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To avoid repeating the phrase, would having ALT tags be sufficient?
Try a Google search for "Using Background Image to Replace Text" (with quotes).
Put your CSS file off limits to G-bot? Well, you could do that... but perhaps that could be a cue for a little knob-twisting, too.
IIRC CSS doesn't provide a mechanism for specifying the alternate text for an image, so your header text will perform this function without repetition for clients that cannot render the CSS, such as Lynx. Do be sure to test your CSS in multiple clients and at multiple text-sizes; specify minimum dimensions for the element that will ensure that the entire image is displayed.
Finally, I wouldn't worry about being penalized by Google. The content the image replaces is vital to all user agents that do not support CSS and/or images, including screen readers, old browsers, and browsers in which stylesheets have been disabled for readability. This being so, it might actually be illegal (at least in the near future) for Google to restrict access to sites purely on the basis of extended formatting that stands alone from the content, under the various Disability and Discrimination Acts (IANAL).
Use the right element for the right job.
If you wish to use an image for your header, then consider some method that lets you use both an image and a header tag.
then consider some method that lets you use both an image and a header tag
i don't see how much trouble it would be to add a <h1> anyway?
Not saying it is a problem, I was just saying that the way the page was layed out, it didnt seem necessary with the images saying the same thing.