FORT WORTH, Texas -- Hines Ward remembers the early days of his Steelers career, when the greats from the 1970s dynasty teams used to come through the locker room and tell their stories from the glory years. And as great as it was to hear from guys like Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann and Franco Harris, after a while, those stories started to make Ward and his teammates feel a bit inadequate.
"Those guys used to put that right in our faces," Ward said. "Like, you're not really a Steeler until you've won the Super Bowl. So, it's good we've been able to win a couple and add to the legacy."
Bradshaw and his gang won four Super Bowl titles in the 70s, but the organization didn't win again until Ward, Ben Roethlisberger and Co. broke through in Super Bowl XL five years ago in Detroit. They won again three years later, making the Steelers the first first organization ever to win six crowns -- and Sunday, they'll go for a seventh. The current Steelers are proud of their contribution to that history and the manner in which they've been able to perpetuate the Steeler Way of doing things.
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"It's passed down from generation of Steelers to generation of Steelers through stories and actions," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "The young guys who are brought in are taught how we do business. People embrace it, and they enjoy it. It's something great to be a part of, and it comes from the Rooney family."
Everything great that everybody always says about the Steelers ultimately leads back to the ownership. Art Rooney founded the team (then called the Pittsburgh Pirates) in the 1930s, and later passed it down to his son, Dan. The Steelers rose to prominence in the 70s with Dan in control, and while he's still a regular presence around the team, he's also the U.S. ambassador to Ireland, so his son, Art Rooney II, has control of the team. The consistency of the Rooney family and the efficient, level-headed way they've run the franchise (they've had only three different coaches, for instance, since 1969) defines them, and the players quickly come to appreciate it.
"We get a tremendous amount of support from our owners," Steelers safety Troy Polamalu said. "We call (Dan) 'Papa Rooney.' People have his cell phone number. He came out in support of the players' union saying that an 18-game season shouldn't be in the next CBA. He's got a really unique view on how a successful franchise should be run and how the team should be run and how the atmosphere in the locker room and within the building should be. I think other owners could learn from that."
Across all sports, it's easy to see the negative impact that inept, reactionary, unstable ownership can have. The Washington Redskins have been a mess since Dan Snyder bought the team. The Peter Angelos regime in Baltimore has overseen the decay of baseball's once-proud Baltimore Orioles. There's no overcoming a bad owner, and there's no shortage of examples of that. But the Steelers, since the early '70s, have stood as an example of the positive impact a good, patient and self-assured owner can have.
"It's really simple," Tomlin said. "They stay singularly focused on the things that matter, which is winning and doing it in an upright and straightforward manner, trying to do it the right way. It's not only in those words; it's in the actions. It's something that goes on every day over the last four years that I've been there."
The success of the current group, which would match the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady Patriots with three Super Bowl titles if it beats the Packers on Sunday, in many ways validates the Rooneys' Steeler Way. It's one thing to have dominated the 1970s. But to transcend generations and establish a new dynasty three decades later says everything there is to say about the value of consistent, patient leadership.
"In the National Football League, you have turnover," defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "And we've had some turnover. But we've been fortunate to keep a pretty solid core of guys that have played a lot of years for the black and gold. That helps us as coaches tremendously."
So does the support they get from ownership -- the sense of security that comes with knowing a bad year or a rough couple of games aren't going to land your job in jeopardy. Because of the way they run things, Ward will someday be able to show off his rings to a future generation of Steelers, challenging and inspiring them the way the Steeler greats of the 70s did him.
"I've been very blessed to be part of such a great organization," Ward said. "It's a big honor. Those guys won four Super Bowls. I've got an opportunity to win three. I'm very excited for that opportunity, and very honored to have my name mentioned with those guys."
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