Larry Foote takes great pride in the two Super Bowl rings he owns. He knows how special they are, knows how hard they are to come by. And he knows that if he didn't come back to the Steelers this year as a free agent, he wouldn't be working towards earning a third ring.
Foote left the Steelers after the team won Super Bowl XLIII via free agency, signing with his hometown team the Detroit Lions. But after just one season away, he knew Pittsburgh was the place for him and when he got a call from the team this past offseason, he was happy to be back.
"A lot of people hope to win the Super Bowl, they dream about it," said Foote. "I knew before I came back here we had done it twice before and we had a good chance of doing it. That's why I wanted to come back."
Foote missed the atmosphere in Pittsburgh, where he knows winning is what is expected.
"That is Pittsburgh period," said Foote. "Wherever you are, that is the way it is. The guys in the 1970s created that. If you don't win the Super Bowl, it's a bust. You have to do your best to follow suit.
"Our defensive meeting room is right next to the room where the Lombardi Trophies are. Everyone is expected to do their part to win. The standards don't change. If someone goes down, they expect you to perform on a high note every week. We don't care about style points as long as we have one more point than our opponent."
The Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce their Class of 2011 on Saturday, Feb. 5, one day before Super Bowl XLV.
Two former Steelers are among the 15 finalists, running back Jerome Bettis and center Dermontti Dawson, and those who have played the game think they are deserving of a spot in the Hall.
Dan Dierdorf, a Hall of Fame tackle who watched Dawson plenty as a member of the CBS broadcast team, thinks it's time he got in.
"I do think he should be in there. It's harder for an offensive lineman because it's subjective," said Dierdorf. "You don't have a stat sheet that the voters can rely on. I don't have a doubt that pretty soon Dermontti is going to be in there because he is worthy.
"He had all of the physical tools that were necessary, balance, strength. The one thing that always impressed me was his ability to handle a nose tackle by himself. The majority of centers that play the game almost always need some sort of a double team, or a rub from the guard next to them. The great centers, and there aren't many of them, block the nose tackle all by themselves and Dermontti was one of those guys. That's what makes him so special."
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety John Lynch, who played in the NFL for 16 seasons and battled against Bettis plenty of times during his 16 years in the NFL, joking that his shoulders still feel the pain from some of Bettis' punishing runs, and thinks the former running back definitely belongs in the Hall of Fame.
"What Jerome has given to the game, and our battles go back to Stanford-Notre Dame, has been great," said Lynch. "He is one of those guys you always had the ultimate respect for because he was immensely talented and handled it the right way. He always had that smile on his face. In the most intense moment of the game Bus would have a smile on his face. Jerome is one of the favorite guys I ever competed against. He was one of the most popular guys in the game for a long time. He did so much for the game.
"But most importantly his play on the field warrants him being in the Hall of Fame."
The electric atmosphere in Heinz Field throughout the season, in particular during the playoffs, is something that hasn't gone unnoticed by the players.
"It's awesome," said tight end Heath Miller. "It's fun to be a part of the Steelers Nation and the excitement that they bring to our team and our whole city. It's a neat experience. It's a home field advantage. The louder they are, the more excited they are, the more energy they bring to the stadium, the team feeds off of that and it makes life more difficult for the other team."
Second-year receiver Mike Wallace said he was just amazed at the atmosphere during the Ravens playoff game, particularly in the third quarter when the team started their comeback.
"I sat back and saw the Towels," said Wallace. "It was amazing. That is the first time I really realized how special Heinz Field is."
For those new to the team this year, like Jonathan Scott who played in Buffalo and Detroit, it's been something to enjoy.
"It's phenomenal," said Scott. "The energy is out the roof. They are diehard throughout the year, even in the offseason. Coming in here and witnessing a monumental surge of enthusiasm just raises everyone's level of play."
Shaun Suisham didn't join the Steelers until later in the season, but it didn't take long for him to get a feel for the fans.
"It's been a lot of fun and certainly an advantage to play here," said Suisham. "Once we got rolling in the third quarter of the Ravens game that was something special to be a part of it. The fans were a big part of us winning that game. That was unbelievable. That was really cool. I can't speak for everyone on the sideline, but I think I can, because it gets everyone moving and excited. It's a special thing when you can play at home and have fans like that supporting you."