One for the other hand

The AFC Championship brutally outlived all the expectations. Three years after the Pittsburgh Steelers won the coveted Lombardi Trophy that sealed head coach Bill Cowher’s place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and sent off veteran running back Jerome Bettis off as a champion, the Steelers are going back to the Super Bowl, this time with second-year head coach Mike Tomlin.

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the season against a schedule ranked toughest in the league, a not so desired honor. Facing the league’s top teams week in and week out, the biggest challenge may have been to come out in one piece. The Steelers did 12 better, wrapping up the season 12–4.

The Steelers pulled out 12 victories by developing the league’s best defense. Appropriately nicknamed Blitzburgh, this phenomenal defense dominated opponents by pressuring quarterbacks and stopping the run. Facing many of the league’s most potent offenses, the Steelers allowed only an average of 13.9 points per game. The defensive unit recorded 51 sacks and forced 20 interceptions and nine fumbles. So impressive was this group that many sports analysts have asked, is this the Steel Curtain II? There may never be a defense that will rule the field the way the Steel Curtain of the 1970s did, but if the this defense can start off the ring collection for the other hand, then perhaps a legitimate comparison can be made.

When a team has the luxury of such stingy defense, the offense is not asked to do much, and Pittsburgh’s offense certainly benefited from this advantage. Despite a rich tradition in running the ball, the run game only produced 1690 yards (23rd most in the NFL) due to injuries to star running back Willie Parker and a sometimes inconsistent offensive line. Ultimately, the Steelers were able to win the AFC North division because they won the close games and rallied together to overcome key injuries. In a league filled with tremendous physical talent, injuries can end a team’s hopes for success, but great teams win with great chemistry and clutch performances, and there were certainly many memorable dramatic endings.

Not many other cities come alive during playoff runs the way Pittsburgh does. The Steelers play the game with a blue-collar, hard-hitting style that mirrors the hardworking middle-class characteristics of Pittsburghers. The humble demeanor of the franchise owner, Dan Rooney, sets the tone from the top by hiring the right personnel and trusting them to steer the team. Since 1969 the Steelers have had three coaches — Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin. In an era of free agency and instant gratification, such a statistic deserves an asterisk. The Steelers may not be the winningest franchise, but it's certainly the most consistent.

You can tell a lot about a team by the way they win the ugly games. This team has character, chemistry and trust in each other. Sometimes, that's all you need.