Experience edge has expiration date

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / February 1, 2011

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FORT WORTH — All of the hype, hoopla, and excess that have come to be synonymous with the NFL’s championship game are not new to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

For 29 members of the Steelers’ roster, this is their second Super Bowl appearance in three years, and for 17, this marks their third appearance since February 2006.

That could be seen as a huge advantage. To Pittsburgh’s players and coaches, it only helps Monday through Saturday, not come Sunday, when it is time to kick off against Green Bay.

“The benefit has nothing to do with the game, in my opinion,’’ Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said yesterday from the Omni Hotel, the team’s headquarters for the week. “This is the third [Super Bowl] I’ve been involved with in some form or fashion.

“There is a certain level of comfort that comes with being experienced in terms of dealing with some of these things, the ‘gauntlet’ if you will, the things you have to do once you get on site. You know the lay of the land, you know the direction some of those things are going. It probably lessens the anxiety in terms of some of the non-football things. If that allows you to focus your energy more clearly on preparation and ultimately play, then if there’s a benefit, it’s that.’’

Tomlin was the defensive backs coach for the Tampa Bay team that won Super Bowl XXXVII, and in just four years as head coach in Pittsburgh he has led the club to two championship games.

While Tomlin and some players who spoke yesterday, just a couple of hours after their flight arrived, acknowledged that recent history could be a benefit, they were just as quick to say it may not amount to much in the end.

“A lot of guys have experienced this [but] at the end of the day it doesn’t give us an advantage or disadvantage,’’ receiver Hines Ward said. “You still have to play the game.

“If you look at the [2007] Giants, a lot of their players when they played the Patriots had never played in the Super Bowl. It just depends on how each person can take it — some people can get overwhelmed by it, some people are comfortable with it. I think we have a lot of guys who are comfortable with it.’’

Ward certainly appeared comfortable. The MVP of Super Bowl XL against the Seahawks stepped off the plane yesterday wearing a black Stetson, Western-style black shirt, jeans, cowboy boots, and a giant belt buckle with a yellow “S’’, presumably for Steelers.

Defensive lineman Brett Keisel falls into that category as well. The nine-year veteran has become a media darling for his bushy beard. He began growing it seven months ago, and yesterday he answered nearly as many questions about The Beard (which has its own Facebook page, with nearly 20,000 followers) as The Big Game.

Keisel said there’s a familiarity in knowing what to expect during media sessions; he also knows how to distribute tickets to family and friends, and knows how to break the news to those who can’t come.

Pittsburgh has several key players, particularly on offense, without Super Bowl experience, guys like receivers Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, and Antonio Brown, and center Doug Legursky, who may start if injured rookie Maurkice Pouncey can’t go.

The older players have tried to impart some knowledge on the Super Bowl newbies.

“We’ve told the younger guys what to expect and about how to manage their time,’’ Keisel said. “There are going to be a lot of people pulling at you and pulling you in different directions this week, and you have to remain with one thing, and that’s that we’re here to win this ballgame.’’

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, seeking his third ring, thinks his previous trips to this stage help bring a sense of calm.

Even though he’s been here before, he has no intentions of taking this trip for granted.

“It’s a lot of fun. I don’t think you could ever get tired of doing this, coming to a Super Bowl and getting an opportunity,’’ Roethlisberger said. “You just want to experience it all because you never know if it’s going to be your last one. So take as many pictures and videos as you can to hopefully one day show your kids what you went through.’’

To that end, Roethlisberger filmed much of his day, from the time he stepped onto the team plane in Pittsburgh to when he stepped off at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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