After 26 seasons without a Super Bowl victory, the Steelers found last night that the road less traveled is often most rewarding. Finding themselves at 7–5 midway through the season, the team rallied to win their last four regular season games and, in a playoff run unparalleled in NFL history, won three consecutive road games against the first-, second-, and third-ranked AFC teams to become the first No. 6 seed in history to advance to the Super Bowl. As it turns out, reaching Jerome Bettis’ home town was but a taste of the challenges to come, especially given the opposition: the top-ranked Seattle Seahawks.
Although they were favored by four points, the Steelers got off to a rough start; both their mainstay running attack and newfound passing success were absent in the face of a stout Seattle defense. The Steelers, however, are not strangers to second-half comebacks. The sputtering offense found success early in the second half with an out-of-character between-the-tackles run, and Willie Parker sprinted 75 yards to the end zone, setting a Super Bowl record for the longest rushing touchdown. Things began to look even better with the team threatening to score once again, but an errant third-down pass by quaterback Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted at the goal line and set up a drive that eventually ended in a Seattle score.
Just when it looked as if things were spiraling out of control, Ike Taylor — an otherwise extremely talented cornerback who has been somewhat maligned for dropping interceptions — picked off a wayward Matt Hasselbeck throw deep in Steelers territory. For what feel like the sixth time in the season, Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Wisenhunt came up with the perfect trick play at the perfect moment: Big Ben Roethlisberger received the shotgun snap on third down, handed it off to Parker, who reversed to Antwaan Randle-El, setting up a game-clinching long touchdown pass to a wide-open Hines Ward. Ward was later named Super Bowl MVP.
The rest, as they say, is history. The Steel Curtain tightened up in the final minutes, and the Bus was not stopped, at least not soon enough to kill the clock and secure the Steelers win. As the city rejoices, this season — and this game — will undoubtedly go down as one of the most exciting and uplifting wins in Steelers history.
Granted, only four members of the Steelers staff got their “one for the thumb” last evening, but the implications for the younger members of the organization are huge. Bill Cowher, the longest-tenured active coach in the NFL, has managed to pull off the best record of any team over the 14-year span that he has been with Pittsburgh. Despite this achievement, he has come under considerable criticism over the last several years for not being able to “win the big game.” Prior to last night, Cowher had lost four out of his five AFC Championship appearances, as well as his sole Super Bowl appearance in 1995. Such criticism would upset some coaches, but not Cowher, who acknowledges the realities of the business. He’ll be the first to say that as the coach, he had to take the blame for the losses — but boy, can he celebrate the win. Already people are saying that this win may cement Cowher’s future spot in the NFL Hall of Fame. For his perseverance alone, he’s earned it.
Of course, coaching and preparation alone cannot win championships; players must also step up and make plays when it counts, and for many Steelers, this win was just as important for their careers as it was for Cowher’s. First, there’s Jerome Bettis winning the Vince Lombardi trophy in his home town, capping what is likely his last year in the league. Then you have Willie Parker, an undrafted free agent and first-year starter breaking a 75-yard run for a touchdown on the world’s biggest stage. And let’s not forget Hines Ward, the Super Bowl MVP, who this time last year was crying at the post-AFC Championship press conference, telling the world how upset he was that Bettis would never reach the Super Bowl.
For me, a Pittsburgh native, the magnitude of this win hasn’t yet sunk in. Pittsburghers and Steelers fans everywhere have come so far and waited so long for this moment. The elation of winning the big one stands in such stark contrast to the three AFC Championship losses that I’ve experienced first-hand. All I can say is that the Steelers made history Sunday night. The last time Pittsburgh won the Championship was six years before I was born, but in the six years prior to that final victory the team won an unprecedented four times. I can only hope that this is the beginning of a new dynasty.