs surrounding him look like club-footed munchkins.

Fitzgerald is fearless, but you gotta wonder if he's going to keep half an eye out for Steelers defenders like safety Troy Polamalu, a maniac with a long, dark mane spilling from the back of his helmet who hurls himself into opponents like a cannonball (when he's not stepping in front of passes to intercept them).

Yet ... this will not be a contest between bullies and pansies. The Cardinals, the most hapless franchise in NFL history, whose last championship was in 1947, have long been tagged as soft. But under second-year head coach Ken Whisenhunt — whose previous job was as Steelers offensive coordinator — the team has toughened up.

Further, the Cards, who got into the playoffs by winning a weak NFC West Division with a 9-7 record (and looked half-comatose during their last few games), are peaking at just the right time. Their momentum and confidence are high. And they are issuing some brutal hits of their own.

Watch for indicators early in the game. Can the Arizona offense get off to a fast start, like it did in the NFC Championship game against the Eagles' vaunted D, marching down the field and scoring on the first couple of drives? If they manage early scores and efficient drives against Pittsburgh, that could put a few dents in the Steel Curtain, erode their confidence and force them to make adjustments.

Conversely, the worst scenario for those who want to see a tight game would be if the Steelers force the Cardinals' offense into three-downs-and-a-punt on the early possessions. While not marshmallows, the Cards come into the game with the more fragile psyche. The team has never been to a Super Bowl. Players must avoid the just-glad-to-be-here trap. A few aborted drives — or, perish the thought, a turnover — could cause some scrotum shrinkage among the guys in red.

On offense, Pittsburgh likes to run the ball with Willie Parker and set up an efficient passing game led by their big lug of a quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He takes a lot of hits, but always seems to get up. But Big Ben does take risks, and can be lured into throwing interceptions. Unlike Arizona, though, the Steelers are unlikely to be rattled by early mistakes.

The adage "defense wins championships" will be tested in this game. The Steelers were the No. 1 D in the NFL this year, and have instilled fear in their opponents during the playoffs. The Cardinals ranked in the bottom half of the league, but their defense has come into its own during the postseason.

The Super Bowl is always played on a fast track in good weather, which bodes well for the Cardinals' explosive offense. But it also allows Steeler defenders to get that extra head of steam as they zero in the next victim.

The truth, not the truism, is that defense, offense and special teams win championships.

In case you're wondering how this less-than-glamorous match-up might affect TV ratings ... probably not so much. It certainly seems that vast amounts of people watch the Super Bowl no matter who's playing. The last six Super Bowls have all earned ratings in the low 40s, with last year's pulling the highest at 43.3. The lowest? Bucs/Raiders in 2003 with a 40.7.