Updated:PITTSBURGH (AP) (AP)ong> - The image of Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas sprinting toward the end zone is seared into Larry Foote's memory.
The moment, however, is not.
It all happened so quickly — Thomas taking Tim Tebow's heave and racing 80 yards on the first play of overtime to give the Broncos a stunning 29-23 wild card victory over the Steelers nine months ago — the Pittsburgh linebacker didn't get the full measure of what it meant until the team was flying home.
"You don't really wake up until you're on the plane saying 'what the heck just happened' and the trainers start going up and down the airplane talking about exit physicals," Foote said. "Then you know it's real and the season is over with."
Yet Foote doesn't view Sunday night's opener on the same field where Pittsburgh's bid for a seventh Vince Lombardi trophy came to an abrupt halt as a chance at revenge. A victory, no matter how dominant, will replace the opportunity the Steelers let slip away.
"A playoff game is a lot bigger," Foote said. "If we go out there and beat them, they're still up on us because they beat us in the playoffs."
Maybe if Tebow was still in Denver, things would be different. Only he's not, instead becoming the highest profile backup quarterback in the NFL for the New York Jets after the Broncos signed Peyton Manning.
Now, what at first looks like a rematch is instead the unveiling of Manning 2.0.
"Peyton stole our shine a little bit and it's about the return of him," Foote said.
You'll hardly see the Steelers complaining. Not only has Manning's presence allowed the Steelers to prepare largely out of the spotlight, it's also allowed them to focus on the future. Denver's offense is so different with the meticulous Manning in the huddle there's really no point in popping in tape of the playoff game.
"We're not dwelling on the past," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "We're focusing on the team that they have now and the things we do good, those are the things we want to bring to the table Sunday night."
Besides, this is the NFL, where revenge doesn't exist.
"The only way to get a revenge game is if you put it in the same situation with the exact same people, with the exact same time and it means the exact same thing," linebacker James Harrison said. "There's no way you can get a revenge game."
A notion that can take awhile to get used to when you get in the league.
"That might be college mentality, getting another crack at somebody," Keisel said. "This league is so competitive and each game is so competitive you really can't think about it. They have a different team, we have a different team and we're just trying to start the season off right."
The Steelers will likely try to do it without Harrison. The four-time Pro Bowler did not practice Thursday while he recovers from minor knee procedure during training camp. Harrison told reporters on Wednesday to "get out of my face" when asked about his condition and Thursday posted a sign at his locker that he would only give updates on Fridays during the season.
If he can't go, he'll be replaced by Chris Carter, who had a very different view of the way last season ended. While his teammates trudged off the field with a dazed look on their face, the then-rookie linebacker stared at the TV set in his Pittsburgh apartment and figured his mind was playing tricks on him.
"I spent the next 10 minutes looking for a flag," said Carter, who was placed on injured reserve the week before the playoff game with a hamstring injury.
One never came, and the Steelers wasted little time moving forward. The 53-man roster includes a dozen players who weren't on the team a year ago and locker room fixtures Hines Ward and James Farrior are long gone.
That doesn't mean it won't be pangs of regret when the Steelers run out of the tunnel on Sunday night. The task at hand, however, is so daunting thinking about what might have been won't do any good.
Besides, given the choice between getting another shot at Tebow or facing Manning — who is 2-2 against the Steelers in his career — Foote will roll the dice against a future Hall of Famer.
"As a competitor I want Peyton Manning," Foote said. "I think everybody in the world is gonna be watching, all my old girlfriends who dumped me, everybody who talked about me, everybody who doubted me. You get a big stage to show your talent."
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