By Teresa Varley
Steelers.com Safety Troy Polamalu had what could have been the biggest play of the season for the Steelers when he intercepted Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and returned it for a touchdown in the AFC Championship game.
The play might have amazed some, but it's nothing new to his teammates who watch him make plays like that not just in games, but in practice on a daily basis.
"Troy does some things that you wouldn't expect," said wide receiver Nate Washington. "Troy is a great competitor. He plays with a passion for this game. There are a lot of guys in this league that you might question why they are here. Troy is not one of those guys. He plays with fire. He plays with his heart. That's what makes him a great leader on this team and a great player in the NFL."
The Steelers were without their top wide receiver Hines Ward for much of the AFC Championship game, after he injured his knee in the first half against the Ravens.
But while he might not have been making his usual contributions on the field, he was still offering the offense a helping hand.
"He stayed in our ear the whole game," said Washington. "He helped me out tremendously because I had to play his spot. He did a great job of sticking with us. He knew that wasn't going to be out last game. He did a great job of resting himself up and just coaching."
Ward was on-hand at the team's practice facility on Monday when the team gathered for meetings and was walking around, something that encouraged his teammates who expect him to be back for Super Bowl XLIII against the Cardinals.
"I don't think there's any question that 86 will be on the field," said tight end Heath Miller. "I don't even know the extent of his injury, but I saw him walking today so I'm pretty sure that two weeks from now he'll be playing."
One of the many topics that will come up over the next two weeks, when everything from pregame meals to zone blitzes are discussed, is the connection between the Steelers and Cardinals, with former offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, now the Cardinals head coach.
"It's going to be big," said wide receiver Nate Washington. "Coach Whisenhunt is a good guy. It went past football with Coach Whisenhunt. He is a good guy. He has great respect in our locker room and in this organization."
Whisenhunt isn't the only one with Steelers connections on the coaching staff, as former assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm and special teams coach Kevin Spencer both made the journey west with Whisenhunt.
"When we won the game, how could it not be the Steelers?" said Whisenhunt. "That's what I expected. It's unbelievably special that we're going to the Super Bowl under any circumstances but now to find out that we'll be playing the Steelers certainly takes it to another level. Obviously that organization and the people associated with it hold a special place in my heart. From that standpoint, this is something of a dream scenario for me and many of the other coaches on our staff. I'm happy for Mr. (Dan) Rooney, Coach (Mike) Tomlin and their entire organization. We're looking forward to a great match-up in Tampa."