- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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I'VE COVERED THE NFL FOR A QUARTER CENTURY NOW. One tends to get jaded after a while, doing the same thing, seeing the same people (or at least the same kinds of athletic, fabulously wealthy people) playing the same game. Then I got a chance to be around the Pittsburgh Steelers for five days as the Pro Football Writers of America pool reporter during the run-up to the team's sixth Super Bowl victory.
The players make fun of the owner. The players make fun of the coach. The coach makes fun of everyone. There is no grass-is-greener-elsewhere syndrome; they all know this is where the grass is greenest: at the confluence of the Three Rivers.
These people are focused on enjoying their lives. They are not looking for the next gig.
In those five days I never once heard players talking about making more money somewhere else. No coaches were sidling up to writers hoping to get their names thrown into some higher-paying college or NFL ring.
These people are grateful for what they have. They are happy.
I'll tell you a story. At practice on the Thursday before the game it began pouring, and most of us on hand had no rain gear. There was a sliver of protection—a narrow area underneath a broad light pole—and I found myself getting as thin as I could when the rain was at its heaviest. It was the same idea that wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington and running backs Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore had. We were snuggled up tight to the pole, and Holmes and Parker started talking about the jumping ability of tigers. Holmes thought a tiger could jump the eight-foot fence ringing the adjacent field where the Steelers were practicing. Parker thought a tiger couldn't jump that high. They argued and laughed about how silly an argument it was, and the other players joined in with their opinions. "A tiger is all-powerful!" Holmes yelled. "Got springs in its legs! Of course it can jump that little fence!"
Meanwhile, out on the field, Hines Ward was walking to the sideline and saw the 76-year-old owner and patriarch of the team, Dan Rooney, his head protected from the rain by only a white towel that draped back over his neck. Keep in mind that Dan Rooney is one of the few remaining owners from the old guard of the NFL. A man such as this is to be respected.
Rooney smiled. I half expected him to give Ward a hotfoot when he wasn't looking, or an exploding cigar. Later in the week Rooney talked about the Steeler Way. Sometimes it's the Comedy Central Way. Everyone's an equal-opportunity target, all in the name of good fun and chemistry. "It's so marvelous," Rooney said. "It's the way we do things here."
At 6:30 on the morning after the Steelers' 27-23 Super Bowl victory over Arizona, Jerome Bettis walked into the lobby of his hotel in Tampa. He was just back from a night of celebrating with the guys. Who would know better about the Steeler Way than the Bus? So I asked him what he thought.