For Steelers, it's the same as it ever was
By Brian Carson
Special to CBSSports.com
PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- It's almost a cliché to say the Pittsburgh Steelers are the embodiment of the city they live and play in. But it's undeniable.
Against a backdrop of steel, rough-hewn, weather-beaten streets, and gun metal gray skies, the Steelers are a blue collar, no-nonsense, tough-as-nails bunch, much like many of the people who make the Steel City their home.
This is a populace -- and a team -- about work ethic and physicality, not glitz and glamour.
"You're never going to see us on Hard Knocks,'" said safety Ryan Clark, referring to the HBO show that featured the Jets before the start of the season. "We're not going to be the team that's seen. We have a team of football players.
"There's no TV stars here. We have one guy in here with a commercial (Troy Polamalu), and that's just because he has nice hair. This organization is about winning championships."
The core philosophy and personality of the organization began in earnest when Art Rooney hired Chuck Noll in 1969. Noll, who was selected after Penn State coach Joe Paterno turned down the job, brought toughness, tenacity and attitude to a franchise that sorely needed it. His first order of business was to draft Joe Greene out of North Texas State in the first round.
Neither the team nor the city would ever be the same. Four Super Bowl championships in six years redefined both the place and its team.
Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin, cut from the same cloth as Noll, continued and built upon what he left, each winning a Super Bowl title.
No team, with the exception of the New England Patriots, has managed the salary cap/free agency era of professional football better. The franchise has laid the blueprint for success others can only hope to duplicate.
Since the 1970 merger the Steelers have won six Super Bowls in seven appearances, played in seven AFC championship games, won 20 divisional titles, and made the playoffs 26 times. The franchise has won the most total games (415), the most divisional titles, has the best winning percentage (.611), earned the most All-Pro nominations (64), and has accumulated the most Super Bowl wins.
It's a formula that's seems simple in design but has proven difficult in execution:
Draft or sign the best available players that fit the personality and system of the team; don't overspend on high priced free agents; sign key veterans before they test the free agent waters; replace the aging veterans with hungry youngsters they apprenticed.
The 2010 team, and all others before it, was built this way.
Of course, the emphasis has always been on a strong defense, and with the return of Polamalu, who missed most of the 2009 season with a knee injury, the unit has once again played at a high level.
Pittsburgh led the league in rushing defense (62.8) and was second in total defense (276.8) with Polamalu single-handedly winning two games. His absence in 2009 was a big reason the team went 9-7 and missed the playoffs.
"He's Superman, and we like to keep him as Clark Kent and on Sundays he goes into his phone booth and comes out and he's just Superman," Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said. "So we expect him to be out there, continuing being Superman for us."
Add to the mix quality linebackers like James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons, and LaMarr Woodley, it's easy to see why the Steelers went 12-4 and captured their second AFC North crown in three years.
With the No. 2 seed in its back pocket, Pittsburgh is well positioned in its quest for seven rings. The first hurdle is the Baltimore Ravens (13-4), the one team in the league most like the Steelers, and their biggest rival to boot.
"That is our type of game," Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton said. "We are a physical team. We try to impose our will on people. We are carbon copies of each other. The fans, and TV, that is what everybody wants to see. They know what kind of games we have, the physical nature of it. I think that is what people want to see."
The Ravens are fast, physical and love to inflict pain. Just ask Ben Roethlisberger how his cornflake-like busted nose felt, or ask Heath Miller about the concussion he suffered in a 13-10 Steelers win back in December.
How brutal can this rivalry get?
Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs referred to this game as "Armageddon."
"It's about what is on the line," Suggs said. "They call it Armageddon as the fight between good and evil. I am a big Star Wars fan and the emperor said, 'Evil is only a point of view.' I guess it is from whose point of view it's coming from."
A Steelers-Ravens matchup presents its own form of violent ballet you can't see anywhere else in the NFL. This is old-school football at its finest.
This Saturday's divisional playoff game is Round 3 in the Steelers-Ravens war of attrition for 2010. It won't be pretty. It won't be flashy and there won't be a ton of points scored, but if hardcore football is your game, don't miss this one.
"The team that wins this game is going to be the most violent team, the team that is most physical," Steelers defensive lineman Chris Hoke said. "It's the team that goes out there to push the other team around. That is who wins. When we play the Ravens, it's whoever can be the most physical team that wins."
It will be a brutal, bloody, physical contest.
Just the way the Steelers and the Steeler Nation like it.