Talking Steelers Football With Dave Filoni

Posted Nov 15, 2011

Dave Filoni might be thousands of miles away from his hometown of Pittsburgh, but his heart is always with the Steelers no matter where work takes him.
Filoni is the director of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars feature film, and the supervising director of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV series for Lucasfilm in California.

While work keeps him busy, and often times traveling, he makes every effort to not let it interfere with watching the Steelers each week, something that began for him as a kid growing up in Mt. Lebanon, a Pittsburgh suburb.

Filoni is featured in this installment of Talking Steelers Football. 

Is being a Steelers fan something natural for you since you grew up in the Pittsburgh area?
Absolutely. I was born in 1974 so for my brother and I the majority of our childhood the Steelers were winning the Super Bowl. Even though we were too young early on to understand what it meant, I don’t think we even realized it was something they were supposed to do every year. They were just winning and the Steelers were everywhere. I remember you could get trading cards from the local police if you asked them. We had the little beanies with the pom-poms on top. It goes back a long way.

When you hear the name Steelers, what does it make you think?
I think it’s always a tremendous amount of pride and toughness. It represents Pittsburgh. I have travelled a lot because of my job at Lucasfilm. I always take my jersey. Without fail, if I am walking through an airport, even in Singapore, Japan, and there is someone else from Pittsburgh who asks about being a Steelers fan. I ask if they are from Pittsburgh and they ask the same, and what part they are from. People from Pittsburgh always get along like that and the Steelers are our traveling symbol of the city.

Do you have a particular jersey that you take with you, or do you have many?
I have a James Farrior jersey. He is probably my favorite current player. He has the right combination of skill and toughness. Off the field he seems like a very upstanding individual. He has the James Farrior Foundation. I think that is something you see with the Steelers. With that pride and respect that starts with the Rooney family there is a sense of dedication to being great on the field and off the field.

Who was your favorite player as a kid?
As a kid Terry Bradshaw ranked really high, but also Franco Harris. My grandparents are Italian and there was the Franco’s Italian Army movement which was incredible to me as a kid. It was easy for me to relate to Franco as a kid. He was outstanding to watch. Terry Bradshaw was incredibly entertaining as well.

What is your favorite Steelers memory?
That is more recent. It was the 2008 march to the Super Bowl when Troy Polamalu intercepted the ball late in the game against Joe Flacco to really seal it. There is really nothing better than beating the Ravens. I don’t know why it is, but it’s true. Maybe it’s because they used to be the Browns. We dislike them more now. Troy has the ability to come out of nowhere and grab the ball. You could feel it deflate the entire team. It was a spectacular moment. Coming back this year in the playoffs against Baltimore after our terrible first half was another great moment for the Steelers as a team. It would have been horrible to lose to Baltimore and have to sit on that all summer. Losing the Super Bowl was tough too, but at least we made it to the Super Bowl.

How closely do you follow the team now, are you able to watch all of the games?
I watch as many games as I can. There is a local bar I go to every Sunday and there are a bunch of Steelers fans. It’s funny because they are almost like a strange cast of characters. There is one guy Marty, and we call him “The Mayor,” and the first thing he asks you if you walk in with a Steelers jersey on is, “Yinz want some gum bands.” It’s like his little test. Everyone at that bar who is a Steelers fan from Pittsburgh is from around the South Hills area where I grew up. It’s a fun little reunion for us each week that I look forward to.

Do you have a game day ritual?
You try to tell yourself none of the things you are going to do is going to matter. I have a certain pair of black and gold shoes that I wear only on Steelers Sunday. I have a certain hat I only wear to the games. I keep it in my room otherwise, neatly tucked away. It only comes out on Steelers Sunday. I have the regular Farrior home jersey and I have the classic one. I like going with the classic one I grew up with. You tell yourself if doesn’t affect it but you are less stressed out if you follow your ritual.

Do you have any Steelers items in your office?
I have a Darth Vader helmet with a Steelers logo painted on it and a gold stripe down the middle. He would probably be a Steelers fan. He would like our style of play. I have a Terrible Towel hanging on a big mannequin of a Jedi Knight out front in the office. He has two foam fingers, one that has six rings on it and one that has #1. I have the Steelers well represented.  

What is the reaction like when people see those items, as they are very unique?
It’s fun to point out that any team waving a towel is just copying Myron (Cope) and his great idea for the Terrible Towel. There is a good football presence on the crew so people know what the things are. 

What is the favorite Steelers item that you own?
I have an old Steelers helmet that my brother and I both had when we were kids. Having something that goes back that long means the most because you have seen pictures of yourself with it when you were a kid.

What do you prefer, a defensive battle or high-scoring game?
I would have to say defensive battle. In all of the years I have watched that has been our biggest point of pride, you are not going to be able to score on us. I played ice hockey and was a goalie so I can appreciate defense. People want to make defensive battles not be as exciting as an offensive game, but not the way the Steelers play defense. They are just as liable to score on you on a turnover as a regular offense is. It’s an electrifying style of play and the hard hitting we like in Pittsburgh.

What are you like watching the games? Do you get nervous, excited?
I pretty much keep it contained until they score. I think that was my family’s style. My father would do a lot of pacing, leaving the room. He couldn’t handle the pressure of it. I think it’s that way with Pittsburgh fans. We are quietly focused on the game and everything in it and then we will have a pretty big outburst. I think I fit that bill pretty well with my friends when we watch the game. If you win, be glad but if you lose, lose gracefully and figure out how to win next week.

You have had the chance as a fan to watch three head coaches – Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin. What do you think of the approach Tomlin brings?
He is very, very direct. When you watch his post-game interviews he is always upfront and honest with everyone about what is happening. He doesn’t play a lot of mind games. He understands that is what the city wants. People in Pittsburgh know the game of football and you aren’t going to be able to put a lot over on them. I think his directness and serious attitude are something that identify well with the city.  When Bill Cowher came in and had the tremendous task of taking over for Chuck Noll I think his electrifying personality was what was needed at the time. It was almost like we all remember that jaw sticking out and him barking. It breathed a sense of life. It was in total contrast to Chuck Noll’s style which was very reserved, but genius in so many ways. We are lucky. In my lifetime there have only been three coaches of the Pittsburgh Steelers and each of them great in their own way. Each one of them has achieved greatness in a Super Bowl.

Do you try and incorporate any Steelers subtleties into your show?
Every now and then I will do something really subtle like making an R2 unit black and gold for the city. I will do tiny things like that. I haven’t named a Jedi after Troy Polamalu yet.  

And speaking of your show, what current Steelers player would fit the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi?

James Farrior would fit that well. In his role anchoring the defense he is a mentor to a lot of the younger players. I thought this past season he showed tremendous commitment and strength. Everyone talks about him getting older, but any team in the league would kill to have him back there.

What current Steelers player would make a good Darth Vader?
If there is anyone who is going to come out and get you and put fear in you like Darth Vader would, it’s James Harrison. You turn around and boom he is there and you are done. In that way he plays the role because he is an aggressive attacking force. He has that quality to him. He would fit well in the Vader helmet.

What current Steelers player would make a good Jedi?
I would think Troy Polamalu. He would make a great Jedi with his abilities. Sometimes it seems like he is using the force with the way he can get to the position and intercept the ball. His abilities, when he leaps over the line to try and sack the quarterback with incredible timing he is summing up what Obi-Wan is telling Luke (Skywalker) to do, which is just let go and your focus determines your reality. He is in that moment that it seems like he can see things before they happen and that is being a Jedi. It’s uncanny the way he can jump around and just be there reading the plays.

Star Wars The Clone Wars airs on the Cartoon Network.