"I think we got people excited about football again here in the Pacific Northwest," coach Mike Holmgren said. "They're all coming to Detroit with us; everybody in the stadium's coming. They were great for us all year. Home-field advantage in this place means everything."
Alexander, the league's MVP, came back from a concussion he suffered last week to rush for a team playoff-record 132 yards and two touchdowns, and Seattle pressured Carolina stars Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith into oblivion.
"We have an unbelievable team, an unbelievable group of fans," Alexander said. "Prayer works. I get knocked out and guys step up. One guy goes down and another guy steps up."
"We're not done yet," said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who was a precise 20-for-28 for 219 yards and two scores. "We've got another game we've got to go win."
A game the Seahawks approached only once, before losing the 1984 AFC Championship Game to Oakland. A dozen years later, then-owner Ken Behring was planning a move to Los Angeles.
But current owner Paul Allen stepped in, eventually getting Qwest Field built. And Holmgren, now the fifth coach to take two franchises to the Super Bowl, put together the NFC's best team.
"We've come a long way, it's taken five years to put this group together," Alexander said. "Now we are one of the elite teams."
Until about 16 minutes into the NFC championship game, when Seattle led 17-0.
While Alexander paced the ball-control offense, it was the defense that really carried the Seahawks. It yielded only 62 yards, three first downs and no real threats in the first half.
Then, with Carolina desperate, Seattle allowed virtually nothing until it had a 20-point lead.
Holmgren, who won the Super Bowl in 1997 and lost in 1998 with Green Bay, praised his defense last week for the enormous pressure it applied to opponents all season. That defense was always in Delhomme's face, helping force two first-half interceptions that were decisive.
"We've always got a chip on our shoulder, they always say the offense has to pull us through, " defensive tackle Chuck Darby said. "But in order to win games in the playoffs, we knew our defense had to step up."
The Panthers weren't helped when starting running back Nick Goings was sidelined in the first quarter after a massive hit by linebacker Lofa Tatupu. They already were minus their top two runners, Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster.
The Seahawks had their horse, though, and by the second half, they could turn to Alexander. As he always has this season, he delivered some big runs as the crowd chanted "M-V-P, M-V-P."
Hasselbeck finished off the Panthers with a gorgeous pump fake that had cornerback Chris Gamble on all fours. Darrell Jackson caught the 20-yard pass for a 27-7 lead, and it was time for Seattle fans to celebrate.
"I was at the Super Bowl last year just hoping that one day we'd be able to get there," Allen said. "I may seem like a mild-mannered guy, but my gut was churning inside: 'Let's win this game. Just win this game. We've got to win this game.' "
Alexander grabbed the George Halas Trophy and hauled it to the end zone as majestically as he totes a football. For all of his record 28 regular-season scores, this carry meant the most.
Allen raised the team's 12th man flag before kickoff, then waved a white towel to whip the crowd of 67,837 into a frenzy. What really got the fans going was when Holmgren sent in backup quarterback Seneca Wallace as a wideout, then Hasselbeck threw to him. Wallace, one of the better athletes in the NFL, made a superb over-the-shoulder catch for 28 yards.
One play later, Jerramy Stevens slipped uncovered down the middle for a 17-yard TD pass.
On the next series, Delhomme's lollipop throw for Keary Colbert instead fell into the waiting hands of Marquand Manuel, who weaved through traffic for 32 yards to the Panthers 17. Alexander swept left for 15 yards before his 1-yard run made it 17-0.
Then the dynamic Smith broke free on a 59-yard punt return down the right side. An official threw a flag for a block in the back, but after a long discussion, referee Ed Hochuli announced there was no foul, and Carolina was within 17-7.
Alexander added a 1-yard scoring run, and Drew Carter's 47-yard TD reception meant little for Carolina. Fittingly, Smith fumbled on a reception in the final two minutes.
The Associated Press News Service
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