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Old 02-03-2009, 07:22 AM   #1
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Default Trophies add fuel to the Steelers Nation fire

Trophies add fuel to the Steelers Nation fire
The franchise lords over the NFL perhaps even more than it did in the 1970s
Tuesday, February 03, 2009

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

TAMPA, Fla. -- Legends are made in Super Bowls, and more of them emerged Sunday when the Steelers and Arizona Cardinals staged a spectacular fourth quarter in XLIII.

The Steelers' winning drive that covered 88 yards, and the end to it, became an instant classic that will be replayed forever. Ben Roethlisberger rose from good young quarterback to Super hero. Santonio Holmes' winning catch and performance matched anything Lynn Swann, John Stallworth or Hines Ward did in previous Super Bowls.

James Harrison's 100-yard, game-turning interception dash goes down as the greatest defensive play in championship history. And Mike Tomlin got off to a faster start than previous Pittsburgh legends Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher by winning his first title in his second season as coach, becoming the youngest to win a Super Bowl.

The Steelers have just won their sixth Super Bowl title. The next step is the ring. Indulge your fantasies: If it were yours, what would it look like?

No legend, however, grew larger than the Steelers franchise itself. By becoming the first to pocket six Lombardi Trophies, and to do it again by packing a so-called neutral stadium with about 80 percent Steelers fans, the franchise lords over the NFL perhaps even more than it did in the 1970s.

The team did not reach legendary status by becoming the first to win six Super Bowls as much as how the Steelers do it, under Rooney family ownership and because they have what evidence shows is the most broad-based fan support of any professional team.

Steelers fans took over Raymond James Stadium like nothing any other Super Bowl has ever seen except one, when they took over Ford Field in Detroit in Super Bowl XL.

The 1970s dynasty that was the Steel Curtain remade a franchise that was, basically, the Arizona Cardinals; it had won not even a division or conference title in its first 40 seasons. Then the Steelers won a division title in 1972, their first playoff game the same season and then four Super Bowls in six seasons and created, yes, legends, most notably that of a franchise.

That legend has expanded over the past 15 years and become what truly is, if not technically America's team, certainly its favorite team.
Super franchise

The Steelers have won their sixth Super Bowl, the most by any NFL franchise:

Team Appearances Rec.

Dallas Cowboys 8 5-3

Steelers 7 6-1

Denver Broncos 6 2-4

New England Patriots 6 3-3

Their fans -- dubbed by NFL Films in the 1970s as Steelers Nation -- long ago crossed the Pennsylvania border to where many of them have never even stepped foot near Pittsburgh.

There was, for example, the fan at the Embassy Suites hotel in Tampa who looked a little like Hines Ward and wore a Troy Polamalu jersey. He was a Vietnam native who, upon escaping to the United States in the 1970s and settling with his family in the Midwest, was given a Steelers jersey as one of his first gifts when he arrived on American soil. He lives in Northern California, never been to Pittsburgh but breathes Steelers football.

Or the two brothers, Russian natives, in Tampa all week for the game. Their parents left that country in 1978 when they were children because they were persecuted for their Jewish faith. When they arrived in northern New Jersey, their host family was Steelers fans. They watched this strange game on TV and were quickly hooked as two more lifelong Steelers fanatics.

The legend of the Steelers might have cooled, however, had they not returned to prominence in the 1990s after a decade of mediocre football. They re-appeared in Super Bowl XXX in Phoenix where their fans actually outnumbered those of the Cowboys.

Now, after coming so close in so many championship game losses, they've won two Super Bowls in four years. And it's not a team that has salary cap issues, nor is it aging. Its core is mostly young or in the prime years and under contract -- Roethlisberger, Holmes, LaMarr Woodley, Willie Parker, Troy Polamalu and Tomlin, as examples.

To maintain their presence among the NFL's elite, they must rebuild their offensive line and touch up a few other areas.

They also can go a long way toward making a run at a second consecutive Super Bowl victory by learning from history and convincing Ben Roethlisberger to stay off his motorcycle this summer.

Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com.
First published on February 3, 2009 at 12:00 am
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