In the waning moments of Sunday night, with snow falling and pandemonium on the streets of Pittsburgh, I was surprisingly low-keyed -- contented, some might even say. Because I felt like Steeler Nation was free. As free as the prisoners in the film
That's just what it was like to see Dan Rooney and Bill Cowher finally hoist that Lombardi Trophy. It doesn't put money in my pocket or put a new roof on my house. It doesn't change the mundane facts of my existence. But like every other fan, I'm alternating between bliss and jubilance and a little relief.
Not to diminish the Super Steelers of the 1970s, but it's a blast to be out from under that shadow. There are so many fans who don't even remember those teams, or who don't remember them clearly. Now, we have shiny new memories. My favorite moment of the game came after Willie Parker ripped off his touchdown run and Ben, Jeff Hartings and Alan Faneca were hugging each other at midfield. It doesn't replace my memory of Rocky Blier leaping like Nijinsky in Super Bowl XIII, but it's right next to it.
Other than Dan Rooney, nobody is happier than me that we can finally put the old "One for the Thumb" expression to bed. It's inaccurate and does disservice to this Steelers team, and finally, it's over. If we're lucky enough to have the Steelers in the hunt next year, we won't have to hear it again. Ever.
So to the Steelers organization from the Rooneys on down -- thanks. Thanks, Dan, for sticking with Bill Cowher when so many would have jettisoned him. Thanks Bill, for trusting your players and coaches to help along the way. Thanks, Dick LeBeau, for coming back to construct this magnificent defense. Thanks, Hines, for being a man -- for calling your coach and getting a contract done instead of hiding behind an agent. Thanks to offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt for bringing a young quarterback along and letting him flourish.
And thanks, Jerome Bettis. OK, OK, I got sick of all the Jerome attention during Super Bowl week: "Did you know that Jerome's from Detroit?" "Did you know he once bowled a perfect game?" But his teammates love him. Is Jerome Bettis the best running back in NFL history? No way. But sometimes players do intangible things for a team. None of us will ever know what it's like in that locker room, from training camp through Sunday. But the players know. And when they took the field at the Super Bowl, they let Jerome run out of the tunnel first, until he turned and waved them all out. Call me sentimental, but it was fantastic moment.
In an era of superstars such as Peyton Manning and Terrell Owens, every man on the Steelers roster contributed to this win, or to getting to this game in the first place. Charlie Batch, who held down the fort while Ben was out. Rookie Bryant McFadden, who caused Brett Favre to fumble in Green Bay and then made a TD-saving play in Indy. Ced Wilson, who toiled in obscurity all year and then exploded in the playoffs. Chris Hope, who plays his position so flawlessly that he gives Troy Polamalu the freedom to roam and garner most of the attention. James Harrison, who filled in for Clark Haggans and Joey Porter so the linebacking corps didn't lose a step. That's just a short list of guys who shouldn't be overlooked by fans and certainly aren't overlooked by their teammates.
The Colts playoff game did something to us all. When the Steelers went into that stupid dome and pounded Indy for 55 minutes, we believed. For the last five minutes of that game, we had to just hope. When it was over, something fundamental had changed for Steeler Nation: The aches of 1994, 1995, 1997, 2001 and 2004 were all washed away. We hoped. And that, as Red tells Andy Dufresne, can be a dangerous thing.
But it was worth it.