Monday, January 31, 2011

America's Game- The 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers

On the Steelers: Ward puts ring on mentoring

Monday, January 31, 2011
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Morry Gash/Associated Press
Workers put up a picture of Steelers receiver Hines Ward outside Cowboys Stadium in preparation for Super Bowl XLV Sunday in Arlington, Texas.

DALLAS -- This is old hat to "Old Money". Super Bowls? Yes, that too, this being the third for Hines Ward, but he has been mentoring young receivers much longer, since he himself was Young Money.

He mentored rookie Plaxico Burress when Ward was just two seasons ahead of him. Mentored Antwaan Randle El, Santonio Holmes, Limas Sweed. Never, though, has he had such a group as this: second-year receiver Mike Wallace and rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, collectively known as "Young Money".

His words to them ring the same as those he spoke to Burress a decade ago.

"Just be accountable on and off the field," said Wallace, who knows them by heart. "You don't want to put yourself in bad situations because you don't want to embarrass your family, your friends, your teammates.

"On the field be accountable because you don't want to leave your teammates hanging -- you know, get somebody hurt. Make sharp plays, when it could be a touchdown rather than being out there being lazy or not worried about it because you're out there for yourself."

PG VIDEO: THE SEASON IN IMAGES Ward did not wait to see Sanders before he began offering his Hines Way tutorial.

"Hines called me right after I got drafted. He told me 'All right, you have to come up here and work, you have to be willing to block, that's the Pittsburgh way.' I told him I'll do whatever I can to get on the field and help the team win."

Sanders soaked it all in, in the spring, at training camp, all season long.

"You're talking about a 13-year vet, one of the toughest receivers in the game -- ever in my eyes. Not only that, he's smart. He understands the defenses, he understands what the defensive back is thinking, what the linebacker is thinking.

"For me to have an opportunity to come in as a rookie and learn from him -- ohh, just to get under his wings is definitely a lesson and I've been trying to take full advantage."

Ward talked to them before the playoffs began, told the Young Money trio what to expect, what it all meant, told them how everything is magnified, how one third-down catch is worth 15 third-down catches in the regular season. Wouldn't you know that Brown, who caught only 16 passes in the regular season, made the two most important third-down catches in Steelers postseason history, one each near the end to virtually seal victories against the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets.

"I always get a feed off him," said Brown, when asked in Pittsburgh if Ward had yet told the youngsters what to expect in their first Super Bowl visit. "I sit right next to him at meetings. I'm pretty sure he's just going to be talking about keeping your focus sharp. You know what I mean, stay in tune for the game and know what we're here for.

"We're not going there to get caught up in events or distractions, we're going there to win the ballgame. I'm pretty sure he's going to be stressing that and making sure we know our assignments and are error-free."

It bothered Ward that Burress did not always heed his advice, really bothered him when at the first practice after Burress signed his rookie contract a few days late that coach Bill Cowher put Burress (first-round pick in 2000) and Troy Edwards (first-round pick 1999) in the starting lineup. Ward, who led them in receiving in 1999, steamed. He would soon get his starting job back and go on to lead them in receiving every season since except for this one.

Later in the 2000 season, he spotted Burress walking around the team's facility without his playbook. "Where's your playbook?" Ward asked him. Burress told him he only carried it on Thursdays.

"You carry your playbook all the time," Ward told him.

Sanders, standing in front of his locker, was asked the same question the other day. The rookie pointed to a knapsack near his feet that contained his playbook.

"He kind of baby-sat us," Sanders said. "At first, we didn't even understand the playbook and how to set it up because each week we have a different game plan. He told us keep that playbook with you all the time. Go home and study your plays because that's going to help us in the long run."

Although Young Money and Old, they are kindred spirits. Ward still carries the chip on his shoulder that has the words burned into it "third-round draft pick." Wallace and Sanders were also third-rounders and Brown was drafted in the sixth round.

Those are a lot of chips on a lot of receivers' shoulders in the Steelers locker room.

"Yeah, we get to talk a lot and just say we all got overlooked and we're going to make them pay," Wallace said. "So we all feel together on that because we all feel we should have been top 10 picks."

"That's what drives us as players," Brown said. "We don't play this game for fun, we play this game with a chip on our shoulder. All the things I went through off the field drives me on the field to make people believe. That' the hunger and drive you want as a player."

It continues to drive Ward in his 13th season and Wallace hopes it will drive him that long as well, the fact he was overlooked in the first two rounds of the draft.

"Hopefully, I'll be the only one still standing, like Hines. You always want to let people know you were just as good if not better than those guys.

"But that's the past, that's the draft, that was two years ago. I'm in the Super Bowl."

Revenge can have its own reward.

For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette On the Steelers at Ed Bouchette can be reached at

More on the Steelers:

Tomlin terrific on his own-

Packers coach has roots in Greenfield-

A better version of Steelers Roethlisberger

Sunday, January 30, 2011
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Lake Fong/Post-Gazette
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger

There's not much doubt about how Ben Roethlisberger will perform on Super Bowl Sunday. He almost always is at his best in the big games. He's one of the great clutch players in NFL history, 10-2 as a starting quarterback in the postseason with two championship rings. No one should be surprised if he leads the Steelers past the Green Bay Packers and is the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XLV.

The big question is how Roethlisberger will act after the confetti has stopped falling in Cowboys Stadium and the bright lights have been turned out. Win or lose the game, the Big Ben persona will be back, bigger and stronger than ever. From coast to coast -- OK, from Ambridge to Zelienople, at least -- people will be telling Roethlisberger how terrific he is. That's often been a curse for him, not a blessing. It created an ugly sense of entitlement in him. Actually, by his admission, it created something of a monster.

So will the new Big Ben be a kinder, gentler human being after this Super Bowl?

"Absolutely," Roethlisberger said, firmly. "I feel like I've grown up a lot."

This was during a quiet moment in the locker room after practice last week. Roethlisberger talked openly for the first time this season about the old Big Ben and the Big Ben he anticipates being in the weeks, months and years ahead.

"I don't know how to say this without it sounding really bad, but I used to tell my dad and my agent and my closest friends, 'If I can win a Super Bowl or two or three, nobody can say anything to me. I can do anything I want,' " Roethlisberger said. "That's just stupid. I know that now. That's what I mean about growing up. I realize now that I can use the platform I'll have for something good. If I can win a third Super Bowl with this team, can you imagine the possibilities? That's what I'm excited about."

Roethlisberger admitted he had doubts about being in this position again, in another Super Bowl, leading the Steelers to what he hopes is a third title in six seasons. He said it took losing nearly everything to find his "inner peace" at 28. You know the sorry story. Roethlisberger was accused -- but not charged -- in March of sexual assault by a 20-year-old college student in a college bar bathroom in Milledgeville, Ga. His reputation took a beating. He was suspended for the first four games of the season by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for conduct detrimental to the league.

It's a relatively short plane flight from Milledgeville to Dallas, but it must seem like a million miles to Roethlisberger.

"Did I think I might be done playing football? A slight chance," he said. "Did I think I might be done playing here? A slight chance. But I knew it was going to be up to me how I came out of all this. I was going to be the one who determined if I played football again. I never doubted myself. If I changed as a person and became a better person, I thought I'd get another chance. I would have played in the UFL or the Arena League if I had to."

It didn't come to that. The Rooneys stood behind the disgraced Roethlisberger even though their franchise's image also took a big hit. "I just believed that if he got back to being the type of person he really is deep down inside, he is still the type of person we want to be around," team president Art Rooney II said last week. "He hasn't disappointed us."

That trust wasn't lost on Roethlisberger.

"I felt horrible that [the Rooneys] were criticized because of me. That killed me. I know they didn't have to keep me. I've told them many times, 'You stood by me. I appreciate it. I'll always appreciate it.' I've said all along I want to be a Steeler my whole career. I want to retire as a Steeler. I want to go into the Hall of Fame one day as a Steeler ...

"But that's the family side of this organization. It all starts at the top. It's like when you do something wrong and your grandfather tells you, 'I'm so disappointed in you, but I still believe in you and I'm still here for you. I know you're better than this.' That's what families do. They don't give up on each other."

Roethlisberger said he wouldn't have made it back to another Super Bowl if his teammates also hadn't been there to pick him up after he fell. They always liked and respected him on the field. They knew he put a lot of money in their pockets and two championship rings on their fingers. But, off the field, he could be aloof even with them. Big Ben? No, sorry. Big Jerk.

Not anymore.

When the Steelers talk about their veteran leaders, they mention James Farrior, Aaron Smith, Hines Ward and Flozell Adams. They also mention Roethlisberger.

"I love playing with these guys," he said. "That's why I can break my foot and have my nose broken and plastered against my cheek and I'm still going to be out there with them. I don't want to miss a snap. I think maybe that's why I sometimes hold on to the ball too long and take a sack. I don't ever want to give up on a play for those guys."

Winning with and for his teammates and the Rooneys is powerful motivation, Roethlisberger said. But it might not be exactly as you think.

"It would be amazing to win another Super Bowl, but it won't be like I'll say, 'Do you forgive me now?' " Roethlisberger said. "It'll just be another step in earning back everything I lost."

The process has gone a little smoother because Roethlisberger had another fine season. He looked every bit the part of a $102 million franchise quarterback when he came back from his suspension. In the playoffs, he did what he does best -- find a way for the Steelers to win. He completed a 58-yard pass to rookie wide receiver Antonio Brown on third-and-19 to set up the winning touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens. He completed late passes to tight end Heath Miller and Brown to run out the clock against the New York Jets.

You might want to send a thank-you note to Ray Lewis.

Yes, that Ray Lewis.

One of the people Roethlisberger turned to for advice after the Milledgeville incident was the Ravens' great linebacker. Lewis knows something about rebuilding an image. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice in a double-murder case after Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta. That was 11 years ago. Now, Lewis, who just finished his 15th NFL season, isn't just the face of the Baltimore franchise. He's doing national television commercials for a body-wash company.

"He just told me to stay focused on the task at hand," Roethlisberger said.

Here's how Lewis remembered their text exchange: "All you can do is move on. Don't let nobody pull you back into [Milledgeville]. Don't let nobody make you keep talking about it. Once it's done, it's done."

Roethlisberger is expected to follow that advice when he meets the national media this week. He's expected to answer football-related questions and deflect all others. "I'm just going to take it in stride and see what happens."

The scrutiny won't stop for Roethlisberger after the Super Bowl, of course. It's been on him since the Milledgeville incident. It will be on him the rest of his career.

"That's OK. I welcome that," Roethlisberger said. "I want people to see the person I am. I want to earn their trust back. I want kids to wear my jersey. I want to be a role model. I hear guys say they don't care about that stuff, but I do. I want people to like me."

Maybe you're thinking what I'm thinking.

The new Big Ben is off to a pretty good start.

Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

Super Bowl Xtra

On the Steelers: Art Rooney II has pointed the way and his team has followed-

Steelers' secondary faces 'big challenge'-

Steelers' Mendenhall stepping up in status-

Steelers' Kapinos, Suisham didn't expect to be in Super Bowl-

Dapper Dan: Steelers' Greene 'just someone who wanted to win'

Sunday, January 30, 2011
Ray Fittipaldo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Mean Joe Greene was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987, the first member of the Super Steelers of the 1970s to be inducted. The menacing defensive lineman was a two-time NFL defensive player of the year award winner and a 10-time Pro Bowler.

But when it comes to his legacy with the Steelers, Greene wants to be remembered in only one way.

"I was just someone who wanted to win," Greene said.

Now a special assistant with the Steelers, Greene will be honored with the Dapper Dan Lifetime Achievement Award at the charity's Dinner & Sports Auction. The award previously has gone to Arnold Palmer, Joe Paterno, Dick LeBeau and Bruno Sammartino.

Greene's teammates recall his legendary leadership abilities and his desire to win. When he wasn't sacking quarterbacks or landing bone-jarring tackles on running backs, Greene was someone his teammates looked to for guidance.

"I think one of Joe's biggest assets was his leadership," said former Steelers defensive end L.C. Greenwood, who played alongside Greene for 13 years. "He had a desire to win. When Joe came to Pittsburgh, that was his makeup. That's all he ever wanted to do in the game of football. I think that was part of his reluctance to come here in the beginning because the Steelers hadn't won a lot. Joe's entire makeup was about winning."

"He just hated to lose," added former linebacker Andy Russell, who joined the Steelers in 1963. "He would become very agitated and very angry, and he fought like a fanatic. He was an inspiration to all of the older guys when he came in. He absolutely changed the culture. We had become accustomed to losing. We had meetings about why we were losing. We were trying to figure it out. Joe just refused to accept it."

Greene's winning attitude permeated the organization. The Steelers went from league laughingstock to four-time Super Bowl champions with Greene as a centerpiece of the defense. The Steelers won four Super Bowls in a six-year span from 1975-80, but Greene almost did not participate in the first, Super Bowl IX, against the Minnesota Vikings.

"In 1974, we had to play the Oilers in Pittsburgh," Russell recalled. "It was the third-to-last game of the year. If we won, we got in the playoffs. We played a pretty good defensive game. We gave up [13] points. Joe was so upset with our offense that they couldn't score enough points to beat a Houston team that wasn't very highly ranked at the time. After the game he said, 'I'm leaving. I'm going home to Texas.' He was dead serious. ... A couple of us had to talk him out of it."

Greene, the club's first-round draft pick in '69, remembers that.

"I was very disgusted," he said. "... I didn't feel good about us at all. I had packed up a couple of things from my locker and was walking to my car. I passed by the coaches' offices. [Receivers coach] Lionel Taylor saw me. Part of me was saying I just have to get out of here, but another part of me was looking to get talked out of it. Lionel came out and said, 'What's going on?' I told him what I was thinking. He said, 'Well, you're not a quitter, so get back in the locker room.' So that's what I did.

"The next week we found ourselves. We went to New England and won the division championship. Then we beat Cincinnati and then came the playoff games."

After beating Cincinnati in the regular-season finale, the Steelers beat O.J. Simpson and the Buffalo Bills in the first playoff game. In the AFC championship game, the Steelers traveled to Oakland and won to advance to the first Super Bowl in franchise history.

In Super Bowl IX, the Steelers defeated the Vikings, 16-6. The defense led the way as they held the Vikings to 119 total yards.

Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert was the emotional leader of the defense; Greene led in a different way. His teammates didn't have to hear him speak; they needed only to look into his eyes.

"He was a silent leader. ... He would communicate with his eyes. You could tell he was in charge," former Steelers safety Mike Wagner said. " ... Joe was a gentle giant. Jack Lambert was the one who would be screaming and pointing his finger. Joe was quieter, but he would get this look in his eye. When he got that look, all of the players would perk up."

Greene credits the Steelers organization and Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll for a lot of his success. When he was getting into fights and getting thrown out of games as a rookie, other organizations might have become tired of such antics, Greene said.

"The Rooneys and Chuck were able to see around my rough edges," Greene said. "... There aren't too many days that go by when I don't think about Chuck and the effect he had on me. He corralled all of those emotions in me and channeled it into a positive direction."

Once Greene and the Steelers got rolling, they were hard to stop. The team had its first winning season in eight years in 1972 and did not experience another losing season until after Greene retired.

Greene, who works in scouting for the team, is tickled with the success of the current Steelers.

"I would call it Steeler tradition," he said. "... There is an attitude there. It goes back to Chuck, who said 'Refuse to be denied.' I see that in this group as well."

Ray Fittipaldo: or 412-263-1230.

Photo: Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette

Super Bowl Xtra

Two of the NFL's greatest franchises finally meet in Super Bowl-

Titletown eager for Super showdown-

Steelers Nation is global-

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Serby's Sunday Q & A with ... Terry Bradshaw

New York Post
January 30, 2011

The Post's Steve Serby chatted with the Fox "NFL Sunday" studio analyst, who will be working next Sunday's Super Bowl and won four of them as the quarterback of the Steelers.

Q: Your relationship with Ben Roethlisberger?

A: I don't know him. My sense is he doesn't like me. I sense being around him, he doesn't care anything about me or getting to know me.

Q: What did you tell reporters who asked you years back about what you thought of him riding his motorcycle?

A: "Park the motorbike. You can ride it when the season's over. You can drive it into a wall when you retire, nobody will care." Four months later he had that wreck, remember? We don't even have a relationship.

Q: Does that bother you?

A: No! I'm 62 years old, you kiddin' me? The only thing I care about is my family.

Q: Will you sit down with him this week?

A: I've been told we're trying to sit down with him. I'm not sure that he'll sit down with me. I want to sit down and interview him.

Q: What would you ask him?

A: I'll obviously bring up the past offseason, and how it affected his life, and the transition he's made. I'll ask him about everything you think I should ask him about. It could be when I bring it up, he'll tell me, "It's none of your [bleeping] business. I think I have to ask that question and have him tell me to "kiss my [bleep]" . . . It's not personal.

Q: If Art Rooney owned the Steelers, would Big Ben still be the quarterback?

A: I believe if the old man had been alive, he would have traded him. He would not have put up with that. It wasn't all about winning championships with him. He would not have tolerated it. He would have given Ben a chance. The second time, I think, would have been too much.

Q: Roethlisberger the quarterback?

A: He's accurate . . . determined . . . he's poised . . . makes great plays in big games . . . unflappable . . . competitive as hell . . . strong as hell. He's such a throwback. He's a Joe Kapp-Roman Gabriel kinda guy.

Q: Hall of Fame?

A: I think he's in the Hall of Fame now.

Q: Aaron Rodgers?

A: Quickest release I've seen in the NFL . . . great athleticism. He's cool, he's calm. If he had a line he had to cross over, I thought earlier, he couldn't bring his team from behind in either half. Obviously, he has grown in leaps and bounds as a quarterback, so that's a good sign. And he's poised. And he is a good guy, man.

Q: What were your emotions in the tunnel before your first Super Bowl?

A: You hear the crowd roaring outside. Your heart starts racing. You take a deep breath. You try to focus. You go through your opening series of plays. You try to get control of your emotions, which is impossible to do. You can't prepare yourself when you break into those light bulbs. I had a fear of losing. You just say to yourself, "I do not want to lose this game. This is the most awesome feeling I've ever had in my life. I could not imagine walking off this field being world champion. It was almost overwhelming for me.

Q: Advice for Rodgers?

A: Everybody handles things differently. Just find your comfort zone -- everybody has one -- and know how to get to that. Take a deep breath and try to relax. The more stirred-up you are emotionally, the more mistakes you'll make early You won't read coverages well. Your eyes'll be glazed over because of the adrenaline rush. Defensive players are notorious for jumping up and down going nuts. Get away from those people.

Q: Your favorite Super Bowl victory?

A: The first one. I think just because I think we were underdogs, I'd been benched and put back in. Seeing Mr. Rooney get his trophy. (And) the fourth one. You put so much pressure on yourself. I had kinda sensed as a group we'd come to the end of our rope.

Q: Prior to the 2004 NFL Draft, you liked Philip Rivers first, Eli Manning second and Roethlisberger third.

A: Everything about a quarterback I liked, he (Rivers) represented.

Q: How would you rank them now?

A: Ben No. 1, Rivers 2, and Eli 3. Eli doesn't capture me. If someone says to me, "Terry, football game's on tonight, Rivers is the quarterback" -- can't wait. "Terry, football game's on tonight, Roethlisberger is the quarterback" -- can't wait. "Terry, football game's on tonight, Eli is the quarterback" -- I may go find something else to do. He doesn't grab me. It's not his fault. It's mine, I guess. No disrespect toward Eli. It just doesn't work for me with him. Maybe Ben's more my type. Rivers is more my type . . . juicy . . . just kinda roughneck out there. They make things happen.

Q: Mark Sanchez?

A: You know what? He's someone I wouldn't turn the TV on to watch either, but dammit, if he isn't doing a nice job, man. I love his release. He's making better decisions. He's a gamer, as they say. He's only gonna get better and better.

Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana are the only two quarterbacks to have won four Super Bowls. Bradshaw was voted MVP in Super Bowls XIII and XIV.

Q: Were you surprised the Steelers kept Roethlisberger but traded Santonio Holmes?

A: No. He (Dan Rooney) couldn't keep both on the team 'cause now you look like you're running an asylum. Who are you gonna get rid of, a quarterback or a wide receiver?

Q: Troy Polamalu?

A: He's kind of a Jack Lambert at safety.

Q: Clay Matthews?

A: Relentless. Howie (Long) always tells me about technique and shows me. He's got great technique, but he's relentless. He can take on a pulling guard. He can outrun most backs. Could be the two fastest defenses we've seen in a long time.

Q: James Harrison?

A: Would I like playing with that guy! He's scary. I wouldn't even want to interview him. I wouldn't want to (tick) him off (laughs). I interviewed (ex-Packer MLB) Ray Nitschke one time, and CBS had shown me a tape where I put my shoulder down and ran him over in a preseason game.

Q: And you proceeded to remind Nitschke about it?

A: He got up out of his chair and decked me and was laying on top of me! I thought it was a joke. He was serious, my friend!

Q: How long was he on top of you?

A: As long as he wanted! I think it may have been his last season. In other words, he was not in his prime when I did this. I want Ray's family and everyone to know I could never run over Ray Nitschke!

Q: Could Rex Ryan play in Pittsburgh?

A: I don't know, man. He plays well in New York. I think I you're winning, people will overlook and put up with anything, to a certain extent. I don't like all that [junk] -- the Brady, the Belichick, and "we're gonna do this," the "Hard Knocks" thing. I don't get that. I'm old-school too. But he's brought a toughness to his football team and maybe he brought some confidence to a team that was sorely lacking it.

I've been told I would have liked playing for him. That's not how I was raised: You respect your opponent, be kind to your opponent. Kick their (butt) though. It's a different NFL than the one I grew up in. People ask me all the time would I like to still be playing? No. I'm glad I played when I played. I like to go at a slow pace. . . . I can't even call my kids. But I text 'em (chuckles).

Q: Mike Tomlin?

A: He's got a great defensive mind. The best thing you can say about any coach is his players play hard for him. Most good coaches have a plan and they don't deviate from it. He's a typical Pittsburgh coach, and he represents the city the way the city wants to be represented. He understands the tradition of Pittsburgh.

Q: You believe there will be a lockout?

A: Yes.

Q: The owners asking the players to take 18 percent less of the pie.

A: When you give a child a piece of candy, and then you say, "No, no, give it back to daddy," that child will pitch a freakin' fit. That's gonna be a hard sell.

Q: You're in favor of a rookie wage scale?

A: You don't give someone millions of dollars and say, "I hope you earn it. I hope you justify my faith in you." There are too many JaMarcus Russells and Ryan Leafs in the world. You gotta take care of the players who have made the game great and are hurting.

Q: You think the owners should give up the 18-game season?

A: I think (giving it up is) a good idea.

Q: How will the fans react to a lockout?

A: The ratings this year will tell you how (ticked) they're gonna be. We hear the Super Bowl could be moved back next year a couple of weeks. I've heard the season could be pushed back a couple of weeks and this thing could go all the way into the season. Or we could go all the way through August and then have a two-week grace period after they sign it and maybe we miss a couple of games.

Q: Which former Super Bowl teammates do you stay in touch with?

A: Joe Greene; Franco Harris.

Q: What about Lambert?

A: He still scares me to this day. Jack's someone I stayed away from. I never thought he liked me. He intimidated me, and I just left him alone. I stayed away from him.

Q: Glad you didn't have to play against the Steel Curtain?

A: I played against 'em in practice; I scrimmaged against 'em. I don't even know if I ever completed a pass.

Q: Michael Strahan?

A: I named him Red Carpet because he knows every celebrity. He's fun to make fun of, and it catches him off guard when you put him in his place because he's just not used to it, 'cause quite honestly, he is a megastar. He's larger-than-life, got a monstrous personality. We take great pride in everybody getting a verbal beating who comes on our show.

Q: Strahan and Jimmy Johnson eventually will be joining you and Howie (Long) in the Hall of Fame.

A: And then we'll get Curt (Menefee) in the Broadcasting Hall of Fame!

Q: Super Bowl prediction?

A: I'm a Pittsburgh guy. I'm gonna pick Pittsburgh, even if I thought the other team was gonna win.

Q: Score?

A: I think it could be like 31-27.

America's Game- The 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers teams of past, present linked by pedigree

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ben Roethlisberger has helped the Steelers continue the run of success that began in the 1970s, when the franchise won four Super Bowls. Roethisberger has won two Super Bowls as a starting quarterback and has a chance for a third next week in Dallas.
(Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review)

Mahogany shelves are filled with neatly lined books. Pictures that cover an adjacent wall also tell the history of the Steelers.

But what makes the second-floor room at Steelers headquarters one of the most unique libraries on the planet: Six Lombardi Trophies are displayed in a row, and they have the same effect as a six-car pile-up on the Parkway.

"I don't ever walk by without looking at them," Steelers receiver Hines Ward said. "I just stop, and you look at being a part of this history, of being a part of this organization. It's a special feeling to be a part of this."

If the Steelers win another Lombardi Trophy next Sunday in Dallas, they will have to confront the welcome problem of where exactly to put it. Room in the space reserved for NFL dynasties may also have to be found if the Steelers beat the Green Bay Packers at Cowboys Stadium.

A Steelers win would give them three Super Bowl titles in six years. A victory over the Packers would also stir talk about whether this current group ranks with the 1970s teams that won four Super Bowls in six seasons.

Such a question makes for good bar-stool banter. But it misses the point, one that is made by something as simple as Steelers legend Franco Harris showing up for a charity event run by Ward.

The Steelers' past and their present are not in competition with one another.

"One thing that I always wondered and always hoped for: Will they keep what we built going? They have, and that makes me so proud," Harris, the MVP of Super Bowl IX, said. "I always tell people that it's not us and them. It's one big family and it's just evolution. It's not us against them because they're just our younger generation and we're a part of them, and they're a part of us."

Personnel prowess

The Steelers of the 1970 were built with some of the best drafts in NFL history, including the '74 one that netted four future Pro Football Hall of Famers.

The success of this current group can be traced, in part, to the fact that the Steelers have not missed on a first-round draft pick since 1999. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and strong safety Troy Polamalu are among the players that the Steelers have taken with their top selections during that time.

"The two keys have been the defense and the quarterback during the period of time," former NFL general manager Charley Casserly said of the Steelers' current run.

What has also set the Steelers apart during a the salary cap era: They have had an uncanny knack for identifying core players to keep and not overpaying their own free agents.

"You don't ever see them make bad decisions on players they give money to," said Casserly, now an NFL analyst for several TV networks.

That has allowed the Steelers to enjoy as much success in the 2000s as any team, including the New England Patriots.

The two are the only franchises to win multiple Lombardi Trophies this century. The Steelers are one win away from tying the Patriots for the most Super Bowl victories during that time.

New England won its three titles in a four-year period but that run may have been tainted by the "Spygate" scandal — and still lingering questions about how much the Patriots benefited from illegal videotaping.

"In the last 10 years we've been to five AFC Championship Games, and the two times we didn't go to the Super Bowl (the Patriots) cheated so we could be looking at a whole lot more if that didn't happen," nose tackle Casey Hampton said of the Steelers' Super Bowl victories. "You never know what could have been."

Franco Harris says the Steelers' past and present are linked, not separated. "I always tell people that it's not us and them," Harris said. "It's one big family and it's just evolution. It's not us against them because they're just our younger generation and we're a part of them, and they're a part of us."
(Associated Press)

Figuring out the Steelers' place in their era — as well as in history — will have to come after Super Bowl XLV.

"We've got to finish the job," Hampton, a first-round draft pick in 2001, said. "You can't compare yourselves to the '70s team since we've got two and haven't won another one. If we win it, then we can start talking about that. When you're that close to history you want to reach the goals and do the things that they did."

In an attempt to make history the Steelers frequently draw on their own — and specifically what the teams in the 1970s accomplished and the bar that they set.

"I like it when (coach) Mike Tomlin talks about the standard and this is what we stand for, this is who we are, this is what we're trying to achieve," said Harris, who served as the Steelers' honorary co-captain for the AFC Championship Game. "To be able to keep something at that level for that long is a lot tougher than all of the other teams trying to get there."

'Once in, always in'

If the accomplishments of the '70s teams don't hang over the current players, that is because the past is still very much present.

Many of the ex-players are still in contact with the organization, and that has prevented them from morphing into mythical beings whose accomplishments can never be matched.

The alumni dinner that the Steelers hold after the first day of minicamp practice gives rookies a chance to meet the players who came before them.

It is not uncommon to see Hall of Famer Mel Blount in his trademark cowboy hat at the Steelers' practice facility. And perhaps the greatest Steelers player of them all, Joe Greene, works in the organization's scouting department.

"Seeing those guys and the love they have and the respect they show us when they see us is great, because they don't have to," Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said. "They started all of this. For them to always be so excited about us and to be so complimentary of the things we're doing is amazing. It's a fraternity almost. Once in, always in."

The Steelers players often talk of themselves as family, and that reflects the spirit of the team's late founder, Art "The Chief" Rooney.

The glass wall outside of the library at team headquarters wasn't built just so the Steelers could showcase their Lombardi Trophies.

It was constructed as an ode to Rooney and the open-door policy he adhered to as the Steelers' owner.

The library is filled with black and white photographs that hung in Rooney's old office at Three Rivers Stadium. But the trophies — and the picture displays that are behind them — dominate the room and give it the feel of a shrine.

Almost every Steelers player can recall the first time he saw all of the Lombardi Trophies together.

Mike Wallace took a picture of them. Emmanuel Sanders said a prayer.

No, really.

"I said, 'God, please bless me with the opportunity to be hoisting one of these one day,' " the rookie wide receiver said.

Not long after that, the Steelers issued the No. 88 to Sanders.

He immediately balked at the number — not because it had been Hall of Famer Lynn Swann's.

Sanders had wanted a number in the teens. After Ward told him about the significance of what he was given, Sanders researched Swann on the Internet.

Sanders, who grew up outside of Houston, didn't even know who Swann was before getting drafted by the Steelers.

Now, he is well aware of what players like Swann mean to the Steelers.

"This is the greatest organization in football. You can tell that guys embrace it and love to be around the Steelers franchise," said Sanders, who hopes to meet Swann soon. "Once you're a Steeler, you're always a Steeler."

That is essentially what Harris, one of the most beloved Steelers ever, tells people when asked about his teams — and the ones that have continued the legacy started in the '70s.

"I won't compare," Harris said. "This is just an extension of who we are. They are me, and I am them."

Read more: Steelers teams of past, present linked by pedigree - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Saturday, January 29, 2011

America's Game- The 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers

Polamalu: Experience won't help Steelers; past suggests otherwise

By Don Banks
January 28, 2011

TAMPA, FL - Troy Polamalu #43 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates as confetti falls after they 27-23 win against the Arizona Cardinals during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Super Bowl XLV will pit the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Green Bay Packers on February 6, 2011. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

One of the most popular and oft-repeated angles to this year's Super Bowl will be the experience factor, namely the idea that the Steelers, with their three trips to this game in the past six seasons, hold a sizable advantage in that regard over the Packers, who last played on this stage 13 years ago.

But Troy Polamalu isn't buying it. The all-world safety is one of 10 current Steelers who were on both the 2005 and 2008 Pittsburgh clubs that won rings, and all told 25 Steelers have played in a Super Bowl, with 14 of the team's 22 starters earning at least one NFL championship in Pittsburgh.

Polamalu doesn't happen to believe any of that will help the Steelers add to their jewelry collection. Pittsburgh's roster may be dotted with Super Bowl champions, while the Packers have none, (and only Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett have even played in the game), but those are just words printed on a page. Super Bowl experience is overrated, said the man with the NFL's most famous hair.

"Given the way the Giants beat the Patriots, or the Saints beat the Colts, or the way the Buffalo Bills lost four straight, you can't put too much into that,'' Polamalu told me late Sunday night in the Steelers' postgame locker room, showing a pretty good grasp of Super Bowl history. "I'll tell you what is a big advantage. It has nothing to do with playing in Super Bowls, but it has everything to do with playing in big games, whether it's rivalry games or whatever.

"I know every game we play with Baltimore is like a playoff atmosphere, and what I mean by playoff atmosphere is that every single play is like a chess match. You know the meaning of what even one play can be. One play can change everything. Tonight [meaning the Steelers' AFC title game win over the Jets] was a great example of that. Every play was a situational football play for us, just like it was last week against Baltimore [in the divisional round]. If you play in enough of those type of games, you learn how to play in big games.''

Polamalu makes a great point, but I can't help but notice that Pittsburgh's Super Bowl track record in particular doesn't exactly support his case. Two years ago, the Steelers beat the first-time Super Bowl qualifying Arizona Cardinals in Tampa. In Super Bowl XL, five years ago in Detroit, Seattle was making its first appearance in the league's showcase game, while the victorious Steelers hadn't been in 10 years and really only had Super Bowl experience on their Bill Cowher-led coaching staff. We'll call it a wash, since the Seahawks' Mike Holmgren had two Super Bowl trips on his head coaching résumé.

But in Super Bowl XXX, which followed the 1995 season, the Steelers were the Super Bowl novices of sorts, and they lost to the vaunted Dallas Cowboys, who already had two recent rings at that point. It was roughly the same story on the experience front when the 1979 Steelers earned their fourth ring by beating the Rams, a club making its first Super Bowl trip in franchise history.

Maybe Polamalu is right, and Pittsburgh's Super Bowl experience won't be a factor in the game's XLV version. But having been there and done that has likely helped some teams in the Super Bowl, while inexperience under the NFL's brightest spotlight has probably hurt others. It's just that no such angle is foolproof, so you can't count on experience making a difference every time. Maybe it'll show up in Pittsburgh's favor down in Texas, and maybe it won't.

Experience aside, every Super Bowl trip is unique, Polamalu said. "It's such a fun process, it really is. But getting there and winning it are two different stories.''

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 23: Troy Polamalu reacts after the Steelers stopped the New York Jets on the goal line on the fourth down in the fourth quarter of the 2011 AFC Championship game at Heinz Field on January 23, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Pittsburgh's path this season has certainly been different. When the Steelers opened 2010 facing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's four-game suspension, few in Pittsburgh were thinking the Super Bowl was their inevitable destination. And when the Steelers were dismantled at home by the Patriots, 39-26 in Week 10, their ascension to the top of the AFC heap looked anything but assured.

"This journey has certainly been much different,'' Polamalu said. "But if we're able to win it, we'll see then. As Coach [Mike] Tomlin says, the AFC championship, it's just a piece of the hardware that you pick up along the way. Quite honestly, the Lamar Hunt [trophy] is meaningless when you're going to the Super Bowl. It's all about that trophy [the Lombardi].''

Polamalu, of course, meant no offense to Hunt, his well-respected NFL family, or the trophy that is named in honor of the longtime Kansas City Chiefs owner. He was just saying that in the NFL, the ring's the thing, and the only ring that matters is the one you get as Super Bowl champion. And in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers own a league-record six Super Bowl titles in seven appearances, they know that better than anywhere else.

To get that seventh ring, Polamalu and the Steelers have to get past a team with a hot quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) and an aggressive 3-4 defense that looks and plays positively Pittsburgh-like. When the teams met late last season, at Heinz Field, Rodgers was superb in a thrilling 37-36 loss to the Steelers. But Roethlisberger was even better, throwing for a career-best 503 yards and the game-winning 19-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Mike Wallace as time expired. Polamalu missed that game with the knee injury that cost him much of 2009, but he was on hand and saw Rodgers pick apart the Pittsburgh defense for 383 yards and three touchdowns.

"To be able to put that many points up on our defense, you've got to really play well as a quarterback, because people aren't going to run the ball down our throats,'' Polamalu said. "So we know he's been very hot this postseason and we have a huge challenge ahead of us, especially given that they're a very balanced team.

"They've got a really awesome defense. The fact is you could switch half our players with half their players and we could both run the exact same defense. I guarantee you that we could swap safeties and run the exact same defense. You could definitely swap anyone on our defense and still play.''

With Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers and Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau being friends, former co-Pittsburgh coaches in the early '90s and proponents of the same 3-4 scheme, Polamalu is not exaggerating. The soft-spoken eighth-year veteran said while he wouldn't trade the Steelers' set of starting linebackers for anyone else's, facing Green Bay is a little like playing an opponent that's a mirror image of the Steelers.

"Whenever you play teams like that, it's about matching their defense's intensity, and it's about outplaying their defense,'' Polamalu said. "You just know with the nature of these type of games, it's never going to allow for a blowout. We know with the nature of our style of ball, it's always going to come down to the very end.''

That has indeed been the pattern in Pittsburgh. The Steelers' divisional-round comeback win over Baltimore came down to the bitter end. As did last week's AFC title-game conquest of the Jets, when Pittsburgh rolled the dice and risked having Roethlisberger throw the ball on third down to record the game-clinching first down. Polamalu loved the moxie that move showed.

"Conventional wisdom would be to run the ball, to burn the clock and leave it on your defense,'' Polamalu said. "But it depends on if you have a killer mentality or not in this game. It paid off for us, because we do have that mentality.

"I went up and I asked [Tomlin], 'What are we doing, what are we doing?' Then he said, 'We're passing the ball,' so I went to the sidelines and said, 'Guys, we're passing the ball. So get ready, in case it doesn't happen.' But getting that first down is as good as scoring a touchdown. That won the game.''

And with one more win next Sunday night, against a Packers team that hasn't played in a game this big for quite a while, the Steelers and the city of Pittsburgh will have themselves another parade to plan and execute. After all these years, and all these Super Bowl trips, maybe that's where Pittsburgh's experience pays off most.

Read more:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Pittsburgh Steelers: Road to Super Bowl XLV

Investigating 'The Polamalu Effect'

By Johnette Howard
Thursday, January 27, 2011

Six-time Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu dislikes personal praise so intensely, it was no surprise to anyone who follows the Pittsburgh Steelers that the loudest critic of his fellow players' recent decision to vote him their team MVP was Polamalu himself. Polamalu is such a genuinely humble and spiritual man, he could also do without any more talk about what's come to be known as "The Polamalu Effect." In fact, "I'd rather not talk at all," he recently told an interviewer.

Troy Polamalu makes the Steelers' defense look better when he's on the field, and it's not just because of his hair.(Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

We're here to help. With all the Steelers -- not just Polamalu -- about to be staring down the barrel of more over-the-top attention when they arrive in Dallas on Monday for Super Bowl XLV, their third trip to the title game in six years, we decided to marshal a team of stat geeks, NFL insiders, game-tape decoders and testimony from other NFL players in the three days since Pittsburgh beat the Jets on Sunday for the AFC title. Their mission: See if there isn't indeed a way to leave the poor guy alone already, and prove the Polamalu Effect is breathless hooey.

Isn't that right, Trent Dilfer, victorious quarterback in Super Bowl XXXV, now a crackerjack ESPN TV analyst who still goes bleary-eyed dissecting game film (for fun!). Dilfer constantly mines the brains of coaches and players around the league. So what does Dilfer think of the Polamalu Effect?

"Well, I'm from the [no-nonsense] Bill Parcells mode," Dilfer began.


"And I really, really try not to just throw around words like 'great' and 'the best!' and 'fantastic' and 'unstoppable' as much as other people," Dilfer added. "I just don't believe in it."

Just the kind of guy Polamalu and I are looking for!

"But I have to tell you, I've played against Troy, I've studied him, and I can't find any flaws that jump out," Dilfer said. "I have yet to find something in Troy that you can [use to] neutralize him. … So, to me, no -- it is not possible to overstate his greatness."

Perhaps I wasn't clear.

Not. What. We're. Looking. For.

The statistic that's most often thrown out to support the Polamalu Effect is the Steelers' record. They are 6-7 in games Polamalu has missed over the past two seasons, but an eye-popping 16-4 in games he has played. That seems like a crazy impact for a non-quarterback to have, right?

Surely an examination of the Steelers' win-loss record without Ben Roethlisberger, who will tie the great Tom Brady's total of three Super Bowl rings if Pittsburgh beats Green Bay, will show that -- why, um … Huh. The Steelers actually have a winning record (3-2) without Roethlisberger the past two seasons but they were minus-one without Polamalu. That's a two-game swing. And the pattern is the same if you look at Big Ben's entire career: Pittsburgh is plus-two (7-5) without him.

Never mind.

The evidence we were able to collect (games missed with injuries) suggests Troy Polamalu is not a robot and this is just a fan with time on his hands.(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Time to get more sophisticated and go to what our stat geniuses call "The Next Level."

The other oft-used numbers to support the Polamalu Effect: Over the past two seasons the Steelers have given up an average of 21.5 points in games without Polamalu versus only 14.5 ppg -- a full touchdown less! -- in games he has played.

But all those numbers could just be a quirk screaming for more context, right?

To find out, our KC Joyner, aka "The Football Scientist," stayed up all night Tuesday crunching the numbers because, well, he stays up all night anyway, if you must know -- he says he gets more work done that way (which may sound heroic to our unsuspecting bosses back at headquarters, but perhaps not to a confessed late-night Shopping Network addict like myself who suspects … never mind; perhaps I've already said too much).

When KC said he'd review the Steelers' 2008 and 2009 seasons from the perspective of what level of quarterback competition they were facing -- "This oftentimes explains a spike or decrease in a player or team performance," he explained -- it felt like a Eureka moment. The Polamalu Effect seemed about to go down when bright and early Wednesday morning, the e-mail I got back from KC began, "Hey there, got something that actually wasn't what might be expected …"

KC wrote: "The 2009 Steelers defense should feasibly have been able to post similar numbers even if Polamalu's backup was only a step or so worse. Now here's the odd part. The Steelers' opposing passers in 2008 had an overall passer rating of 84.7 with Polamalu in the lineup. The Steelers opposing passer rating without him in 2009 -- you guessed it -- 84.7, exactly the same as the year before." Meaning? "Pittsburgh's competition in those years was such that the Steelers' defense should have been able to post similar numbers even without Polamalu," KC said.

But the Steelers' defense got worse. In 2009, Polamalu missed 11 games, and the Steelers surrendered 4.66 yards per play with him, 5.39 without him; they gave up 3.40 yards per rush with him, 4.31 per rush without him. Turnovers? Two per game with Polamalu, only one per game without him. (In a word: Eek!)

The bottom line? "This says a ton about his true value," Joyner concluded, "and goes further than the W/L column in explaining his [enormous] impact."

Oh dear.

So what does all this mean for disproving the Polamalu Effect? We haven't even gotten to the anecdotal evidence of Polamalu's greatness: The four straight weeks this season when his big plays propelled the Steelers to wins. His strip sack of Joe Flacco in the December nail-biter that won Pittsburgh the AFC North title, which ensconced the team at home for its entire playoff run once New England lost. How about his swan dive over the Tennessee offensive line to tackle Kerry Collins at the goal line in Pittsburgh's season opener? Dilfer mentions Polamalu's uncanny intuition, his lighting speed and decision-making, his reckless, self-sacrificing style, and how Polamalu is a master at disguising his intentions before each snap. This season, Polamalu was second in the NFL with seven interceptions despite missing two games with an Achilles injury.

Troy Polamalu would rather duck and deflect praise.(David Dermer/Getty Images)

Conclusion: Only five days remain for Polamalu to get in touch with the idea that he's as great as everyone says he is. Super Bowl media day is Tuesday.

There is one glimmer of hope Polamalu could come around.

Even though Polamalu does seek out personal audiences with spiritual gurus and visit monasteries in his down time, even though the New York Times did recently report that Polamalu numbers "Counsels From the Holy Mountain" by a Greek Orthodox monk named Elder Ephraim among his favorite books, Polamalu did allow Lloyd's of London to insure his luxuriant black hair for $1 million now that he stars in some self-spoofing dandruff shampoo commercials.

Of course, it's hard to spin even that into some proof of vanity. Earlier this season, after Polamalu recklessly lateraled the ball in the excitement of running back an interception -- Pittsburgh recovered the fumble -- he then had this to say to a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter after the Steelers' 23-7 win over Cincinnati:

"First and foremost, I want to apologize for that play at the end of the game," Polamalu said. "It was incredibly arrogant and selfish. I represent something bigger than myself -- my faith, my family, and this team. I'll try to never let that happen again."

But, Polamalu was reminded, what about that touchdown you scored on your first interception of the game?

"Let's focus just on the negative," Polamalu answered bleakly. Then he finally cracked a small smile.

Steelers' defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, a Hall of Fame defensive back himself, says he lets Polamalu freelance because Polamalu is unique. Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes played four years with Polamalu before going against him twice this season, and he had this to say about Polamalu before the AFC title game: "He's probably the greatest player I've ever played with or even seen in person."

Polamalu has that kind of sway over everything: the stats, his own team, the players and coaches he faces. Meaning? After studying the evidence about the Polamalu Effect, the only reasonable conclusion for whatever non-believers remain is do what most everyone else does.

Give in.

Johnette Howard is a contributing columnist to and, and is the author of "The Rivals: Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova, Their Epic Duels and Extraordinary Friendship." She can be reached at

Penguins' Fleury savors all-star spot

Friday, January 28, 2011
By Dave Molinari, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has a 2.19 goals against average this season.

Not everyone gets excited about playing in an NHL All-Star Game.

Sure, it is an honor, but some guys would prefer to have a few days off so they could rest for what remains of the season, ideally, on a beach where the only ice would be found in tall glasses.

And, it is easy to understand how that's more appealing than devoting a weekend to signing autographs, mingling with league sponsors and participating in a game of absolutely no consequence.

Some players don't see it that way, though.

Witness, Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

"I always loved to watch the skills competition and the game when I was a kid," he said. "And when I made it to the NHL, I said, 'One day, I want to go.' "

That day is here.

Although Fleury won't know until tonight which team he will play for -- all-star captains Nicklas Lidstrom and Eric Staal will select the two squads in classic pickup game style -- simply being selected to take part in the game, which will be played Sunday in Raleigh, N.C., allows him to cross something off his professional to-do list.

Fleury is one of four Penguins picked for the game in fan-voting -- defenseman Kris Letang and centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are the others, although the latter two will miss the event because of injuries -- but almost surely would have been selected by the NHL's hockey operations department if the public hadn't chosen him.

After a terrible start, in which he lost six of his first seven decisions, Fleury has been outstanding, going 22-5-2 and climbing into the top five in the league in save percentage (.925) and goals-against average (2.19) after a 1-0 victory Tuesday against the New York Islanders.

Fleury has elevated his game to some dizzying heights at various points in his career, but never has he played as well for as long as he has since mid-November.

"It's been 2 1/2 months now when I would break down game after game, and there's not a bad game in there," goaltending coach Gilles Meloche said.

By early November, a significant segment of the Penguins' fan base was demanding that Fleury be traded. A few months from now, if he continues to perform the way he has lately, those same people might be collecting money to erect a statue of him.

A stunning turnaround, to be sure, but one Meloche said has a pretty simple explanation.

"He worked hard at it," he said. "Give him credit. He stayed positive. We know he has enough talent to do what he's doing now. He's just applying it, day in and day out."

If precedent is any indication, Fleury can expect to give up three or four or five goals Sunday because there generally is no hitting and even less defense in All-Star games.

Fleury acknowledged with a smile and a shrug the likelihood of having a GAA that looks more like the GNP, and it is unlikely anything that happens Sunday will have a meaningful effect on him. He has been too confident, too fundamentally sound, to fret about a game in which goals can come by the dozen.

If there is any all-star-related concern, it is that Fleury's rhythm could be disrupted by going a week between meaningful games.

A year ago, he was the No. 3 goalie for Canada at the Olympics, and, while Fleury returned from Vancouver with a gold medal, he didn't bring his "A" game back with him.

Fleury refused to blame the Games for his often lackluster play in the stretch drive and playoffs -- "It was an amazing experience," he said. "It's not like I was sitting at home on the couch," -- but Meloche said the limited work Fleury got there clearly had an impact.

"He told me that if he got 10 or 15 minutes of shots a day, that was it," Meloche said. "Their [practice] time was really limited. That set him back, doing nothing for two weeks."

Both insisted they are not concerned the all-star break will cause Fleury problems -- "It's just four or five days," Meloche said -- and even feel it should work to his benefit.

"You have to think about the long run, maybe, more than the short," Fleury said. "The break will be nice, even though I'll go to the all-stars.

"It's two days. It's not really hard work. I think it will be a good rest. Then, when it comes playoff times, it helps."

For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at Dave Molinari:

Read more:

America's Game- The 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers

Emily McVicker - Here We Go

Tim Ruff - Walking in Pittsburgh

Flower Mound's Mean Joe Greene: Current Steelers carrying my legacy

Dallas Morning News
Published 28 January 2011 12:18 AM

Steeler defensive tackle Joe Greene displays his number 75 jersey after he announced his retirement (2/10/82). Greene was the foundation used by coach Chuck Noll to build four Super Bowl Champion teams.

PITTSBURGH — Mean Joe Greene , a Pro Football Hall of Famer and founding member of the Pittsburgh Steelers' Steel Curtain defenses of the 1970s, endorses the current Steelers D.

From linebacker James Harrison — "he's still on a mission," Greene said — to bushy-haired safety Troy Polamalu , whom Greene complimented as a throwback player who lets his playmaking do his talking, the contemporary shutdown defense reflects the modus operandi the Steelers' empire was built on. The unit has lifted the team into Super Bowl XLV against Green Bay on Feb. 6 at Cowboys Stadium.

"I'm a fan of theirs," said Greene, a native Texan who played at North Texas and lives in Flower Mound . The former defensive tackle serves as a scout for the Steelers, with whom he won four Super Bowls in six seasons in the late '70s.

Current Steelers are relentlessly reminded about Pittsburgh's snarling defensive greatness of Greene's Era. Playing in their third Super Bowl in six seasons, it's something they embrace.

"We want to uphold that tradition somewhat," Harrison said after a recent practice at the Steelers' snowy South Side headquarters.

"So far, so good," cornerback Ike Taylor said. "We know the guys in the 1970s were mean sons of guns. We're trying to do that the same way.

"It's about being physical. Coach [Mike Tomlin] always says throw the first punch, lay the first hit."

The Steelers led the NFL in rushing defense in 2010 , allowing 62.8 yards per game — impressive even for them in their specialty. They ranked first in scoring defense (14.5 points per game) and sacks (48), second in total defense (276.8 yards per game), third in takeaways (35) and 12th against the pass (214.1 yards per game).

In the AFC championship win over the New York Jets, the Steelers withstood the Jets' second-half surge in part because of a defensive touchdown late in the first half and a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter.

In the divisional playoff against Baltimore, the Steelers forced three turnovers in the third quarter to spur a come-from-behind win.

Tomlin is a former defensive coordinator. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, 73, in the seventh season of his second stint with the Steelers, entered the Hall of Fame in August. The whole team took the bus ride to Canton, Ohio for the induction.

Beloved for his zone-blitzing 3-4 scheme and consistently strong defenses, LeBeau received tributes from players and fans. A poster on Carson Street features his face accompanied by the word "Blitz."

Harrison, Polamalu and defensive end Brett Keisel were chosen for the Pro Bowl. Harrison, who was fined four times for a total of $125,000 during the season for dangerous hits, registered 101/2 sacks and 100 tackles. Polamalu had seven interceptions despite missing two games with an ankle injury.

To win the franchise's seventh Super Bowl title, the current Steelers will have to limit Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his deep fleet of receivers. Rodgers is "hot as fish grease right now," linebacker James Farrior said. "We've all got a lot of confidence in Dick LeBeau that he's going to come up with something."

The secondary has been called the Steelers' defensive weakness, which has riled some players. Well, here's the chance to clear it up.

"I'm done being disrespected, I'm done even caring," safety Ryan Clark said. "Maybe the other six or seven people on the field are that much better than everybody else that they can overcome us being so terrible. Maybe we're all right. Either way, it doesn't matter.

"This group can say it's played two or three Super Bowls together. I think we're doing all right."

Another Super Bowl ring would indicate that's the case, moving the Steelers closer to what those vaunted defenses of the past accomplished. Greene, who said he wants the Steelers to play well so much that he physically feels the ups and downs of games, will be at Cowboys Stadium to take it all in.

"It's unfair to us, and it's unfair to them," Greene said of comparing the eras. "I'm so happy that they're here and can get a third ring. ... If this group can put their third up, then we can start seriously talking about it. ... They are carrying the legacy further, and that's what's wonderful about it."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

America's Game- The 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers

The Packers and the Steelers Broke the Hearts of the Cowboys

The New York Times
January 26, 2011

DEC. 31, 1967- The Packers' Herb Adderley (26) reaching for the ball after a fumble by Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith in the N.F.L. championship game known as the Ice Bowl. (AP)

PITTSBURGH — The meeting of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV will be many things. A matchup of two of the N.F.L.’s most storied franchises. A throwdown between dominant defenses. A road trip extraordinaire to Dallas for devoted fans bearing Terrible Towels and Cheeseheads.

And an absolute nightmare for the Cowboys and their fans, whose distaste for the Washington Redskins might be superseded by only their hatred for the Packers, who prevented them from playing in Super Bowls I and II, and for the Steelers, who beat them in Super Bowls X and XIII. The Super Bowl that the Dallas owner Jerry Jones hoped would include the home team playing at Cowboys Stadium instead features two guests as unwanted in Dallas as bedbugs.

“Isn’t it great?” said Dave Robinson, a linebacker for the Packers teams that beat the Cowboys in the N.F.L. championship games that sent the Cowboys home.

“They were always the bridesmaids when we were playing,” Robinson said. “I rooted for the Cowboys, because I knew we could beat the Cowboys. Every time I heard ‘America’s Team,’ it ticked me off.”

The Packers and the Steelers go back a lot further than the Cowboys — they first met in the 1933 season — but until now they have never played each other in the postseason, and do not have the rivalry with each other that they do with Dallas.

Those two rivalries might be best summed up by a classic moment from Super Bowl X. Steelers kicker Roy Gerela had just missed a 33-yard field goal when Dallas free safety Cliff Harris patted Gerela on the helmet and said, “Way to go.” Middle linebacker Jack Lambert took exception, lifted Harris off his feet and flung him to the ground. After the game, Steelers Coach Chuck Noll shrugged it off. “Jack Lambert is a defender of what is right,” he said.

“If you went to a Dallas fan, and you said, ‘Who are the teams you most dislike?’ it would be Pittsburgh and Green Bay,” said Gil Brandt, the former Cowboys personnel executive.

Brandt admits that the Cowboys’ losses to the Packers — particularly in the famed Ice Bowl at the end of the 1967 season — were defining games for the N.F.L. and helped mold the image of the Packers. And Brandt noted that the Steelers dynasty of the 1970s and 1980’s began in large part because the patriarch of the Steelers, Art Rooney, declined to trade the first overall pick in the 1970 draft to the Cowboys who, in addition to other teams, wanted to move up. The target of both teams’ ardor: Terry Bradshaw.

“We offered a great package and Mr. Rooney said, ‘If this is worth so much to you and everybody else, I’ll keep the choice,’ ” Brandt said in a telephone interview. “Prior to that, they were a team that gave away choices for old players.”

JAN. 18, 1976- Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach scrambled to get away from Dwight White during Super Bowl X at the Orange Bowl. (Joe Caneva/Associated Press/File 1976)

In Dallas this week, as the laser light shows get their final run-throughs and the party planners stay up all night, Brandt and Roger Staubach, the great Cowboys quarterback, were talking. Brandt reminisced about how the Cowboys were late getting to the Orange Bowl in Miami for Super Bowl X when the Steelers’ buses took a wrong turn and wound up in a dead end, getting the players to the game just one hour before kickoff.

For Staubach, the memories are not so funny. He remembers a third-down pass dropped in the end zone during Super Bowl XIII by Jackie Smith in a game the Cowboys lost, 35-31. And a last-second pass during Super Bowl X intended for Percy Howard, a rarely used receiver who had already caught one touchdown pass in that game, that was broken up. The Cowboys lost, 21-17.

“As Roger said, if the rules had been the same then as they are today, they would never have been able to defend it,” Brandt said. “It was karate chopped by Mel Blount.”

No wonder the Pittsburgh announcer Myron Cope, the father of the Terrible Towel, nicknamed Staubach’s team “The Dallas Cryboys,” a handle that still resonates here.

The Cowboys recovered, of course. They had won Super Bowls VI and XII — had they beaten the Steelers in X and XIII, it would have been a Cowboys dynasty of the late 70s, instead of the Steelers. And they won three out of four Super Bowls in the 1990s, including Super Bowl XXX over Pittsburgh.

During much of that time, the Packers struggled to have winning seasons. Robinson acknowledges that some of those Cowboys teams were very good, although he prefers to think that it was more a matter of the Packers not being good, rather than the Cowboys being outstanding. The Cowboys have won five Super Bowls, one fewer than the Steelers.

Still, the Cowboys’ star would gleam a lot brighter if it had not been for the Packers and the Steelers.

Jack Ham, the former Steelers linebacker, runs into Staubach occasionally, and Staubach still talks about a play that involved a double-level passing route — a crossing route and a deep post route. A Steelers safety jumped the crossing route and intercepted Staubach.

“To this day, Staubach says, ‘That post was wide open,’ ” Ham said. “We played in a charity tennis game in Dallas, and at one point I said to Roger, ‘You’ve got to let it go or get therapy.”

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

America's Game- The 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers

With Big Ben it isn't always pretty, but he finds a way to win

By Dan Shaughnessy
January 24, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 23: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs for a second quarter touchdown against the New York Jets during the 2011 AFC Championship game at Heinz Field on January 23, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH -- We know the celebrity quarterbacks. Tom Brady has won three Super Bowls, is married to a supermodel and gets to meet Popes and presidents. Peyton Manning cuts that meat, wins multiple MVPs and occasionally is mentioned as the greatest ever. Drew Brees was Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. Aaron Rodgers is Super Bowl-bound, the flavor of the month in January 2011. Michael Vick is infamous. Even Philip Rivers gets into the discussion.

And then there's Ben Roethlisberger, the double-wide quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Roethlisberger is going to his third Super Bowl. Not bad for a 28-year-old quarterback from Miami (Ohio). He is 10-2 in the playoffs. He is 6-foot-5, 240 pounds and can beat you in a lot of different ways.

Sunday night at Heinz Field, Roethlisberger completed only 10 of 19 passes for 133 yards. He did not throw a touchdown pass and he was intercepted twice. He took a safety. He led an offense that was shut out in the second half.

But he won. He almost always wins. He ran the ball 11 times for 21 yards, including a long gainer of 12. He scrambled to his right for a two-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

"We have a lot of tenacity,'' said Roethlisberger. "We have a don't-quit attitude and mentality. We have a belief in each other.''

Rex Ryan had a bad feeling about playing Big Ben. Rex talked a good game when his Jets beat Manning and the Colts in Indianapolis. Rex called out Brady before the Jets beat the Patriots in Foxboro. But he knew Roethlisberger was a different beast. And he was right. Unlike Manning and Brady, Roethlisberger was able to move in the pocket, scramble and run. He made the Jets' defense vulnerable.

Pittsburgh's game-opening touchdown drive was a 16-play, 66-yard beauty that took over nine minutes. It set a tone. The Steelers were not going to be confused or stopped on offense.

The Steelers went ahead 24-0 late in the first half but had to hold off a furious second-half rally by the bold New Yorkers. After the Jets cut it to 24-19 with three minutes left, Roethlisberger sealed the victory with a 14-yard completion to Antonio Brown on a third-and-six with the clock winding down and the Jets out of timeouts.

"We weren't going to play not to lose,'' said Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin. "That's why we threw the ball to Heath Miller on a bootleg on second down prior to that and we got the first down.''

"It was a gutsy play,'' admitted Ryan. It was a great throw and a gutsy play.''

"Every time he needs to make a play he does,'' said Steelers safety Ryan Clark of Roethlisberger. "If we don't get that and it's incomplete, it stops the clock. But once again he came through and made a big play and came through for us.''

Roethlisberger's piggish offseason behavior got him suspended for the first four games of this NFL season. After last night's win, he was asked if he looks back to the beginning of the season, and he cut off the question with, "I don't. I don't. I'll stop you now. I don't. Not at all.''

Big Ben played poorly in his first Super Bowl victory over the Seahawks. He could have been MVP when he won his second one against the Cardinals, but the award went to Santonio Holmes, who made the spectacular game-winning catch. Among quarterbacks with 10 or more playoff games, Roethlisberger's 10-2 record trails only Bart Starr's 9-1 mark. Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw are the only quarterbacks who've won four Super Bowls.

Big Ben goes for No. 3 in two weeks. "Any time you get to the Super Bowl it feels good,'' he said. "I don't care what you're going through or what is going on. We put a lot of stuff behind us early and found a way to get it done. We weren't always the prettiest team, but we had guys step up and fill in for guys in critical times in games this season.''

Jets linebacker Bart Scott spoke for many when he talked about Roethlisberger during conference championship week.

"The respect we have for Ben is that we don't look at him as a diva quarterback,'' said Scott. "We look at him as a football player. In this league, especially now, quarterbacks are treated pretty much like it's flag football. But he's one that's willing to take the hits and look down the barrel of a gun for his team.''

Brady, Manning, Brees, Vick and Rivers are all done for the season.

Big Ben is back in the Super Bowl. He's nothing like Aaron Rodgers. But he usually wins.

- Dan Shaughnessy is a columnist for The Boston Globe.

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Steelers' Legursky crams, just in case

Wednesday, January 26, 2011
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Most of the Steelers spent their off day Tuesday preparing for their trip to Dallas for Super Bowl XLV, taking care of all the details for their families, making final arrangements for flights, hotel rooms and tickets to the big game.

Maurkice Pouncey, Doug Legursky (pictured at right) and Trai Essex spent a big part of the day preparing for the Green Bay Packers.

Centers, you know?

Pro Bowler Pouncey, backup Legursky and emergency backup Essex were at the Steelers' South Side headquarters with offensive line coach Sean Kugler, getting their weekly advanced look at the game plan, which will be given to the rest of the team today. Here's hoping Pouncey wasn't wasting his time because of a left high-ankle sprain that makes him questionable -- at best -- for the game Feb. 6. Here's also hoping Legursky paid extra attention.

Just in case.

"I'll be ready if I have to go," Legursky said. "I'm ready every week."

Legursky didn't let the Steelers down Sunday night in the AFC championship game against the New York Jets after Pouncey went down midway through the first quarter when linebacker Bryan Thomas rolled up the back of his leg. Running back Rashard Mendenhall scored on a 1-yard touchdown run on the next play for a 7-0 lead, which quickly became 24-0. Legursky did well enough with his run-blocking that Mendenhall finished with 121 yards. His pass-blocking was good enough that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stayed relatively clean, sacked just twice. The Steelers held on, 24-19.

That extra film work with Pouncey, Essex and Kugler the previous Tuesday night paid off for Legursky. He made all the line's blocking calls, seemingly with little trouble.

"There was no dropoff whatsoever," said offensive tackle Jonathan Scott, who knows a little something about stepping in for a fallen teammate, putting his hand in the pile and keeping the standard as the standard.

Column note: The second half of the above paragraph is dedicated to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

Back to Legursky ...

"He played his tail off. I'm so happy for him. That's my guy, man," Pouncey gushed.

A little love for a valued teammate is nice, but Pouncey and, especially Scott, might have been guilty of embellishment. That has little to do with the two snaps that Legursky botched with Roethlisberger, the second resulting in a fourth-quarter safety and prompting Legursky to fess up, "That was 100 percent my fault. I was trying to get my arms under the guy in front of me and I short-armed the snap." It has just about everything to do with Pouncey, who, though a rookie, has been called, "The Freak," by Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians because of his smarts and physical skills. Few NFL starting centers -- let alone backups -- are as good.

But it's fair to think the Steelers wouldn't be in their third Super Bowl in six seasons without players such as Legursky and Scott. Kugler has done a terrific job plugging the leaks that seem to develop each week on the line. Legursky started four games at right guard early in the season when Essex was hurt, has played at left guard at times and gets the occasional snap as the blocking fullback in the team's goal-line offense. Scott has played both tackles, taking over as the starter on the left side when Max Starks was lost for the season with a neck injury in the Cincinnati game Nov. 8. Starting right guard Ramon Foster has played multiple positions. So has Essex. Only Pouncey and right tackle Flozell Adams have started every game at their regular position.

"I don't think there's ever been an O-line like this one," Legursky said.

Clearly, that standard-is-the-standard sermon that Tomlin always preaches means something to the proud linemen. Enough people have blamed them when the Steelers' offense has struggled. I'm here this morning to applaud them.

The other claps you hear are coming from Roethlisberger.

"You know me, I'm the biggest fan of our offensive line regardless of how much bad stuff is written about them and how supposedly terrible they are. They are a great group. They are a very close group. They will do anything for me, which makes it a little more special. They find ways to fill in and step up and play for each other. I can't say enough good things about those guys."

The Steelers are down to one game with everything at stake. The big fellas have to get it done one more time. Pouncey isn't expected to practice until next week -- if then -- but has vowed to play against the Packers despite what appeared to be a serious injury. Legursky, meanwhile, will prepare as if he's going to be the center of attention. Should he run on the field at Cowboy Stadium with Roethlisberger and the other starters, it would add to his nice story of perseverance. "A long, hard ride," Legursky called it. An undrafted free agent out of Marshall and a practice-squad player in '08. A little-used reserve in '09. And now, perhaps, a Super Bowl starter after the '10 season.

You had better believe Legursky will pay extra attention in the Steelers' meeting room and on the practice field, as well as when the linemen gather at left guard Chris Kemoeatu's house Thursday night and work a little overtime at their regular weekly film study session.

Just in case.

Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

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