From Steel Town to Motown

From Steel Town to Motown
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports
February 5, 2006

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports
DETROIT – They came by the tens of thousands, in Swann jerseys and Harris jerseys and in Bettis and Roethlisberger jerseys, too. They carried Terrible Towels that were fresh and others that looked like relics from a bygone dynasty and from a city built on a bygone industry.

They came in such numbers to cover Ford Field in black and gold and create a home-away-from-home environment for their Pittsburgh Steelers to reclaim glory and reassert tradition that you'd have thought three rivers were flowing outside, not just one.

This wasn't just a football game for the Steelers. This wasn't just a Super Bowl.

This was some pilgrimage to yesterday, when Steel Town was still Steel Town, when union jobs in the mills still meant something solid and when titles came in bundles, including four by the beloved football team.

It hasn't always been easy since then, with a changing economy, a changing America and a changing sports landscape that has left all but the Steelers even capable of competing for it all.

And so they came, up from Pittsburgh and in from all corners where so many had moved to pursue new dreams. They were here to honor a city that got tougher through tough times and reinvented itself better than ever. Most of all, they were here to honor a team that never really changed much at all.

They flocked to the Motor City like no other fan base ever has descended on a Super Bowl. A city couldn't want this more.

They came to wave a towel at a native son coach who finally won the big one; an adopted son called the Bus, who always ran the ball like they wish they could; a salt-of-the-earth owner they all seem to know; and a team of unselfish, unsung heroes who still played with a blue-collar passion.

Steelers fans came to watch something from Pittsburgh become world champions again.

"It is a special chance for this group to take the very rich tradition we've had in Pittsburgh and to say we've had a little piece of it," said Steelers head coach Bill Cowher, the Pittsburgh native.

It wasn't easy for the Steelers, but when has it ever been? They got into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth, shaking off injuries and a midseason slide to wind up the last seed in the AFC. Pittsburgh then went out and beat the conference's No. 3, No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, all on the road, to get to Super Bowl XL and defeat the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks 21-10 for its unlikely eighth consecutive win and fifth Super Bowl victory.

In true Steelers fashion, this wasn't some glamourous victory, either, even if the back-breaking score came courtesy of a gimmick play – receiver Antwaan Randle El heaving a 43-yard touchdown strike to Hines Ward on a reverse. Even that was the byproduct of hard work, determination and team values.

The pass was thrown by Randle El, the college quarterback who accepted his role as a receiver even though he still dreams of passing. And the catch was made by Ward, never the biggest or fastest receiver, who wound up as the game's Most Valuable Player because he never stopped believing he could.

But that's the way Pittsburgh does it.

The Steelers won this by winning in the trenches, with a defensive front pushing through the Seahawks' vaunted offensive line. Also, Pittsburgh's secondary bent but never broke, even as momentum pushed to Seattle's side.

"[The defense] picked us up," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.

This Steelers team never gave up, never pointed fingers and never lost faith when the Seahawks threatened in the third quarter because it never had all season. Willie Parker made the big runs (including a 75-yard touchdown) that Jerome Bettis, the heart and soul of this team for a decade, no longer could.

"I did it for everything he did for me through the years," said Parker of Bettis, who announced his retirement during the postgame celebration.

This was what you heard over and over after the game. Not a lot of "I am excited for me." Just a lot of "I'm thrilled for him."

"I am happy for Mr. Rooney," said Cowher of his owner, Dan Rooney.

"I feel this was their day and their time," said Rooney, deflecting it back to his coaches and players.

"We wanted to help Ben," said Troy Polamalu of Roethlisberger, whose second interception brought Seattle back into the game.

"Our goal was to take Jerome home," defensive tackle Casey Hampton said.

"Pittsburgh is special to me, and I hope I mean a lot to them," Bettis said. "Hopefully, I mean a lot to them."

That, of course, goes without saying. This is a team that will go down in the rich lore of the Steelers, one that finally links the franchise's recent success with the resurgence of a new Pittsburgh itself. It will connect a city and its bright future to the glory days of the '70s and the memories of what once made the city great.

"Very special," Cowher said. "Just for the whole organization, for the city of Pittsburgh."

And that, really, is why they came in droves and were dressed in black and gold. They came ready to cheer and wave and eventually dance into the cold Midwestern night and party until the sun comes up.

The glory days of the past and the glory days of tomorrow all were represented in a single football team. They wore old and new jerseys and they waved faded and fresh towels for the memories of their fathers and the dreams of their kids.

It is how this could matter so much, to so many.

"We just brought a championship back home," grinned Bettis. "One for the thumb."

One for forever.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Monday, Feb 6, 2006 2:17 am, EST

Email to a Friend | View Popular