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The Torch at Last is Passed
Peter King
February 15, 2006
Led by a quarterback coming into his own, and infused with characteristic Steelers selflessness, the new champions have raised echoes of the glory years
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February 15, 2006

The Torch At Last Is Passed

Led by a quarterback coming into his own, and infused with characteristic Steelers selflessness, the new champions have raised echoes of the glory years

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It's been a while, and maybe that's what makes this Super Bowl so sweet for the Pittsburgh Steelers and their insanely loyal fans. Here's how long it's been: The last time the Steelers won the Super Bowl was a year and a half before Ben Roethlisberger was conceived. The Steelers won their third and fourth titles in January 1979 and 1980, strafing the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams. The MVP in both those games, Terry Bradshaw, threw for a total of 627 yards and six touchdowns.

Twenty-six years. Now, finally, one for the thumb. And now, finally, a quarterback to lead them.

Bradshaw was 26 when he won his first Super Bowl, a complementary player on a team starring a ravenous defense and a relentless Franco Harris--led running game; it wasn't until the last two championship runs that the Steelers put the game consistently in Bradshaw's hands. Roethlisberger is 23--which leads to all sorts of delicious and dynastic thoughts for Steeler Nation--and Pittsburgh didn't make its run through these playoffs with Big Ben just handing the ball off and waiting for the defense to throttle the opposing quarterback. That's the difference between the first Super Steelers team and today's champions. The MVP of the 2005 playoffs for Pittsburgh was Roethlisberger. The MVP of the 1974 and '75 teams was ... well, there wasn't a single one, just an amazing amalgamation of Harris, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Lynn Swann and Bradshaw.

Days before the Steelers won their fifth Super Bowl, Bradshaw said he thought Roethlisberger was a fitting addition to the Steelers' pantheon. And if you know Bradshaw, he's not one to say something just for p.r. value.

"The thing you can see in the kid is that all he cares about is winning," Bradshaw said. "Forget stats. Forget who gets the credit. He understands--as I did, as I do to this day--that the only thing that matters is winning. That's your benchmark in this game. The reason I can walk down the street in Pittsburgh and people say nice things is because I was the quarterback when we won four Super Bowls. I can see it in Ben: He understands that. And that's why he's a good quarterback for that team, in that city."

I asked Bradshaw: Do you think Roethlisberger has much in common with you? He furrowed his brow for a second.

"Big arms," he said. "Big arms, and not much else. Big guys. We're both country kids, I guess. That's something. But Ben's doing it so soon. I was not ready in my second year to do what he's doing. No way.

"The poise, the arm, the way he plants his feet, the command of that team. He's got it. You can see it. The players on that team, on that offense, look up to him. They look to him to make it happen. Actually, the quarterback I compare him with is not me but Tom Brady. He takes it on his shoulders. He stands tall, hangs in there, does what he needs to get the job done in that game, whatever it is."

As much as you want to celebrate the kid's accomplishments in 2005, it's hard to look at Roethlisberger, these Steelers, Bill Cowher's hold on the team and the future and not think dynastic thoughts. Cowher has coached for 14 years, yet at age 48 he doesn't have one of those clocks in his head that tells him he's reaching the end of the line with the Steelers. Jimmy Johnson said five years is long enough to coach one team, then players begin to tune you out. John Madden said 10 years was the line of demarcation for a coach. Cowher believes that with how transient players are today, teams don't stay together long enough for a majority of players to get sick of the coach. "I wouldn't want to coach anywhere else," Cowher says.

So think of it. Ten years more of Cowher. And 10 years more of Roethlisberger. It's enough to make these passionate fans start counting down the days to training camp.

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