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Old 02-03-2009, 07:32 AM   #1
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Default Win was for Papa Berger

Win was for Papa Berger
North Delta punter spent a small fortune so his family could be in Tampa to share in Super Bowl

By Mike Beamish, Vancouver SunFebruary 3, 2009 4:01 AM

Pittsburgh punter Mitch Berger (left) and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger celebrate on the field after the Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in Sunday's Super Bowl. Berger eluded security at Raymond James Stadium and climbed into the stands to embrace his family following the game.

Pittsburgh punter Mitch Berger (left) and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger celebrate on the field after the Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in Sunday's Super Bowl. Berger eluded security at Raymond James Stadium and climbed into the stands to embrace his family following the game.
Photograph by: Jamie Squire, Getty Images, Vancouver Sun

The value of family permeates the Pittsburgh Steelers organization. It starts from the top. The team's 76-year-old chairman, Dan Rooney, is the father of nine, personally demonstrating a commitment to that belief.

The Steeler idea of family not only encompasses players past and present who share in the team's storied history but their wives, parents, brothers and sisters.

It's why the Bergers from North Delta were in Tampa, celebrating well into Monday morning at the InterContinental Hotel, to which Pittsburgh's players, coaches and their kin were given exclusive use during Super Bowl week.

Moments after Super Bowl XLIII ended Sunday with a stunning 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, Steeler punter Mitch Berger broke free of the victory scrum, eluded security guards and climbed into the end-zone seats at Raymond James Stadium to embrace his clan.

They were all there -- Mitch's dad, Don, who was born in Pittsburgh and grew up as a Steelers fan, his mother, Evelyn, brother Mike, and sisters Lynette, Melissa and Debbie. Lynette and her husband, Dan, arrived from Sacramento. Melissa and her spouse, Rick, flew in from Ottawa. And there was also Mitch's old friend from his high school days at North Delta Senior Secondary, Dean Akhurst.

It was an especially poignant moment, however, for Mitch and his dad, who started coaching his son as a six-year-old in the North Delta minor football program. Don Berger, 68, also has Parkinson's, and Mitch knew it was a physical impossibility for his father to get to him after the game unless the player took the initiative.

"They [security] tried to stop me going up there, but I said 'Screw it'," Mitch told The Vancouver Sun, after the Steelers arrived back in Pittsburgh Monday. "I think it meant a lot to my dad, and it meant a lot to me. We hadn't been together at the same time as a family for 25 years. My two brothers-in-law had never met before. It's something we'd never done -- and the Super Bowl brought us all together."

Mitch paid for each of the nine end-zone tickets -- at $800 US apiece -- and shelled out for plane tickets and accommodations for his family at the team's headquarters. The Steelers' Super Bowl share is $78,000 per man, the losing Cardinals get $40,000 each.

"It's found money," Mitch says. "Besides, money doesn't mean that much to me anyway. People lose money every day in the stock market. I like to invest in truly quality things, life experiences, having my family around me at the Super Bowl. You can't put a price tag on experiences and memories like that."

Though it was a record sixth Super Bowl win for the Pittsburgh franchise, 31 players on the 53-man roster had never participated in a Super Bowl game before.

One of those players was the Steelers' 36-year-old punter.

In his 14th NFL season, with his 10th team, Berger finally got his chance due to circumstance.

The Steelers regular punter, Daniel Sepulveda, tore his ACL in training camp. Berger stayed with the Steelers until Nov. 5 when he was released. However, his replacement, Paul Ernster, couldn't do the job and Berger was re-signed on Nov. 26 after he returned to his offseason home in Scottsdale, Ariz., to rehab a hamstring injury.

In the Super Bowl, Berger punted three times for an average of 46.3 yards and he was the holder on a pair of field goals from Steelers kicker Jeff Reed.

"It took Mitch 30 years of football to get to this point," says Don Berger. "All the years he's been playing, all the teams he's played for and all the injuries he's overcome ... It was a great payoff for all that work. We congratulated each other. He's made the big accomplishment that all players want to get to and most never do."

In 1999, Berger punted for the 15-1 Minnesota Vikings when they played host to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game. But the Vikings squandered a seven-point lead with 2:07 left, Viking kicker Gary Anderson missed a 38-yard field goal and the Falcons went on to win 30-27 in overtime.

A first-time Super Bowl participant himself, Don Berger knows how rare these family reunions at championship games are. And a second chance for the Bergers is doubtful, at least with the Steelers. Mitch is vacating his townhouse on Wednesday, following today's victory parade in Pittsburgh. Then he's headed to Honolulu to hang out with teammates at the Pro Bowl before doing some more R&R in Las Vegas. It's unlikely, however, he'll be back with the Steelers next season with Sepulveda returning to health.

"He's their guy for the future, a draft pick, a kid who's young and strong," Mitch says. "This is a one-shot deal for me. But I want a chance to get in a training camp with somebody next year. You get your rhythm in preseason and it's easier to get picked up by another team if you've been to somebody else's camp. My first choice is to go where there's a job. If nothing else is open, I might ask the Steelers for an invitation to camp."

But first, there is more celebrating to be done. When contacted Monday evening in Pittsburgh, Berger admitted he hadn't slept in more than 32 hours. But he had more on his mind than shut-eye.

"I'm trying to do my laundry so I can go to the parade," he explained.

Can't blame a Super Bowl champ for wanting to look fresh, especially one who's travelled a long road to get there.


ONLINE: Comment on this story at vancouversun.com/sports
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