Snap Judgments: Steelers focused on Sunday; legacy will come later
TAMPA -- By Wednesday of Super Bowl week, once all the talk and the storylines start to drown out everything else, that's when it becomes really easy to lose track of what this whole week is about. It's about finishing. Closing the deal. Making your case for history.
Nothing else really matters. Win the game and you're golden forever. Lose it and, to a degree, it has all been wasted effort. The whole season-long magic carpet ride. The Patriots couldn't finish last season, and now 18-1 just rings hollow. Same with those 2001 Rams, who could have made their mark with two titles in a three-year span. But they couldn't finish the job, and as Kurt Warner admitted this week, that loss still stings seven years later. Further back in NFL history, you can add to that list other teams that let a rare opportunity slip away from them -- the 1997 Packers, the 1983 Redskins, the 1978 Cowboys.
That's one reason why I loved what second-year Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley had to say during Pittsburgh's media session Wednesday. Woodley might be playing in his first Super Bowl, but he gets it. He knows what matters this week, and it isn't anything that happens on the periphery of this yearly extravaganza. Sunday night will decide everything. The rest is all drivel.
"That's the thing about the Steelers of the '70s and '80s, they went out and finished games,'' Woodley said amid the din of the Steelers mid-week gab-fest at the University of South Florida's Sun Dome. "They went out and won the Super Bowl. So we're going to be measured on how we finish this game. That's what puts you down in the history books, how you finish.
"If we can go out there and get that No. 6, and we're the first team to reach that sixth Super Bowl trophy, that's a team that's always going to be remembered. Not just within our franchise, but in NFL history. That's how it works.''
The Steelers are going for their second Super Bowl win in a four-season span, and that's right on the cusp of being a team that gets remembered for having been a dominant club. But that record sixth Super Bowl win in Pittsburgh would also at least put this particular Steelers defense into the discussion when it comes to comparisons with some of the great Steelers D's of old.
I'm never all that eager to play the comparison game between eras so far apart, but when I look at this group of Steelers linebackers -- Woodley and James Harrison on the outside, James Farrior and Larry Foote inside -- I can at least buy the idea that another Super Bowl win would make them worthy of being in a conversation about where they stack up against the likes of Steelers linebacking greats Jack Lambert, Jack Ham and Andy Russell.
And from the sounds of it, today's Steelers linebackers are willing to at least consider their legacy -- providing Pittsburgh beats Arizona on Sunday in Super Bowl XLIII.
"Yeah, I think we can get in the discussion with a second ring,'' said Farrior, the 12th-year veteran and the acknowledged leader of the NFL's best linebacking unit. "We all know the great tradition the linebackers have had here through the years, so we just want to hold up our end of the bargain and be accountable to the tradition. I hope we make those guys proud, because we look up to all those former Steelers linebackers. We want to be considered one of the best groups to ever play the game.''
That's a mouthful, I know. But the Steelers defense this year is special, and its linebackers are the backbone of a unit that finished ranked first in the NFL in points allowed (13.9 per game), first in yards allowed (237.2), first against the pass (156.9) and second against the run (80.2).
"I'll take just being mentioned in a sentence with those old Steelers linebackers,'' Harrison said. "That's an elite group of guys. We're not a legendary defense yet. The team that wins the Super Bowl will be the team that's legendary.''
That's exactly the right order of things during Super Bowl week. Win and then you can talk history and where you think you belong. But if you don't finish the job, you wind up just looking and sounding foolish for even entertaining the legacy question. As Troy Polamalu reminded us today, "How you're thought of depends on how many rings you win. Great defenses aren't remembered for losing.''
It's all about the rings for the Steelers this week, and that's the approach that will win one. "Them rings, they hold a lot of weight,'' Foote said. "If we want to be talked about, and remembered, we've got to get another ring.''
• Off the field, Polamalu will never be described as animated. But I did see just a touch of fire from the long-haired Steelers safety Wednesday when he was asked how he felt last year when the NFL was considering a rule that would disallow players to wear their hair long enough to obscure their name on the back of their jersey.
"I thought it was unfair, quite honestly,'' Polamalu said. "What was the motivation behind it, I forget?''
Reminded what it was, he said: "That was it? You serious? Oh, boy. At USC, we didn't have any name plate. It's the same at Notre Dame. The tradition of that is there's no individual. I don't care if they see my name. Maybe they should put a tiny "Troy'' on one side [of my hair] and a "Polamalu'' on the other.''
• I made sure I made a little time Wednesday to drop by the table of Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and ask him what he makes of becoming something of the sentimental figure of this year's Super Bowl? LeBeau is the Dick Clark of the NFL. He's 71, looks 51, and is still going strong. And as I wrote earlier this week in our Super Bowl Blog, his candidacy for a long overdue Hall of Fame induction would really pick up some steam with a Steelers win on Sunday.
"I'm blessed to have a long career,'' said LeBeau, now in his 50th NFL season as a player or coach. "I think it's a good message. I get pieces of mail from people 70 years old, saying, 'Coach, you're a great example. I thought I was done doing this or done doing that, and tomorrow I'm going out and starting to do this or that again.' And that's very heartwarming and fulfilling for me.
"I'm not trying to do that. I'm just trying to coach football. I can't run as fast as I used to, but I can still run, and we can still do some things. All of us only have as many minutes as we have and we might as well live life to the fullest.''
LeBeau said he owes some of his longevity to his youthful appearance, which allows him to still hold the attention of his players. "I thank my Mom and Dad for that because they passed on some good genes. But there's no question it has helped me. I'm talking to 21-year-old guys and it helps to only look 90, not 110.''
• Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is sure trying hard to convey the impression that he's relaxed and having fun this week, as opposed to his first Super Bowl experience three years ago in Detroit.
He showed up at James Harrison's platform with a hand-held video camera Wednesday, and then aimed it at his teammate and asked: "You ever think about beating up a camera person?''
Harrison didn't miss a beat: "Yeah. Ben Roethlisberger.''
• I'm pretty sure he was speaking of any generic quarterback, but Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley was probably at least thinking of Cardinals passer Warner when he was asked how you can tell an opposing quarterback is getting rattled?
"You can definitely read it,'' Woodley said. "He's trying to get out of there. He doesn't want to hold the ball that long. He sees you coming and he's not following through on his throws. Once you see that, you know you've got to him a little bit. Now you just have to go through and put some hits on him.''
Of course, that's been easier said than done with Warner this postseason.
• Got to love the Super Bowl week echo chamber. The story about Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald being willing to restructure his contract in order to help Arizona keep Anquan Boldin happy isn't really a story. Fitzgerald was asked Tuesday if he would be willing to do something to help the team and he answered "No problem.''
But Arizona has the cap room to get Boldin done without Fitzgerald's help. Boldin doesn't want to be a Cardinal any more, and Fitzgerald can't really help with that.
• Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer barely saw the field in 2008, while Matt Cassel hung up eye-popping numbers in helping the Patriots win 11 games without Tom Brady around. Raise your hand if you had that particular trifecta playing out this season for the three former Southern Cal quarterbacks.
"Everyone's road is different, and everyone's situation is different,'' said Leinart, asked about the unexpected success of Cassel, his former USC backup, this season. "If there's anything I could learn from Matt, it's to make the most of the opportunity when it's granted you. That's something he did this season when Tom went down. He took full advantage of that and became a great quarterback. He was ready when his number was called and that's obviously something I'm saying I feel I can do. He did a great job, and he's going to play now. He's going to play somewhere next season.''
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