"I hope you've been lifting weights," Woodley said. "You're going to be picking up that Lombardi Trophy."
Indeed, Rooney and the Steelers did pick up a little more weight after Sunday's thrilling 27-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals. But it was more than just the seven pounds of sterling silver that comprises the Lombardi Trophy. The Steelers picked up yet another measure of respect: a sixth Super Bowl title – more than any other team – and the respect that comes with being the premiere franchise in the NFL.
That's right. Take all those glory years of the San Francisco 49ers down a peg. Put the New England Patriots on hold. And tell the Dallas Cowboys that while they may be America's team, this is the franchise that is the NFL's absolute dream.
"Dallas can be America's team," smirked Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel. "You can just call us the team with six."
Safety Troy Polamalu went one step further, insisting "You could argue it's the best franchise in [American] professional sports."
The Boston Celtics and New York Yankees and a slew of other franchises might argue that point, but Polamalu appears to be standing on solid ground in the NFL. While everyone will talk about six Super Bowl wins and the rich history of Hall of Famers, Sunday illustrated an undeniable point that should resonate with all sports fans: Elite ownership matters in the NFL. Particularly when it is sustained for a long period of time. Just take a look at the landscape of the NFL's other great franchises.
The 49ers have five Super Bowl titles, but a large part of that era is stained with the misdeeds of former owner Eddie DeBartolo – from the probe into salary cap circumvention to the gambling scandal that forced him to relinquish control of his franchise. The Cowboys' five Super Bowl victories were a treadmill of turmoil – the sale of the team to Jerry Jones; an ugly firing of former coach Tom Landry; a fallout with Jimmy Johnson; multiple embarrassing arrests, and more recently, Jones' gambling on talent that has soured the locker room.
The Oakland Raiders? They've been driven into the ground by Al Davis. The Patriots haven't sustained success long enough. The New York Giants, Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos don't have enough Super Bowl wins.
That leaves these Pittsburgh Steelers, who now seem to have it all: more Super Bowl rings than anyone else, a long sustained run of family ownership that has never embarrassed the surrounding community, 18 Hall of Fame members, a cast of coaches who have showed long-term commitment and an epic highlight reel of unforgettable players and moments that have shaped the league.
That lineage of great moments simply grew and grew this season, with a Pittsburgh team that proved time and again it belonged amongst the league's elite. Even the team's four regular-season losses aren't shameful at all, coming at the hands of the Eagles (an NFC championship game team), Giants (defending Super Bowl champs), Colts (a 12-win playoff team) and Titans (the best record in the regular season).
Now, in the rear view of another Lombardi Trophy, this will be a season remembered for two things: a bonding regular season of overcoming injuries and the league's toughest schedule, and a defense that should truly rank as one of the NFL's best ever. Not to mention a Super Bowl that will rank as one of the most amazing finishes ever. And it should be remembered that it was the Steelers who struck the two fatal blows, first in an 88-yard touchdown drive that started on first-and-20 at the Pittsburgh 12, and finally in a sack and forced fumble by Woodley that effectively ended the game.
"We're going down in history with one of the greatest games ever played in the Super Bowl," said wideout Santonio Holmes, who was named MVP after a miraculous winning touchdown that will rival the "Immaculate Reception" in Pittsburgh lore.
"To be able to come back on that last drive, [it's] probably a drive that will be remembered for a long time – at least in Steelers history," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.
And that was the twist. Pittsburgh's Super Bowl win in 2005 was sweet, but to repeat only three years later adds a historic tint. It's not just a championship season anymore. Now it's a championship era, filled with players who are suddenly standing on their own two feet instead of perching on the shoulders of past legends.
Rather than always having to hear the question about what it's like to follow a storied history, this is a group of players that is now writing a legend of its own. Roethlisberger now has two Super Bowl rings in his first five seasons in the league. Hines Ward has cemented his place as the best Steelers wideout of his era. And guys like Woodley, Polamalu and linebacker James Harrison are well on their way to being remembered as three of the best Pittsburgh defenders of all time.
"Whenever you're on a team, you always want to be a part of that history," Woodley said. "And there's nothing stronger than the history and tradition here. We hear about those teams from the '70s and '80s all the time – about those great defenses and everything. But one thing about those teams, they went out there and they won Super Bowls. That's why they're remembered. Now we're going to be talked about one day in history."
Added Ward: "You talk about the Patriots winning three Super Bowls in the 2000s, and now we're a part of that. For me personally, I've always been compared to [Lynn] Swann and [John] Stallworth. I know those guys have got four rings, but today I kind of felt like I belong in their class."
Considering the hardware, Ward and so many other Pittsburgh players have definitely moved up, pulling the rest of the franchise right along with them. The legendary trophy case right outside the offices of the coaching staff will be making an addition. And with Pittsburgh's young core in place for the foreseeable future, who knows how much more the expansion could go.
"We'll do what we have to," owner Dan Rooney said with a grin. "We'll make room."
- Super Bowl
- Lombardi Trophy