During the weekend of Nov. 29-30, the Steelers will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Super Bowl IX in conjunction with their game against the New Orleans Saints at Heinz Field. In Super Bowl IX, which was played at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, the Steelers won the first championship in franchise history by defeating the Minnesota Vikings, 16-6. Throughout this week, Steelers.com will be focusing on that championship team.
Is it hard to believe it's been 40 years since Super Bowl IX?
Not when I wake up in the morning. It is, though. A lot of those memories are still fresh in my mind, a lot of the things we went through, the ups and downs of a season even within a Super Bowl season that we had to fight our way through. Things like the quarterbacks not playing well, the offensive line not playing well, and the rare occasion when the defense wasn't playing well. Going through those things I still remember them and they are fresh for me. In that sense it's hard to believe it's been that long. I will look at the Super Bowl number IX and compare that to the number now and realize how long it's been.
What is your best memory from the game?
It was fairly nice all week and the weather turned a little bit cold on game day. I remember Franco Harris having a really good game against them. I remember our defense stymying their offense to the point where they couldn't get any yards, in particular a great performance by our front four.
Could you have ever imagined that would be the start of an incredible dynasty?**
Not at the time, no. We were just reveling in the one. Guys like myself, Donnie Shell, Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, and Mike Webster, it was our first year. There were guys like Ray Mansfield and Andy Russell who had labored through a lot, the down years of the franchise, and they went to one. We weren't thinking about a dynasty, we were only thinking about the then and now and we were World Champions.
As a rookie on that team, and part of the greatest draft class ever, what was it like to have that much success so early in your career?
We didn't know any different. Answering that question in hindsight you can say it was something phenomenal and very rarely occurs in the life of a professional athlete, and we did all of that in six years. That season was our only gauge as to how things ought to go. We thought we should go to the Super Bowl every year. That's is where we were as rookies coming in.
The friendships you built with your teammates then, is it great that so many of those still exist today?
I think it's phenomenal. I am often asked what I remember about those years. When I was still playing I would say the Super Bowl and the catches and all of the hype that went along with it. Looking back 40 years it was the relationships. They were key. It makes those memories all the better when I can sit and talk to a Lynn Swann, Joe Greene, Mel Blount, Franco Harris, Jack Ham and Jack Lambert about those years, that makes it. It if I was to sit alone with my own memories and think them, those memories wouldn't be nearly as warm as they are having those folks around and those people to share them with me.
You have stayed close with the team, especially through your role as one of the partners. Do you enjoy watching the new group of players who are still carrying on the Steelers tradition?
I hear them talk about the Steelers legacy. In my years, and certainly with Joe and Mel, the Steelers legacy was completely different. When they talk about that and how important it is for them as they play today, it's something that they treasure and want to build upon. It's great because we can say we established that, we started that, we changed the franchise from the same old Steelers to a dynasty. It feels good to witness that, to hear them talk about that, to hear the way they react to that, it spurs them on to make them be better than they thought they could because of the legacy, because of the environment they are in with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Photos of Super Bowl IX. The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Minnesota Vikings 16-6 to capture the team's first Super Bowl victory in New Orleans' Tulane Stadium.
When you are here, you are often talking with the receivers. Is it great that there is such a strong bond between the players of today and the past?**
I think there is a friendship there. I don't think we talk about techniques, or how you run a particular route. We don't get that deep. But it's a shared respect for the position and what it takes to play the position. I can look at them and see they are playing it well, that they are using their skills. I like that, I admire that in them. They have a sense of what we did, what we went through, how we played the game as receivers. There is a mutual respect that goes on there. I have talked to Hines Ward and I have formed a relationship with Antonio Brown and it feels good, and I hope it feels good to them too.
I have had the opportunity to talk to some of the receivers, Antonio Brown in particular, and your name does come up in a manner where he shows respect for you frequently. Does that feel good to know you are a guy that he and others want to emulate?
It makes you feel good that the folks remember what you did and they respect that, and how you carried yourself during the course of your career as a player and what you have done afterwards that folks would want to emulate that, that we have been role models. That is a good thing to me, it signifies a personal and professional life that has been worthwhile and well lived that people would want to be like that.
Do you enjoy watching Antonio Brown and do you think he has more untapped potential in him?
I think he does. I thoroughly enjoy watching him play and the things he is doing. Not just him, though, but the younger guys who are coming on, the young rookie Martavis Bryant who is just getting the opportunity to play. He is catching touchdowns in big games. That is fantastic. I am enjoying watching the entire group of receivers that we have now.
Do you watch games as a fan or as a former receiver?
I think it varies at different times. I am definitely a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers and I enjoy watching them play and the things they do. When they lose I am like any other fan, I am down and not feeling good. I am excited when they win. I watch the guys who play my position and I watch the defensive side of the ball and I see what they are trying to do. I do at times see what they are doing and why it is or isn't working. From play-to-play it might vary from fan to a former player.