The week before
the Super Bowl, 35-year-old Phil Gennaro, a husky insurance claims adjustor
from Monroeville, Pa., a few miles east of Pittsburgh, was counting down the
hours to the big game. He's such a Steelers sicko that he didn't wash his white
"36" Bettis jersey till the end of the season; he put it on the morning
of every game and believed it was part of his job to not jinx the Steelers by
wearing something else or by washing off the good karma--and the beer stain on
"If Ben wins
on Sunday," Gennaro said, "he becomes our generation's
Easy now. Those
are huge shoes right there. And Big Ben's Super Bowl performance, as it turned
out, was not that of an MVP. But this championship team has the same sort of
selflessness that the old teams had. Jerome Bettis might be more than nine
years older than the man who took his job this year, greenhorn running back
Willie Parker. But when Parker scored his first touchdown as a Steeler last
fall, it was Bettis who jogged down to the end zone and retrieved the ball from
the ball boy, just to make sure Parker would have that keepsake forever. When
offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt isolated Cedrick Wilson as the receiver to
make the first big play of the AFC title game--a post-corner route that would
require a great fake and a timely throw from Roethlisberger--Pro Bowl wideout
Hines Ward didn't shout, "Hey, what about me?" He said, "Great call
by our coaching staff." After all, Roethlisberger has got the arm.
said Bradshaw, "they've got some real headhunters on defense, like we had.
We played the 4-3, and they play the 3-4, but the personality of the defense is
Joey Porter. Mel Blount, Troy Polamalu. Jack Ham, Clark Haggans.
What this year's
championship team had was the ability to win in a lot of different ways. At the
end of the great Steelers run, Bradshaw to Swann and John Stallworth was more
dangerous than the running game. As the passing game grew in stature, so too
did the confidence of the staff and the quarterback to call anything, anytime.
As Bradshaw says, it's amazing what Roethlisberger got done only two years
removed from playing in the Mid-American Conference. With the Steelers of the
2005 postseason, Whisenhunt wasn't afraid to call anything. After running the
ball on 57% of the snaps in the regular season, Pittsburgh passed on 55% of the
first-half snaps during the playoffs. What that showed is the coaching staff's
confidence in Roethlisberger. Teams were jamming the line in the playoffs, and
the Steelers weren't running it well. But Roethlisberger was lighting teams up.
You hesitate to compare him with Bradshaw--"It's an honor,"
Roethlisberger said during Super Bowl week, "but it's way, way
early"--but the way Pittsburgh called plays in the playoffs is the way the
1979 Steelers called plays, by putting the pressure on Bradshaw. He ate it up.
As did Roethlisberger.
The Steelers have
gone through a football encyclopedia of heirs to Bradshaw's throne. Cliff
Stoudt. Mark Malone. Bubby Brister. Neil O'Donnell. Mike Tomczak. Kordell
Stewart. Tommy Maddox. But now, unless ego, money, injury or a combination of
the three screw up the kid, Roethlisberger's the man for a long, long time.
"I had my day
in the sun," Bradshaw said. "Now I hope the kid has his."