I don't have anything against pro football, but I'm not devoted to spending Sundays watching it and worrying about which teams win. Many aficionados of high school and/or college football like myself are too tired or burned out come Sundays during football season to really get into it. Once January comes and the NFL playoffs start without competition from my favorite schools, I become a bit more interested.
One team that always piques my interest is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hines Ward was one of my all-time favorite college players, and now that he is the top wide receiver for the Steelers, I have come to follow them as closely as possible. Hines had a great attitude and was the epitome of a team player in college. That attitude has carried over to his NFL play.
Even though Ward is Pittsburgh's leading career pass receiver, I enjoy watching him not because he catches passes, but because he flattens defenders with bone crushing blocks. When you watch a Steeler game, keep your eyes on the opposing defensive backs and linebackers. When a player other than Hines Ward is running the ball, the defenders all have their heads on a swivel as they pursue the ball carrier. They know number 86 is out there somewhere looking for a head to knock off.
The Steelers are guided by a coach, Bill Cowher, who reminds me of many of the most successful college coaches. You can tell by his sideline demeanor that he means business but does not mind expressing his enthusiasm for big time plays by his team. He can go face to facemask with the meanest hombre when he goofs up and hug him when he comes up big. The Steelers always seem well-prepared for whatever is thrown at them.
Pittsburgh also reminds me of a college team in the way that they genuinely seem to care for their teammates. They do their share of hot-dogging, but nowhere near the degree that most NFL teams do. When their players score or make big plays they seem more interested in acknowledging their teammates' contribution than their own.
Jerome "The Bus" Bettis is the Steelers' third string tailback. They use him predominantly in the redzone and in the second half of games when the opponent is wearing down. In his younger days with the Rams and later with the Steelers, I often got tired of hearing about Bettis. I thought he was overrated and got too much attention for his limited role on the team.
As time has gone by I have come to appreciate Bettis. When I see him interviewed he always is bragging on his team and downplaying himself. When I see how the younger Steeler players seem to revere their elder statesman it makes me realize that he must be a pretty good guy. He obviously does not begrudge the success of the other players, including second year quarterback Ben Roethilsberger. We can't say that about every NFL player, especially a certain wide receiver that once played on another pro team from Pennsylvania.
As we head toward next Sunday's Super Bowl I'll be pulling for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I love Hines Ward's style of play, his smile, and of course his Georgia Bulldog pedigree. I'll be pulling for Coach Cowher because he's a good coach that deserves a championship. He's had some rough years but the owners didn't jump the gun and fire him. They believed in stability, and I hope it pays off. Jerome Bettis will likely be playing in his last game and in his hometown.
I'll be pulling for the Steelers most of all because they enjoy the game and play as a team. When they point a finger at a teammate, it is not one of accusation, but adoration. I've watched them enough to firmly believe that they are each other's biggest fans. That's enough for me to say, "Go Steelers!"