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The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

By Gretel T.G. Egan

It’s been a mere three years since the Steelers journeyed to and won Super Bowl XL, besting the Seahawks and bringing a championship back to Pittsburgh for the first time in 26 years. The controversies of that contest have faded to the background for most (though Mike Holmgren likely still mumbles "striped shirts" and "low block" during nights of fitful slumber), and the Steelers are simply regarded as five-time Super Bowl champs.

Are they destined for six? And how might the XL experience influence this go-around?

In the relatively short time since that last trip, many things have changed. Let's start with the roster. Naturally, in this age of free agency, money talks and, well, we know what walks. Notable losses include Alan Faneca, Joey Porter, and Antwaan Randle El. Not-so-notable losses? Let's comfortably lump Tommy Maddox and Duce Staley in that bunch.

Of course, there have been notable additions as well. Santonio Holmes and LaMarr Woodley were not part of the Steeler Nation three years ago. Neither were the 30 or so punters we've had through the ranks this year. In all, 23 of the 53 active roster members are repeat Bowlers, so roughly 43% of the XL team remains. With the likes of Big Ben, Hines Ward, James Harrison, and Troy Polamalu still in the fold, we can feel pretty good about what turnover there has been.

Obviously, coaching is another big difference. Gone is the chin, the spitting, the kissing, the press conference death stare. In its place: studiousness, a no-nonsense attitude, Robert Frost references, and Omar Epps's doppelganger. Count me as one who is quite pleased with this change.

On the more nebulous side, this time just feels different. There is no "Let's do it for Jerome!" war cry. No Mama Bettis serving family-style meals in Detroit. No miraculous fingertip tackle that kept hope alive and virtually screamed, "We are destined to win!" And it seemed -- dare I say it? -- easy. Or at the very least quick, given the playoff bye week. As the Ravens game drew to a close, I found myself thinking, "Is this it? Really? The next game is the Super Bowl? Is there a possibility my spinach dip will keep two weeks?"

Truth be told, it's the Cardinals who have Cinderella on their side this year. They were the Number 4 seed in the NFC, this is the franchise's first Super Bowl trip, and Kurt Warner is just shy of qualifying for Medicare. Add that to Coach Whisenhunt's real or perceived ax to grind, and you've just found the media darlings of 2009.

But there is a "sameness" to the Steelers that transcends rosters, staff, and Media Week baloney. They are still all about hard-nosed defense. They are still run before pass (perhaps to a fault). And they still have destiny points in their favor, some real and some harebrained: They would be the only NFL team to win six Super Bowls. The O-Line has come out of hibernation (a feat perhaps more miraculous than even Santonio's punt return). They will be wearing the win-inducing white jerseys. And my new pitch for the secret X factor -- that 43% of their active roster members played in Super Bowl XL, and they will now be playing in Super Bowl XLIII.

Oh, and we've got Obama in our corner. Seriously. Can the sixth Super Bowl victory be far behind?


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