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January 30, 2009

Super Sunday

Joe Charlebois

This Sunday, our nation and hundreds of millions of people worldwide will sit down and watch what is arguably the biggest single sporting event in the world. This Sunday the 43rd edition of the National Football League's Super Bowl will be held in Tampa, Florida.


This game holds more significance to me as a native Pittsburgher, than almost anyone I know in the area. I was six years old when the Steelers franchise made their first trip to the NFL playoffs. I was nine years old when they won their first Super Bowl (IX). I grew up mock interviewing my little brother as we pretended to be Steelers players and coaches. I sang – and still do – sing the Steelers Polka (now it resides in my IPod).


In 1972, I wore "Frenchy" Fuqua's jersey with the number '33.' Prior to the Super Bowl years, Fuqua had been my favorite player. For those who may not realize who John "Frenchy" Fuqua is, he is the recipient of a vicious Jack Tatum hit on a fourth down play in the 1972 playoffs that should have ended the Steelers dream of winning their first ever playoff game.


What happened next, however, is historic. In the 1972 divisional playoff game between the Steelers and the Oakland Raiders, the Raiders led 7 - 6 with 1:17 left in the 4th quarter. The Raiders had just taken the lead, thanks to a long touchdown run from quarterback Kenny Stabler.


After the Steelers offense stalled at their own 40-yard line, they faced a 4th down and 10. Quarterback Terry Bradshaw looked to pass but was forced to scramble in the backfield attempting to reach one of his receivers.


With the defensive pressure coming, Bradshaw "checked" down to his running back Fuqua. As the pass was delivered to Fuqua, so was the brutal hit from Tatum. This collision propelled the football high into the air and several yards back toward the line of scrimmage.


Just before the Steelers season was about to end on the frozen artificial turf of Three Rivers Stadium, it was scooped up just above the shoelaces of a rookie running back named Franco Harris. Harris then sprinted toward the end zone with the football, and a touchdown.


Even though the Steelers lost the next week to the Miami Dolphins, this was the start of one of professional football's greatest dynasties.


Now some 37 years later, my passion still runs as deep as ever. My family room is festooned with Steelers pennants from the first Super Bowls. A copy of the 1975 Pittsburgh Press "souvenir" Super Bowl edition adorns the hall to the kitchen. Iron City Beer cans with the championship teams on them are there as well.


The Steelers rise coincided ironically with the fall of the steel industry in Pittsburgh. With the decline of industry in Pittsburgh, many lost jobs, hope and fled elsewhere. The Steelers of the 70s brought the bright sunshine on what was a long gray overcast day. The city has since rebounded and gone through a second renaissance. In fact, the city has been named "Most Livable City" by Rand McNally, twice.


I attended Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, the summer home of the Pittsburgh Steelers where there is no fee to watch the stars practice. When I graduated I saw many of my colleagues leave western Pennsylvania for work elsewhere. The city had rebounded, but there was no growth. So after spending two years in Pittsburgh I too left the area for work elsewhere. My wife and I moved to Frederick, and have lived here ever since.


I realize that like others, I love rooting for the underdog. I understand that the Arizona Cardinals come into this game as underdogs. I'd be rooting for them too, if the Steelers weren't challenging them.


However one thing that can be said about the team that the Rooney family has built is that they are hard to root against. Ownership is not flashy. The players – as a rule - never have issues outside the lines. If they do not live up to the Steelers professional conduct standards, they aren't kept – whatever their value.


So, this Sunday, with all of the other transplanted Pittsburghers in the area, we won't be upset if you root for the underdog, but don't be upset if the Steelers win their unprecedented sixth Super Bowl.


The Rooney family is the gold standard of franchise ownership; the city is made up of great friendly hard-working folks who live for Sundays. We love our team, our Iron City Beer, our Isaly's Chipped Chopped Ham, and putting our french fries and cole slaw on our sandwiches like they do downtown at Primanti Brothers.


Here we go Steelers, here we go!


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