NFL

Pittsburgh and Arizona head for Super Bowl showdown

Pittsburgh beat arch-rivals Baltimore (23-14) to book a place in Tampa, Florida, for the 43rd Super Bowl. They will play against the Cardinals of Arizona, who eliminated hot favourites Philadelphia (32-25).

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AFP - All that stands between the Pittsburgh Steelers and an unprecedented sixth Super Bowl title is an odds-defying Arizona Cardinals squad trying to end a 61-season title drought.

The Cardinals and Steelers booked a date in the National Football League's February 1 championship spectacle at Tampa, Florida, with emotional victories Sunday in conference finals.

Kurt Warner threw four touchdown passes, three to Larry Fitzgerald, and Arizona held off a late rally to defeat Philadelphia 32-25 for the National Conference title, giving the Cardinals their first Super Bowl berth.

"I want to say Arizona Cardinals and Super Bowl in the same sentence. I like the sound of that," Warner said. "We felt like our backs have been against the wall because nobody gave us a chance. We're one step away from our goal."

Troy Polamalu returned an interception 40 yards for a Pittsburgh touchdown with 4:24 remaining and the Steelers' top-rated NFL defense forced two later Baltimore turnovers in a 23-14 triumph for the American Conference crown.

"We're a selfless group. We're an opportunistic group. We will get in the lab and give our fans something to be happy about," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, the youngest coach in Super Bowl history at age 36.

Two years after Tomlin was hired by Pittsburgh and Steelers' offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt left for Arizona after failing to land the job, Whisenhunt will have a chance to claim a crown and a measure of revenge.

"It was really a team win," Whisenhunt said. "We're just excited that we get a chance to go to the Super Bowl."

The Cardinals, who won their only NFL crown in 1947 when based in Chicago, have the second-longest title drought in North American pro sports, eclipsed only by the 100-season gap since baseball's Chicago Cubs won the World Series.

A Cardinals team that won only two playoff games in its history won three in the past three weeks to reach the Super Bowl.

Nearly 18 million spectators in three home cities have watched 1,203 Cardinals players since the team has won a title. The Cardinals, who moved to St. Louis in 1960 and Arizona in 1988, had not made the playoffs since 1998.

With Barack Obama's inauguration Tuesday, the Cardinals' futility span will include parts of the terms of 12 US Presidents.

Pittsburgh won back-to-back Super Bowl crowns in 1975 and 1976 as well as 1979 and 1980 plus another in 2006. Now Ben Roethlisberger seeks his second title in four seasons.

"I'm really proud of this band of brothers," said Steelers quarterback Roethlisberger, who threw a 65-yard touchdown to Santonio Holmes for the only offensive touchdown Pittsburgh needed to advance.

Ravens rookie Joe Flacco, whose team lost all three meetings with the Steelers, could only shake his head.

"No matter how hard you fought you are going to be disappointed to lose this game," Flacco said. "Tip your hat to those guys. They play hard and have played very well."

Willis McGahee, who ran for two Ravens touchdowns, was taken off the field on a stretcher after taking a heavy hit late. Ravens officials said he had significant neck pain but was talking and had movement in his arms and legs.

Warner, 37, will be the third-oldest quarterback to play in the Super Bowl. He won a Super Bowl title with the St. Louis Rams in 2000 and lost with them to New England in 2002.

"The reason we're here in great part is because of what Kurt Warner has done for us," Whisenhunt said.

The Cardinals led 24-6 at half-time on Warner touchdown tosses of one, nine and 62 yards to Fitzgerald, who was not content to simply book a trip to the Super Bowl.

"It feels great to be in this position but we know we have our work cut out for us," he said. "We want to get back to work."

Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb led the Eagles back, tossing touchdown passes of six and 31 yards to Brent Celek and 62 yards to rookie DeSean Jackson to give the Eagles their first lead at 25-24 with 10:45 to play.

Arizona answered with a 14-play, 72-yard march that ended with Warner flipping a nine-yard touchdown pass to Tim Hightower and a two-point conversion toss to Ben Patrick, giving the Cardinals the winning points.

"To end this way, it's tough when you are that close to the Super Bowl and it's taken away from you," McNabb said.

The Eagles fell to 1-4 in National Conference championship games.
 

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