DETROIT - Kelly Herndon didn't merely play in Super Bowl XL at Ford Field.
The former University of Toledo standout made the biggest play of the night for his Seattle Seahawks and set a Super Bowl record in the process.
An interception and a 76-yard return by Herndon led to a third-quarter touchdown that gave the Seahawks new life, pulling them to within 14-10.
But it wasn't enough to derail Pittsburgh's magical road trip to the title. The Steelers won their fifth championship, and the first since Super Bowl XIV following the 1979 season, by a 21-10 margin.
Midway through the third quarter, the Steelers were poised to expand on a 14-3 lead, facing a third-down play at the Seattle 7-yard line.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wanted to throw into the right flat for Cedrick Wilson, but Herndon anticipated the play, jumped the route for an easy pick and then took off running. He wasn't stopped until he had reached the Pittsburgh 20.
"You go to bed the night before the Super Bowl dreaming about helping your team, and I thought when I made the interception that it would be big for us," said Herndon, who played in the secondary at Toledo from 1995-98. "All season, we've been capitalizing on other team's mistakes and I thought this would get us started."
Given the golden opportunity provided by Herndon, Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threw 16 yards to tight end Jeremy Stevens for a touchdown with 6:45 left in the third quarter.
Instead of the Steelers leading by 21-3 or 17-3, Herndon's play helped Seattle to pull within four.
"They were driving on us and a [Pittsburgh] touchdown would have been really bad," Herndon said. "But I made the play and the offense scored and it was like a 14-point swing. Our sideline was invigorated. I thought that would give us the momentum, but we couldn't make anything happen after that."
Herndon entered the lineup at left cornerback at the start of that Pittsburgh possession because of a quadriceps muscle injury to starter Andre Dyson, and didn't look too good when Hines Ward broke free from one of his tackles for a 16-yard gain to the Seahawks' 23-yard line.
But Herndon soon made up for it, making a hit to stop Jerome Bettis on a second-down pitch, and then stealing the pass and, for a while, the show a play later.
His 76-yard interception return was the longest in Super Bowl history. Willie Brown of the Raiders set the previous record of 75 yards for the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XI.
"Setting a Super Bowl record is nice, but if you don't win the game it's not the same feeling," Herndon said.
NOT TOO SPECIAL: Seattle's special teams play, especially in the first half, went a long way toward preventing the Seahawks from taking the upper hand.
The Hawks marched to near midfield on their first possession, into Pittsburgh territory on their second push, and to the Steelers' 47-yard line on their first drive of the second quarter.
The Pittsburgh defense stiffened on all three occasions, forcing punts, and Seattle punter Tom Rouen, playing in his third Super Bowl, kicked into the end zone every time, failing to bury the Steelers deep in their own territory and further capitalizing on what had been a field-position edge for Seattle.
On the flip side, while receiving kicks, the Seahawks killed themselves with penalties.
A 32-yard punt return to midfield by Peter Warrick was negated by a holding penalty. After Pittsburgh's lone first-half score, a short, squib kick would have given Seattle good starting position near its own 35, but Kevin Bentley was flagged for holding.
TD OR NOT TD: The Seahawks also had a touchdown negated by penalty. Hasselbeck threw 17 yards to Darrell Jackson in the end zone, but Jackson was flagged for a slight push-off against Steeler free safety Chris Hope. With the TD nullified, the Hawks settled for a 47-yard field goal by Josh Brown for a 3-0 lead with 22 seconds left in the first quarter.
STAT STORY: The Seahawks had more first downs (20-14), more total yards (396-339), a 6:04 edge in possession time and an opposing quarterback who had a meager 22.6 passer rating.
So how and why did they lose? The Hawks converted on only five of 17 third-down situations, missed two field goals and had seven penalties for 70 yards.
"We just didn't play well enough," Hasselbeck said. "It's disappointing. It's hard. But what can you do? They played really hard on defense and we didn't execute to the best of our ability. We were close a couple times, but close doesn't cut it."
Hasselbeck completed 26 of 49 attempts for 273 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Shaun Alexander, the NFL's most valuable player during the regular season, carried 20 times for 95 yards. Bobby Engram had six catches for 70 yards, while Joe Jurevicius grabbed five passes for 93 yards.
TOLEDO TIES: One of the members of the Super Bowl officiating crew yesterday was Toledoan Bob Waggoner, who served as back judge.
Waggoner, a retired adult probation officer with the city of Toledo, began working northwest Ohio high school games in the 1970s.
He later worked Ohio Conference and Mid-American Conference games before being hired by the NFL in 1997.
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