Who doesn’t love a good Cinderella story?

Cinderella stories are what make the NCAA basketball tournament special every year. And, on a much more serious level, the Cinderella story of Barack Obama becoming President of the United States has captivated this country, if not the world, for months.

But Cinderella stories rarely take place at the Super Bowl.

With the exceptions of Joe Namath’s famed prediction that his New York Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III and the New York Giants’ shocking victory over the then-unbeaten New England Patriots last year in Super Bowl XLII, you just don’t see major upsets in the biggest sporting event of the year.

That’s one of the many reasons I’m picking the heavily favored Pittsburgh Steelers to beat the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII tonight.

Of course, there are plenty of on-the-field reasons, too.

Among them:

  • This season’s Pittsburgh defense is one of the best in NFL history – and, unofficially, one of the nastiest ever – so expect the Cardinals’ rushing attack to be shut down. And no matter how spectacular Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald have been, they can’t overcome the vicious punches in the mouth they’re going to get from the Steelers. I love Warner and Fitzgerald, but facing THIS defense with two weeks to prepare for them is just a bad thing.
  • I know the Cardinals have looked invincible over the past month or so, but let’s not forget this is the same team that lost seven games this season, including four of their last six regular-season games. As good as they can be, you just don’t know what to expect from the Cardinals on any given Sunday, which is why they’re playoff wins over Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia were considered such upsets.
  • There’s been plenty of talk about Arizona’s high-powered offense, and rightfully so. But the Steelers aren’t exactly bums in that category. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is one of the best in the league, as is wide receiver Hines Ward. Plus, I give the Steelers the edge in the running game with North Carolina-bred Willie Parker in the backfield.

That said, the biggest reason I’m picking the Steelers has nothing to do with X’s and O’s.

I’ll admit it: For years, I’ve cheered for teams with black quarterbacks and/or head coaches at the helm. And Mike Tomlin, as many people know, is the Steelers’ African-American head coach.

Does that make me a racist? Of course it doesn’t. And anybody who contends it does is just being foolish.

Everyone – I repeat: EVERYONE – likes seeing people with whom they share a commonality do well when they’re competing against extreme odds. That’s why so many white Americans worshipped Larry Bird when he was dominating the mostly black NBA in the 1980s. That’s why Native Americans still take such pride in the late Jim Thorpe’s legendary football and track and field exploits, even though he competed in the 1920s. And it’s why so many black people cried when Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling in 1938.

It’s not about being against another race.

Anyway, here’s hoping Tomlin and the Steelers give Pittsburgh its record sixth Super Bowl trophy. My final-score prediction: Pittsburgh 28, Cardinals 24.

I know Tony Dungy became the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl a few years ago. But he’s still the ONLY one to do it, so it would be great to see Tomlin add to the list.

If that happens, I guess we’d get our Cinderella story after all.

C. Jemal Horton has covered sports for the Washington Post, Indianapolis Star and Charlotte Observer. He currently is group sports editor for Carolina Weekly Newspapers.

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