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A family reunion like no other

James Farrior will never forget the conversation.

It was just a casual one, the type former Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney often had with his players. It took place one day during the 2008 preseason, and it’s forever embedded in Farrior’s memory.

“Our schedule was predicted one of the hardest that year,” recalled Farrior. “I remember Mr. Rooney telling us they gave us the hardest schedule this year. Looks like we are going to have to win the Super Bowl.

“I will always remember him saying that.”

That 2008 team did just as he had said. They won the Super Bowl XLIII.

* * *

It wasn’t just a gathering of former teammates on Saturday night when members of the Super Bowl XIII and Super Bowl XLIII teams gathered at Heinz Field.

It was a family reunion.

“That’s what it’s like. It’s like a family reunion,” said Steelers President Art Rooney II. “The guys spent a lot of time together when they were on the team. Then everybody goes their own separate ways and they don’t get to see each other. It’s special when they can come back together.

“I think when a team wins a championship there is a special bond that gets formed there. Whenever they get back together, it’s like they never left each other. It’s great how that happens.”

And it was a different reunion, with players from both teams mingling, getting to know each other, and appreciating each other.

“I love seeing all of the guys. It seems like we pick up right where we left off,” said Farrior. “A lot of the guys we communicate, but seeing them, being around them again, it gives us that warm feeling again. It was a family. It was like that the entire time I was with the Steelers. The Rooney family set the standards and it trickled down from there.

“We talk about a little of everything when we get together. We talk about family. We talk about football. We always talk about football. That is a special bond for us.

"And this year, to get to see all of the players from the 1970s, they were my heroes. This is amazing."

There were hugs and laughs, smiles and jokes, and lots of sharing stories and catching up.

“It’s 100 percent a family,” said Willie Colon. “To watch my teammate’s kids, some of them going to college now, it’s wild. It’s a blessing. I am blessed to have been around for it all. It’s special. It definitely is.

“We are all close still. It’s weird that it’s been 10 years. It seems like just yesterday we were suiting up and playing trash can basketball in the locker room. To realize we are 10 years removed from reaching our ultimate goal is mind blowing. Getting the guys back together is special. So many of these guys impacted my life. Aaron Smith, who I credit so much to, and Casey Hampton. Guys I hold on a high pedestal. It’s a homecoming. It really feels like that. I am blessed to be a part of it.”

The Steelers are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Super Bowl XIII team and the 10th anniversary of the Super Bowl XLIII team this weekend, and it all began at a dinner where members of both teams shared stories with each other and those in attendance.

“When I came to the Steelers in 1969 they won one game and lost 13. There were a lot of building blocks laid,” said Mel Blount. “It was the people, the players, and the coaches. We had players who wanted to excel and achieve. Then we had somebody like Chuck Noll who kept pushing us to be the best. He reminded us you don’t ever arrive in this business. That is why we are where we are today and have the relationships, it was what we were able to accomplish and the journey we took. We are a close knit group. We lost some guys, but we realize we are still on this journey.”

Many from the Super Bowl XIII team have seen each other over the years. They attend Blount’s annual dinner for his youth home, they live in Pittsburgh and see each other at various events. But for some of the younger guys, while they keep in touch via text, calls and social media, getting together isn’t something that happens as frequently as they are scattered across the country.

“It's great to see the families, to see how all of the kids have grown," said Kendall Simmons. "I really enjoy being here.

"I have been to two other places, two other teams, and none of them felt like this. To me that is what is special. This felt like home."

That was a unique group, a group that included many who had been part of the Super Bowl XL championship team, but also some newcomers who all gelled to get it done.

“I tell people, I guess every great team has a little bit of a mystic, a little bit of wonder about what makes those guys different from the rest,” said Colon. “I tell everyone we were an extremely competitive locker room, whether it was playing games in the locker room or whatever. That made us competitive on the field. We never turned that switch off. We did it in a brotherly way. It paid off.”

Colon smiles when he thinks that one of his former teammates from that Super Bowl team is still playing for the black and gold today.

“For me to still see Ben (Roethlisberger) play, it’s like wow,” said Colon. “When I see Maurkcie (Pouncey), Ramon (Foster) and (David) DeCastro, they were like rookies my last year. To see them now is special. I watched them from the time they were little pups and now they are full grown warriors. I look at some of the guys that are still playing and I know their story. It really warms my heart. I truly love those guys.

“I love the guys I played with. We are brothers. Always.”

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