Here they go again.
Tomorrow night at Heinz Field, the last two NFL teams left standing in the 2008 season just so happen to convene anew for the 2009 preseason opener: the runner-up Arizona Cardinals and the Super Bowl XLIII champion Steelers.
Feel the heat.
"It's just another game," cornerback Deshea Townsend demurred yesterday, the Steelers' final full day of preparations before the game. "The Super Bowl's gone. We won it. We don't care about the rematch."
OK, but what about Larry Fitzgerald of Pitt, Kurt Warner and the rest of Ken Whisenhunt's Cardinals who lost on the Ben Roethlisberger-to-Santonio Holmes pass with 35 seconds left, 27-23?
"I'm sure [they] will be out there for one play, four at the most," Townsend continued. "Those guys, they played a great game in the Super Bowl. But I don't think they'll be out there too long."
The Steelers reviewed that game film last spring, amid OTAs, on the South Side. Townsend kidded that a James Harrison interception return and a Holmes touchdown pass kind of stood out. But the rest of the video hardly will be instructive in a preseason where teams never deviate from vanilla form.
Besides, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, Arizona's brain trust has changed.
"They've got a new defensive coordinator [onetime Steelers assistant Bill Davis], so there are going to be some differences there. Their offensive coordinator is in K.C.," Tomlin added, a reference to Upper St. Clair native Todd Haley leaving to become the Kansas City Chiefs' coach, "so there may be some differences there.
"Each year is very new. We're in the process here of building our team for '09. We don't look in our rearview mirror in terms of some things that were done a year ago. So there will be some value in terms of watching some of that tape: physical matchups, what people are capable of from an athleticism standpoint. ... But schematically and where this game's going in '09, I think that's what makes the first preseason game, or first game out, special because there is an element of the unknown."
The Cardinals, Tomlin added, "we're familiar with that, probably as familiar with that as anybody considering we were the last people to play football a year ago."
A half-year, actually.
Roethlisberger and the other starters will probably only play a "couple of series" against Arizona, Tomlin said.
Starting guard Darnell Stapleton, recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, is the only Steelers player whom the coach ruled out tomorrow due to injury.
If center Justin Hartwig does not play on his ailing toe, as expected, Tomlin said Doug Legursky will start. Legursky, who spent most of last season on the practice squad, will be backed by A.Q. Shipley, the Moon High School product, and newly signed Alex Stepanovich.
Other players whose status for tomorrow remains unresolved as yet: Safety Troy Polamalu (hamstring), Townsend (hamstring), halfback Willie Parker (back spasms), halfback Mewelde Moore (hamstring) and receiver Martin Nance (hamstring) were all held from practice. Linebacker James Harrison and defensive end Aaron Smith were given the day off as part of Tomlin's over-30 program. Hartwig was limited in practice yesterday, which ended a few minutes prematurely because of a rainstorm.
The Steelers drafted two return specialists in April, and each will start in those roles against the Cardinals: third-round wide receiver Mike Wallace on kickoff returns and fifth-round cornerback Joe Burnett on punt returns.
New NFL rules against more than two players forming a kickoff wedge have gone into effect, though Tomlin doesn't foresee much of a change.
"I personally don't know if eliminating the wedge is going to get the desired effect in terms of [preventing] injuries," he said. "Hopefully, it does. I don't know that it will. The reality is, that's a violent football play.
"... At the end of the day it's going to be very similar to how it went down in the past."
Add to the burgeoning list of celebrity onlookers along the Saint Vincent College sidelines yesterday's pair: former Pirates player and current MLB-TV analyst Sean Casey of Upper St. Clair and actor Ving Rhames of the "Mission Impossible" movie series, among others.