The Steelers made one of their best draft day moves at the end of the last century when they traded for running back Jerome Bettis in 1996. Bettis became a valuable asset to the team and much loved by Steelers fans who loved their powerhouse football.
After a twelve-year career in the NFL, Bettis came close to playing in the big one at the end of the 2004 season, but the Steelers lost the AFC Conference game. That loss hurt and Bettis thought long and hard about retiring. When the Steelers wanted him back, even at a reduced rate, the attraction of the Super Bowl being played in his hometown of Detroit was enough for the veteran player to decide to play one more season.
“We anticipate the Steelers will make another run at the Super Bowl and that is Jerome’s motivation to come back, to play in the Super Bowl,” confirmed his agent.
After finishing 11-5 in the regular season, Pittsburgh entered the playoffs as the sixth seed having lost the tiebreaker to the AFC North champions Cincinnati Bengals. The adventure for the Steelers and Bettis was mission impossible as no sixth seed had ever won a Super Bowl.
Since the league expanded the playoffs in 1990 to six teams per conference, playing all their games on the road for the lowest seed had proved an insurmountable task.
The Steelers crushed the Bengals in the wildcard game, edged the Colts in the division game and comfortably took a 34-17 victory over Denver in the AFC Championship to find themselves facing the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
My previous experience of a Super Bowl was the Steelers loss to the Cowboys in 1996, so I always knew I was going to try and get to Detroit for the game and seek redemption. Organising the flight was easy, and as long as I didn’t want a room downtown the hotel wasn’t too difficult to source so I chose one at the airport.
As you can imagine getting a ticket from a reliable source was going to prove the biggest challenge. I eventually paid $2000 for a $400 seat, but was it a valid ticket? I wouldn’t find out until I had travelled 3,800 miles. Would my faith in human nature be rewarded?
On the Friday, I flew into a Detroit airport covered in snow, but cities in the USA know how to handle the conditions, so it wasn’t that big a deal and I managed to pick up the hire car and get to my hotel to recover from my flight and the change in time zones.
Fortunately, I was meeting some of my Pittsburgh friends for the game. They were staying with an uncle over on the other side of town and we were due to visit the NFL Experience downtown on Saturday.
The arrangements to secure my ticket had a strict timetable for later that evening, but the project manager in me suggested that a reconnaissance of the location before the pickup was a good idea. I arranged to meet my friends at the hotel before we took the bus downtown because car parking was at a premium.
With mass of NFL fans having nothing else to do in the inclement weather, the NFL Experience was packed. With the continuous snow outside, they want wanted to be indoors, in the warm to experience the NFL’s doctrine.
I was fortunate to have my own minder when I went to collect the ticket. My friend’s uncle Pat came with me as a safeguard and to act as my guide. The Holiday Inn was in the middle of nowhere so I didn’t know what to expect, but as soon as I walked in it was obvious security was tight.
I wasn’t the only one collecting a ticket. When you appreciate that the cheapest ticket was on sale for $2000, there was a lot of collateral in one room. I had already sent the payment through so it was a case of proving my identity and taking my ticket although I did wonder if there were any hidden guns to prevent any robbery. Was O.J. Simpson in town?
Fortunately, Pat led me back to the hotel because the snow was coming down in bucket loads and this was before sat navs became generally available.
Finally, it was Super Sunday and I had to somehow get to Ford Field. I had the challenge of getting there because there was no way I was driving and I had the usual dilemma of getting my camera into the stadium. NFL rules stipulate that lenses over 6 inches are not allowed in.
My hotel arranged for a limo that cost me $100 for the journey and I met up with my friends about half a mile from the stadium. There was no chance of tailgating and all the bars were solid so we decided to make our way into the stadium with me wondering if I was just about to have my lens confiscated for being too big.
Fortune favours the brave, so they say.
The security was just like it is at the airport with pockets being emptied and items placed in containers while each person walked through a metal detector.
My friend Ed used the line next to mine and hit a problem over his bum bag. Apparently it was too big to be allowed in. The argument got quite heated as Ed said he had checked the guidelines on the NFL web site and, as far as he was concerned, it met their criteria.
Using the commotion to my advantage, I placed my camera and lens in a plastic bucket and walked through. The attention of all the security personnel was on the disagreement going on next to me so my lens made it through with no hint of interest from security.
Relieved, I waited for Ed as his dispute was rectified when he found out that girls were allowed to take in bigger bags so he turned to a girl and asked if she would take his bag in for him. When she agreed, the crisis was over.
After the altercation, we just relaxed walking around the inside of the stadium. While Ed spotted familiar faces from Pittsburgh, I recognised a Steeler fan from England who had travelled with me on our first organised trip to Pittsburgh in 1993. Small world indeed.
As readers will recall, the game wasn’t a classic, but I’ll always remember the Seahawks fan in front of me screaming, “Never misses! Never misses!” when Josh Brown attempted a 54-yard field goal for Seattle at the end of the first half.
A successful field goal would have brought them to within one point and may have changed the course of the game. Fortunately, it went wide right and the obnoxious Seahawks fan fell quiet and the Steelers went on to win their fifth Lombardi trophy.
Willie Parker set a Super Bowl record with a 75-yard touchdown run, my dream of seeing the Steelers win a Super Bowl came true and Bettis received his retirement ring.
“This is why I started thirteen years ago, on this quest,” Bettis admitted after the game. “Along the way, I amassed a lot of yards and a lot of Pro Bowls, but none of that was significant because it wasn’t the team goals. The team goal has always been to win a championship and now I have a championship.”