FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Howdy, Hines. Welcome to Big D.
Hines Ward was ready for a rodeo of a week leading up to the Super Bowl as he stepped off the Pittsburgh Steelers’ charter flight when the team arrived in Dallas.
Pittsburgh’s star wide receiver, who embraces his reputation as one of the league’s most aggressive — and some say, dirtiest — players, was decked out in a big black cowboy hat, a black sequined Western-style shirt, blue jeans, boots and a Texas-sized silver belt buckle.
"I’m in Dallas, Texas," Ward said, smiling. "I wanted to put on my whole cowboy outfit and enjoy it. No nerves."
He sure looked loose, and almost like a native Texan. Not bad for a guy born in South Korea who grew up in Georgia and has played in Pittsburgh for 13 years.
"Where’d I find all this stuff?" an amused Ward asked, repeating a reporter’s question. "A little place in Monroeville (Pa.). It’s my little diamond in the rough there."
Ward and the rest of these Steelers are no strangers to the NFL’s biggest stage, making their third Super Bowl trip in six years.
"We’re enjoying this," Ward said. "We know right now that there are a lot of guys who would love to have this opportunity. Being here, there’s a comfort level. We kind of know what to expect."
And, in Pittsburgh, titles are expected. The Steelers are looking to win the franchise’s seventh league championship Sunday, when they take on Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
"We’re going to embrace it all," said Mike Tomlin, looking for his second ring as the Steelers’ coach.
That includes all the hoopla that goes along with being one of the teams playing in the Super Bowl.
"You step off the plane and you’ve got helicopters, you’ve got police, media and then this," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "If you’re not used to it, it could be overwhelming."
Roethlisberger is plenty used to this wild environment, and he has tried to take a low-key approach since winning his first ring back in his second season, when the Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 in 2006. It was the same three years later, when he engineered a late comeback win as Pittsburgh rallied to beat Arizona 27-23.
And, this all comes after an offseason in which he was accused of sexual assault of a 20-year-old college student, but a prosecutor in Georgia declined to bring charges. But, Roethlisberger was still suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
"We’re all human," Roethlisberger said. "We all make mistakes, and it’s how can you bounce back from your mistakes? Just like a football game, you throw interceptions, you lose a game, you’ve got to be able to bounce back and find a way that it doesn’t happen again."
The Steelers are trying to focus only on the task at hand, and might have learned a few things about the Packers in their last meeting — a 37-36 win in 2009 — that they can make use of in this game. Not that Tomlin is giving away any secrets.
"You get yourself into trouble when you try to have preconceived notions about how the game is going to unfold," he said. "That was an exciting, entertaining game we had against them a year ago. ... What happened at Heinz Field in ’09 is going to have no bearing on what happens in this stadium. So many of the components of those teams are different, so it’s really irrelevant."
But even Tomlin acknowledged that that meeting could help ramp up the expectations for a hard-fought, close Super Bowl game.
"This is going to be an execution-oriented game," Tomlin said. "The team that executes better is going to have a better chance to win. So we’re going to sharpen our sword for battle with that in mind."
When he took over as the Steelers coach in 2007, he set some lofty goals for himself and the franchise. And, he’s one win closer to achieving the biggest of all.
"It’s probably about two Super Bowls short of my vision," he said. "But that’s just me. I’m not in a reflection mode. I’m really not. I’m just trying to go and do it."