Steelers began Super Bowl talk months ago

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PITTSBURGH (AP)—Sometime early in a new player’s career, he’ll be pulled aside and instructed about the way the Pittsburgh Steelers do business.

It won’t be the traditional welcome-to-the-NFL talk from coach Mike Tomlin, or a stay-out-of-trouble warning from team president Art Rooney II. Rather, a long-established player such as Hines Ward, James Farrior, Ben Roethlisberger or Aaron Smith will deliver a message that is subtle but easily understood.

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FIRE IS BURNING—Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin reacts to a call in the first half against the Carolina Panthers during a preseason NFL football game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 3.

The words of wisdom go something like this: In Pittsburgh, the goal is to win the Super Bowl, and not necessarily one or two of them. And there is no other goal. It’s the goal this season, and it will be the goal next season. Pro Bowls, All-Pro teams, rookie of the year awards come with winning, but they never trump winning.

Never.

Got a lively personality? Fine. Love to talk? Fine. Prefer to be quiet and introspective? No problem. Any kind of personality is welcome. Just remember: No one player is the Steelers.

Want to have your own reality TV series, want to be the man, can’t wait to be the show? Go somewhere else. In Pittsburgh, the six Super Bowl trophies that greet each player daily at the Steelers’ practice complex serve as a reminder of what motivates the franchise. If that doesn’t do it, go anywhere in a town where it’s impossible to walk a single block and not see a Steelers T-shirt, banner, tattoo or Terrible Towel, and a player will quickly realize what matters.

It’s why Ben Roethlisberger takes his linemen on mini-vacations during bye weekends. Why the offensive linemen regularly gather at least once a week to bowl, hang out or talk. Why the defensive players refer to much-admired coordinator Dick LeBeau, who turns 72 on Wednesday, as “Coach Dad.” Why Troy Polamalu takes the defensive backs with him to the Pro Bowl. Why coaches such as Dan Bylsma of the Stanley Cup-winning Penguins and John Calipari of Kentucky visited training camp this summer to see what makes the Steelers winners.

It’s why Ward, on the very first day of offseason workouts in April, said a group of Steelers that largely remained intact while winning two Super Bowls in four seasons shouldn’t be satisfied with what it has accomplished.

“I want to win another one,” Ward said. “The (Steelers) teams in the ’70s, they won four. If we can win another one, then I think we’ll be right up there with New England as one of the teams in the dynasty since I’ve been here.”

The Patriots are the only team in the last 10 years to win successive Super Bowls, doing so in the 2003 and 2004 seasons, yet these Steelers appear well positioned to make a run at a repeat title.

Nineteen of the 22 starters return from the team that drove down the field in the final two minutes to beat Arizona 27-23 in the Super Bowl, a remarkable accomplishment in the salary cap era. It’s also a testament to the Steelers’ ability to focus on players that fit their system and keep them. Ward, for example, signed a substantial contract before the Steelers won the Super Bowl during the 2005 season, then signed another one during the offseason.

“You know that the people in charge, with every decision they make, are doing what’s best for the team,” safety Ryan Clark said.

Roethlisberger, who has the look of a franchise quarterback, still can throw to Super Bowl MVPs Santonio Holmes and Ward. Willie Parker, three times a 1,000-yard rusher, will be complemented by a healthy Rashard Mendenhall, the first-round pick a year ago. All the offensive line starters but one return.

Every key player on the defense that was ranked No. 1 statistically the last two seasons is back, including newly re-signed Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison and Polamalu, whose unrivaled versatility requires offenses to figure out what he’s doing on every down.

The Steelers also upgraded their long-deficient kick returning by signing former CFL star Stefan Logan and drafting Mike Wallace, a third-round pick who might already be one of the fastest receivers in team history.

Looking for the wildcat offense, gee-whiz gimmicks and trickery? Look elsewhere. The Steelers again will be about playing exceptional defense, controlling the ball, running the clock, keeping drives going, hanging on to the ball.

The Steelers play that way in September, and they play that way in December. They also hope and, perhaps, expect to play that way in February.

“We’re not assuming anything,” Tomlin said. “The ’08 Steelers are the ’08 Steelers…What they call us is irrelevant. It’s more about what we do, what we’re willing to do. No doubt we have a capable group. We’re not going to run from that. Capability is less of an issue. It’s more about what we’re willing to do.”

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