Sixth sense: Steelers do it the right way
The Steelers, who earned their record sixth title the hard way, do things the right way, Gene Wojciechowski writes.
TAMPA, Fla. -- I don't know if the Pittsburgh Steelers are America's Team. But Sunday night at Heinz Field South, they were Raymond James Stadium's team. They were President Obama's team. Most of all, they were the Vince Lombardi Trophy's team.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to win a Super Bowl? The Steelers have now won a record-breaking six of them, two in the past four years. Fifteen of the NFL's 32 franchises have never won one. Five have never even advanced to the game.
The Steelers defeat the Cardinals 27-23 in one of the most memorable Super Bowls ever.
But I know this: Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, who played this game on a knee and a half ("I can't even describe the pain," Ward said), had to squeeze away tears when talking about team owner Dan Rooney. You think Terrell Owens would get teary-eyed about Jerry Jones?
"I saw Mr. Rooney today and I just broke down,'' said Ward, who started to cry again as he remembered the meeting with the 76-year-old owner.
Safety Troy Polamalu, holding his infant son on his knee, said the Steelers call Rooney "Pops." Turns out Pops makes sure all of his players have his cell phone number -- just in case they ever need him for something. Imagine that.
This is why the Steelers are unlike any other professional sports franchise. They win in ways you can respect. They beat the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in arguably the best Super Bowl game ever, and the Steelers spend the postgame complimenting the other team as much as they compliment their own.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found Cardinals QB Kurt Warner on the field and told him, "It was an honor to play against you." Little-known fact: The first sports autobiography Roethlisberger ever read was Warner's book.
Roethlisberger arrived at the postgame interview room holding the football he used during the final kneel-down of the game. In 2005, when the Steelers won Super Bowl XL, Roethlisberger gave the game ball to teammate Jerome Bettis.
"I'll hold on to this one," Roethlisberger said this time.Santonio Holmes. Perfect throw. Perfect catch. Asked to describe the play, Roethlisberger kept it simple.
"Scramble right. Scramble left. Find somebody open,'' he said. "Somebody got open."
If America is looking for a team, this is it. What's not to like?
The Steelers have won those six Super Bowls with three different coaches. Unlike the Cowboys, the Rooneys don't give their ATM password to big-name free agents. Instead, they draft well (Holmes and Roethlisberger were first-rounders). They sign undrafted free agents well (NFL defensive MVP James Harrison). They hire coaches well (Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin in the past 40 years). And they never, ever pretend they invented the game.
"I think what makes America's Team is that anywhere you go in America, that's your home stadium,'' said safety Ryan Clark. "It's called Steelers Nation for a reason. [The Cowboys] may be called 'America's Team' because they have reality shows. They like to be in the headlines, things like that. But it felt like we were in Pittsburgh tonight.''
There were no in-betweens in Sunday evening's game. It was a strange combination of penalties (18 total) and hair-on-fire moments.
Harrison, cut four different times during his seven-year career, delivered the most amazing play in Super Bowl history -- better than David Tyree's ball-on-helmet catch of a year ago. Harrison's 100-yard, get-me-an-oxygen-tank interception return in the waning seconds of the first half proved to be a 14-point swing: as many as seven lost points for the Cardinals (who had first-and-goal at the Steelers' 1 with 18 seconds remaining) and seven found points for Pittsburgh. An exhausted Harrison collapsed in the end zone after the runback.
"I probably shouldn't have chased him so far trying to block, because I couldn't breathe,'' Clark said. "I wanted to lay down next to him, but I figured since I didn't score, nobody was going to give me any sympathy."
There was Warner completing 31 of 43 passes for 377 yards and three touchdowns, including a 64-yarder to the amazing Larry Fitzgerald with 2:37 left to play. That put the Cardinals ahead 23-20. You could almost feel 70,774 people in the stadium inch toward their seat edges.
And then there was Roethlisberger and Holmes on the final Steelers scoring drive. Earlier Sunday morning, Ward had told Holmes that it was games like this in which players made names for themselves. Ward would know; he was the MVP of Super Bowl XL.
Roethlisberger threw eight passes on the drive, four of them to Holmes. Of the 78 yards covered on the drive, Holmes caught 73 yards' worth. But it was his final catch -- that 6-yarder in the corner of the end zone, where his toes somehow stayed put on the turf -- that won him the MVP, and the Steelers their sixth Super Bowl.
"Where is the celebration?'' Clark shouted after the game. "I am done being dumbfounded that we won."
The celebration will be in Pittsburgh. America's Parade Route.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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