It’s been a week and a day since the Steelers claimed Super Bowl XLIII. Before we forge ahead and prepare our fan-brains for the next phase of the NFL year, let’s have a brief look back at the one which passed.
Be honest, were you realistically expecting the Super Bowl for our Steelers one year ago today? I wasn’t. The boys had finished their (10-6) season on a disappointing down, losing 4 of their final 5 games, going one-and-done in the playoffs against their (seemingly) nemesis-going-forward Jaguars. And that followed a roller coaster 8-8 “Farewell Bill” season which saw our QB fall back to earth after being violently bounced off it in a life-threatening motorcycle accident.
Injuries to key players plagued the team and sports minds second guessed the new coach’s methods. Older veterans grumbled. The defense looked less dominant than it had in previous campaigns. And while Big Ben put up big numbers and Fast Willie led the league in rushing until his leg broke, the general consensus was that the Pittsburgh Steelers were not a team which could contend with the new crop of big boys.
Still, in February, 2008 fans were cautiously optimistic. Coach Tomlin’s rookie season was behind him and the draft ahead. Perhaps a tweak here and a new assistant coach there would restore the Steelers’ late season competitiveness. It sure couldn’t hurt.
And now today. It’s been a week since the Steelers ran the gauntlet and carried away their sixth Lombardi Trophy. For those keeping count, that’s two (of the past 4) for the core of the current team.
It’s wrong to say they did it with smoke and mirrors, so let’s not go there. They did it with defense and a QB who refused to lose. But this was an unlikely and arduous journey for the Steelers. The team began to take on the identity of their new coach and they fought tenaciously to stay in games, “Steelers football is 60 minutes,” Tomlin said after their Super Bowl victory. But it wasn’t the first time; his team knew what was expected and they were prepared.
Fans are brimming with hope for the next season, they all want to go to Seventh Heaven. They want to see what that new running back can do. What was his name? Menden-something? You know, that guy from that school? Ray Lewis broke his shoulder last season. Ahmed Merkinville? Eh, whatever. He was supposed to step in for Fast Willie, make him expendable even. Mewelde Moore could write a book on being in the right place at the right time.
Fans should be optimistic for the 2009 season. They’ll get a new look at that rookie kid, Rashard Mendenhall. And they’ll still have Fast Willie and Right-Time Moore and a hungry defense eager to defend their blade of grass. And they’ll have a new crop of players to watch grow.
Between now and training camp there will be the combine, players cut, free agents signed, a new draft class and many end-of-the-roster hopefuls clawing for a shot. Gotta stay hungry.