The luck of the Irish was with the Steelers

As a part of today's St. Patrick's Day celebration, we are taking a look back at the Steelers trip to Dublin Ireland to take on the Chicago Bears in a preseason game in 1997.

"Today, America's favorite sport begins anew by travelling to a country as beautiful as the sport itself. Yes, indeed, football's new season starts in Ireland…It's football time again, American style, and in the States life can begin again.

"It's the Steelers and Bears in the American Bowl. Hey world, come watch our game."

Those were some of the words that started the Fox Sports broadcast of the Steelers preseason game against the Chicago Bears at Croke Park in Ireland, the only time an NFL game was played on the Emerald Isle, and the game that kicked off the season for the league.

James Brown, Howie Long and Ronnie Lott hosted the pregame show, while former Steelers Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw was unable to attend as he was Mike Webster's Hall of Fame presenter in Canton, Ohio the day prior to the game. Pat Summerall and Matt Millen called the game, all of them raving about the beauty of the country and joy of seeing young kids learn about American football.

And that is exactly what late Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney wanted.

"I couldn't be happier that the Steelers will play the first National Football League game ever staged in Ireland," said Rooney upon the team's arrival in Dublin for the game.

His dream was to share the game he loved so much with the country where his family roots were strong and his love was deep.

"My father wanted to play a game in Dublin for a long time," said Steelers President Art Rooney II in an interview with in 2021. "He finally convinced another owner, the McCaskey family in Chicago, that this might be a good idea. We had pretty good attendance. It was somewhat of a longshot. We like to think that NFL football is well known worldwide. The truth of the matter in Ireland rugby is a much bigger deal than American football.

"It was great. It was a great game. A lot of fun."

The Steelers played at Croke Park, Dublin Ireland in 1997. The Steelers defeated the Bears 30-17.

The Steelers and Bears both made an adventure of it, arriving in Ireland early in the week ahead of the Sunday evening game. The players, coaches and staff, as well as family members and fans who traveled with the team, had an opportunity to enjoy the incredible sights of Dublin and the surrounding area. There were golf outings and football clinics conducted by the players. The team provided tours of the Waterford crystal plant, Northern Ireland, Dublin Castle, old St. Patrick's Cathedral, Trinity College, St. Stevens Green, Phoenix Park and more. The Royal Dublin Society hosted a BBQ for both teams in Ballsbrige, a fun-filled time for all to gather.

Former Steelers tight end Mark Bruener, who is currently a Steelers college scout, enjoyed the time in Ireland with his family, including his wife Traci who was a guest of the team, and his parents, sister, in-laws and grandfather, who all took advantage of a package to travel with the team.

"There was a train trip to Waterford some of the family went on," said Bruener. "We went golfing. I vividly remember that. You practiced early in the morning, and in the afternoon you could be with your family and explore and enjoy the country with your family.

"It was all in the middle of training camp. When you leave for camp, you are grinding for the season. This was a break from it. You were with your family. When you weren't working, you were enjoying time with your family on different excursions. That to me was special and unique.

"I had never been to Europe before and that was an eye-opening experience. And you were in Ireland where Mr. Rooney is from. Just the nostalgia and history of the Rooney family in Ireland made it that much more special for us."

The Steelers and Bears held joint practices throughout the week, with the locals welcome to attend, as well as fans who traveled abroad for the game, including members of the SteelerNationUK.

"It was a wonderful opportunity for SteelerNationUK to meet Ambassador (Dan) Rooney and many of the Steelers players at Croke Park and at the different events organized by the NFL," said Gordon Dedman, one of the key members of SteelerNationUK. "The whole weekend was just an amazing adventure for Steelers fans across the Atlantic to enable them to get close to their team and it is a time they will never forget."

While there was fun enjoying the Irish culture, the bottom line is it was about football. It was the first preseason game, a game which normally doesn't feature starters, but things took a turn for the black and gold.

After a magnificent Waterford crystal trophy with a shamrock base was unveiled during a luncheon attended by Dan Rooney, his wife Patricia, and Coach Bill Cowher, the intensity for the game picked up a bit to say the least.

"We're over there practicing against the Chicago Bears," said Cowher. "It's one of those fifth preseason games. Starters practice all week, and the other guys play the game. Very vanilla stuff you do that first week as it's an extra game.

"We have this luncheon, and the McCaskey's are there, (Bears Coach) Dave Wannstedt is there, and they unveil a piece of crystal. I am standing next to Dan and Patricia. All of a sudden Patricia goes, Dan, look how beautiful that crystal is. That would look so great in our trophy case back at Three Rivers Stadium. I have never seen a piece of crystal like that, and it's from Ireland. Dan said you're right. And he looked at me and said Patricia really loves that piece of crystal Coach. I said, yep, she really does and that goes to the winner.

"I went back and told (offensive coordinator) Chan Gailey, and I told (defensive coordinator) Jim Haslett, number one, let me see what you have game plan wise. I want a little more elaboration of the game plan. And I said the starters, we were going to rest them this week, let them go out in the first quarter and get things going.

"They told me we've never done this before. I told them we have to win this game. Mrs. Rooney loves this piece of crystal and Mr. Rooney just gave me this look. We're winning this game, right coach. I said yep, we're going to win this game at all costs."

With a crowd of more than 30,000, the Steelers and Bears took the field surrounded by plenty of excitement, including the U.S. Army Golden Knights who parachuted in with the game ball and fireworks were set off. Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and U.S. Ambassador Jean Kennedy-Smith took part in the coin toss and fans were able to sing both countries National Anthems as the game program provided the lyrics.

Because American football was foreign to the people of Ireland, the goalposts were brought in from Scotland and the scoreboard from England.

And football, it was brought in straight from America where it was played the way Cowher wanted it to be played.

Cowher did what he promised. His put the starters on the field for the first quarter, including quarterback Kordell Stewart who was in his first season as the team's starter.

Stewart completed 7-of-11 passes for 131 yards and gave the Steelers a 10-0 lead after one quarter.

"I felt very good," said Stewart, who during the week had the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of Ireland's golf courses. "Everything worked like I expected.

"When you have a game with only a short amount of time to play like one quarter and you score 10 points, you have to feel confident. It was a great experience to be out there as the No. 1 running things and to be in charge."

The Steelers pulled out what ever stops they had to en route to a 30-17 win, securing not just a successful trip to Ireland, but the Waterford crystal trophy that Patricia Rooney admired.

"We did win the game and the crystal is still in the trophy case," quipped Cowher.

That it is.

"We still have the trophy, and we have a great picture, one of my favorite pictures of my mother and dad, is with that trophy," said Art Rooney II. "Thanks to Bill and all the starters who played more that day than they ever expected to play that day."