Steussie's roller-coaster ride finally lands him in Super Bowl
Posted: Saturday January 31, 2004 9:04PM; Updated: Sunday February 1, 2004 12:05AM
By Don Banks, SI.com
HOUSTON -- In 1998, Todd Steussie just knew he was going to the Super Bowl. Knew it. He was the Pro Bowl left tackle on a Minnesota Vikings team that went 15-1, broke the NFL single-season scoring record with 556 points and left opponents buried beneath an avalanche of big plays.
But those star-studded Vikings fell just short, losing 30-27 in overtime to the underdog Atlanta Falcons in the NFC title game. It was a game that forever will be remembered for Minnesota's Gary Anderson missing a critical 38-yard field goal late in regulation -- his first miss of the entire season.
It took Steussie five years longer than expected, but he made it to the Super Bowl at last thanks to Carolina's storybook 2003 season. Now in his 10th season, Steussie must be one of the few players ever to experience both the highs of a 15-1 season and the lows of a 1-15 finish, which was the Panthers' record in 2001, his first season in Carolina.
"I've commented to my wife after that 1-15 season, that in retrospect, It would be pretty hard for me to ever be on a more talented team than we had in 1998 in Minnesota,'' Steussie said this week. "But one thing that this year's given me is a lesson in life, that it's not always about the most talent. This team has some of the intangibles, the mettle, the resolve that I think might have been a missing ingredient in '98. We've been tested all year long and we've shown up in some big games.
"In '98, I think things came a little too easily, and when we did have to test our resolve in the Atlanta game, I don't think we had that in our back pocket the way we thought we did. It definitely shows that it's not always about who has the most talent, or who can wind being the most dazzling. We're maybe a little boring by some people's standards, but we've won some pretty significant games this year.''
C'mon, feel the noise
The Patriots worked on handling crowd noise Thursday by piping loud music into the Texans' indoor facility. As is New England head coach Bill Belichick's custom, it was not just loud music. It was a selection of Jon Bon Jovi cuts, because as has been well-chronicled, Belichick and the New Jersey-born rocker are close, personal friends.
"We've heard so much Bon Jovi this year,'' Patriots running back Antowain Smith said on Wednesday. "When we anticipate crowd noise, he'll bring it out. We put on the Bon Jovi and we go out there and go to work to it. Matter of fact, I got a couple favorite tunes too, man. I kind of became a Bon Jovi fan this year.''
Pioli knows how to pick 'em ... and send 'em packing
Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli is the man who deserves much of the credit for building so much depth into the New England roster. The Patriots have started 42 different players this season and did not miss a beat in winning 14 consecutive games despite being decimated by early season injuries.
Pioli was on display to the media this week for one of the few times in his ultrasuccessful New England tenure. One of the more interesting topics he covered was the reactions that he has received over the years from players as he was cutting them.
"I've seen every range of emotion,'' Pioli said. "From being physically threatened when I was in Cleveland, to grown men crying in my office, to people completely understanding it and thanking me, and thanking us for the opportunity. It's the full spectrum.''
And the weirdest reaction?
"There was one kind of weird thing where we released a player and he was like, 'Great, thanks. Hey, I was hoping.' And I remember thinking, 'Now wait a second.' He like thanked us for cutting him. That was a little bizarre.
"I think it was one of those things where he didn't love football. It was something he felt he had to do. But it had run its course and the pressure was off him now. He could say, 'Hey, I tried, I got cut, it's time for me to move on.' That was a little weird."
Super Bowl game-winner? That's nothing
Adam Vinatieri forever will be remembered for his game-winning 48-yard field goal at the final gun that gave the Patriots an upset win over St. Louis two years ago in the Super Bowl. That'll be in the first sentence of his obituary some day.
But it doesn't even top Vinatieri's list of toughest kicks.
"I think the snow kick [to tie Oakland late in regulation in the 2001 AFC divisional round] was a harder kick,'' he said. "I don't know any more pressure-filled situation than kicking to win the Super Bowl, but with a 45-yarder and about five inches of snow, I would definitely say that's a pretty low-percentage kick.
"I would say I'm probably the most proud of the snow kick, just because the implications of the game and the conditions of the field. I would definitely say that's the hardest kick I've ever had.''
From Patriots running back Antowain Smith, on his good friend and fellow New England rusher, Kevin Faulk:
"We played against each other in college in 1996. Actually they beat us [LSU beat Houston]. I'm still upset about that game. We had LSU 34-14 going into the fourth quarter, and they beat us 35-34, and Kevin Faulk had a damn good game. I still mess with him about that. Why did he have to do us like that? But it wasn't my fault. I didn't play defense.''
He loves L.A.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is not giving up on returning the NFL to Los Angeles, even though there has been little news about the possibility in the past year.
"We're working quietly and behind the scenes with experts on financing, construction, environmental issues and so forth, and we're not just holding press conferences and spinning things," he said.
The Chargers seemed the most likely choice, but Tagliabue expressed optimism that they would get a new stadium in San Diego. Expansion doesn't seem to be a possibility.
But Tagliabue indicated Friday, in his state of the NFL address, that if the stadium issues are resolved, America's second-largest market will have a team. He said talks are ongoing with officials in Carson and Pasadena, and with the Coliseum Commission.
"I think those have been positive in the past year," he said. "And it takes quiet, intense work before big announcements are made."
Snoop Dog at New England walkthrough
Rapper Snoop Dog was on hand as the New England Patriots went through a brief walkthrough practice at Reliant Stadium on Saturday.
Players' friends and family members accompanied the team, including Baltimore Ravens defensive line coach Rex Ryan, twin brother of Patriots outside linebackers coach Rob Ryan.
Snoop Dog was there with a youth football team called the Snoop Dog All Stars.
"We were trying to take a little bit of the edge off, give everybody a chance to relax," coach Bill Belichick said. "It's been a good hard week with a lot of concentration. We figured we'd lighten up a little here and be ready to go tomorrow."
Carolina owner delivers pregame talk
Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was coach John Fox's choice to talk to the team during its pre-Super Bowl walkthrough practice at Reliant Stadium on Saturday.
"I asked him if he wouldn't mind speaking to the team -- not as the owner, but as a player who played on a similar stage in similar circumstances," Fox said afterward.
Fox always has someone speak to the team the day before the game, and he chose his boss, who as a wide receiver for the Baltimore Colts caught a touchdown pass in the 1959 NFL championship victory over the New York Giants.
Fox, speaking through a pool reporter, declined to divulge the contents of Richardson's six-minute speech.
"It was private," Fox said.
Although the walkthrough was uneventful, Fox said it was the highlight of his week in Houston.
"Just being here and knowing that it was getting close," he said. "This was a wonderful experience. We're proud to be here, and it's a huge opportunity for our team and our organization. We want to make the most of it."
The Super Bowl logo looks a bit crowded this year, with those three X's, one V and three I's.
This is Super Bowl XXXVIII, or 38 for those not fluent in Roman numerals.
There won't be another one that long until 2044, when it's Super Bowl LXXVIII (78). The first with eight numerals will be LXXXVIII (88) in 2054.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.