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Old 10-31-2010, 07:26 AM   #1
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Default Steelers, Saints both know pressure of trying to defend Super Bowl titles

Steelers, Saints both know pressure of trying to defend Super Bowl titles
By Mark Kaboly
Sunday, October 31, 2010

Championship-winning teams scoff at the notion of a Super Bowl hangover and, inevitably nearly every year, the defending champ has its share of problems following a world title.

Both teams in tonight's nationally televised game between three of the past five Super Bowl winners can attest to that. The Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2005 and 2008 then failed to make the playoffs the following seasons.

Last year's champ, New Orleans, is well on its way of following down the path of the Steelers, starting the season 4-3 and fresh off losing a home game to the Cleveland Browns last week in which they were two-touchdown favorites.

"There are a lot of stresses of trying to repeat," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said, who failed in his two attempts.

But Roethlisberger is far from being alone on that list.

Over the past 11 years, only New England has repeated as Super Bowl champion.

None of the other 10 defending champions even reached a conference championship game and five missed the playoffs altogether.

In the 44-year history of teams trying to repeat, only eight have succeeded while 13 have failed to make playoffs the year after, including the Steelers a record three times.

"It is tough. Once you get to the mountain top, I think some guys try to settle in and don't really take care of the little things like they had in the past," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said. "Sometimes, it bites you."

Farrior's theory doesn't just apply to the NFL. All sports have had problems with post-championship hangover.

Out of the four major sports since the Super Bowl was first contested in 1966, the NFL has had eight back-to-back winners. The NBA also had eight, including a pair of three-peats; the NHL has had nine, including a couple of dynasties in the Islanders and Canadians; while Major League Baseball has been the most difficult of all, having only five repeat winners and none in a decade.

"It's human nature," New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said. "After you experience that kind of success, you tend to relax. You feel like you arrived, that you don't need to get any better. You've achieved what you set out to achieve."

The Saints went from worst to first in their division last year, finished the regular season 13-3 and knocked off quarterback giants Brett Favre and Peyton Manning in claiming New Orleans' first title.

Now, New Orleans coach Sean Payton may not have lost any sleep over a possible Super Bowl hangover during the offseason, but he didn't dismiss such a thing either.

Payton openly talked about it to his players and how to prevent it from happening to them. He also invited outsiders to speak on the subject.

"You try to study the past 10 years and talk openly about the challenges the following year," Payton said.

Whether it was how to deal with the offseason schedule because the length of the prior season or the distractions involved with being the defending champs, Payton covered his bases.

"It doesn't matter what you do," Farrior said. "You can say whatever you have to say and try to do whatever you have to do, but it is always still in the back of your mind that you are the champs."

That's how Farrior viewed the Steelers average play following their Super Bowl XL victory. So when they won it again a few years later, Farrior knew not to fall into the trap once again, however ...

"We thought we learned the first time," Farrior said. "We got off to a fast 6-2 start. I thought we were out of that problem and it came back and bit us."

Guard Trai Essex was on both of those Steelers teams that struggled after winning the Super Bowl.

"It's tough," he said. "There is so much parity in the NFL that it is tough to come back and be as good as you were the previous year. That is why it doesn't happen that very often."

The Steelers ended up losing five of their final eight games last year to miss the playoffs after winning Super Bowl XLIII. They lost to Oakland, Kansas City and Cleveland during that span. Those teams finished the season with a combined record of 14-34.

The Saints' three losses this season have come against teams with a combined record of 10-10. They beat 1-5 Carolina by two points.

"Coming off that Super Bowl, everyone is going to give you their best shot," Brees said. "The schedule is set up so it's not easy on you. For us, we're not na´ve to think we're just going to step onto the field and people are going to be intimidated by us. In fact it's the opposite. You're going to get everybody's best shot."

The Saints may not have felt that way until last week's eye-opening 30-17 home loss to Cleveland.

"We have a locker room that understands the following year and the challenges that exist, shoot, they are experiencing it first hand right now," Payton said. "But the bottom line is that it is not supposed to be easy to win a Super Bowl or repeat, and that's fine with us."

Mark Kaboly can be reached at mkaboly@dailynewsemail.com or 412-664-9161.
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