PITTSBURGH KDKA) – The Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers will meet in Super Bowl 50 Sunday night on CBS.
Maybe you’ve heard something about it.
Of course, no team is more associated with the Super Bowl than the Pittsburgh Steelers. They are the only team to win it six times. They are also tied for the most Super Bowl appearances with eight.
So, for this big Super Bowl anniversary, KDKA-TV asked some Super Bowl champion Steelers to share their perspective on what it’s like to be part of the spectacle.
While the modern Super Bowl has become a mammoth event preceded by a week of parties and stunts and glamour, things were a bit different in 1975. That’s when the Steelers went to their first Super Bowl – in New Orleans – against the Minnesota Vikings.
“The weather was bad, and the hotel we stayed in was in bankruptcy,” laughs Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris. “We had no glitz whatsoever. No big parties for us, no nothing.”
On the other hand, while players today routinely have Super Bowl week curfews, bed checks and other strict rules, that was not the case under Coach Chuck Noll – at least early on leading up to Super Bowl IX in New Orleans.
“We flew down on Sunday,” remembers retired running back Rocky Bleier. “And he said, ‘Alright, I won’t see you until Tuesday. No curfew, enjoy the city.’ And it was like, wow!”
Bleier, Harris and Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount confirm that the order to enjoy the city was obeyed.
As for that game – a 16-6 win over the Vikings, and their three subsequent Super Bowl victories in the span of six years, the things these three champions still remember might surprise you.
Ken Rice: “When you do something good in a high profile game, it lives on and on in highlights. But when you do something bad, maybe only you remember it. Is there some mistake you made in any of these Super Bowls that still bothers you?”
Franco Harris: “In Super Bowl X, I dropped a pass and that still bothers me to this day.”
Mel Blount: “I had my back turned, this guy’s running for a touchdown, and when I realized what was happening, it was too late. And that bothers me to this day.”
Bleier remembers an unfortunate call late in Super Bowl X – for him to run down the clock:
“And I said, I’m not a run-out guy. Franco’s a run-out guy. I’m an A-to-B guy,” says Bleier.
He remembers being quickly tackled.
But these 4-time Super Bowl champions knew they were a special team that gave a struggling city immense pride. Blount remembers the fans welcoming them home with the team’s first Lombardi Trophy:
“They had people lined up down the Parkway. It was the most incredible scene. I’ll never forget that. It was just a beautiful thing for the whole city,” says Blount.
Maybe no one appreciates what the Steelers of the 1970’s accomplished more than the Steelers who came along later and won the team’s fifth and sixth championships.
“We respect the heck out of them because they made the Steelers who they are,” says retired defensive lineman Chris Hoke.
Hoke’s teammate Aaron Smith agrees.
“I put those guys on a pedestal from the time I walked in the Steeler door. Those guys were legends and I always looked up to those guys,” says Smith.
Franco Harris says the admiration goes both ways.
“I feel so proud because we’re all connected,” says Harris. “And if Super Bowls can be one thing that continually connects us, that’s great.”
Now, one might assume that to be a successful pro football player – let alone a successful Steelers player – you’ve got to be the kind of guy who does not get distracted and does not get the jitters.
That may be true during the regular season. It may be true in most playoff games.
However, the Super Bowl is different.
“The whole week, I was so nervous,” says former defensive end Brett Keisel.
“So many distractions, so many people pulling on you,” says Smith.
Hoke says the jitters wiped out any hope of setting down the night before.
“I was waking up every 15, 20 minutes,” says Hoke. “That’s how I’m wired.”
The Super Bowl — especially when it’s your first, as Super Bowl XL was for a generation of Steelers — can get in the head of even the most ferocious and focused football warriors.
“You spend your whole life with this dream,” says Smith. “This might be the only opportunity you have and you don’t want to mess up this one chance.”
Smith, Hoke and Keisel helped the Steelers get to three Super Bowls during the last decade. They all vividly remember the fitful hours before their first.
“Your mind’s constantly going,” says Smith. “I think I watched movies in the hotel room, who knows, ’til about two or three o’clock in the morning.”
“You’re up all night just because you’re thinking,” says Hoke. “You’re going through the game, how it’s going to unfold, how am I going to play in the game?”
Also permanently imprinted: The run out of the tunnel.
“You can’t even see. The reflections, everybody’s taking pictures,” says Smith.
And then there’s the very first play.
“An amazing series of flashes,” says Keisel. “And then you’re just like, ‘Alright let’s go!'”
These men were among a group that went to three Super Bowls, winning two. While they savored those two victories, they agree that the pain of losing to Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV outlasted the joy of beating Seattle in Super Bowl XL and Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII.
Hoke remembers sitting, stunned, in the locker room after the 2011 loss to the Packers.
“The feeling was, what just happened? I can’t believe we just lost this football game. And that lasted, lingered for a long time,” says Hoke.
But – looking back now – what they truly savor is the journey.
“It wasn’t winning the Super Bowl that I’m going to remember most. It’s sharing the experiences with guys that I truly love and I enjoyed being around every day. Those are the moments I’m going to remember most,” says Smith.