Titletown USA: Green Bay or Pittsburgh?
Green Bay claimed the nickname years ago. Pittsburgh, which already has a renowned nickname, Steel City, thinks Titletown is more appropriate for the Pennsylvania burg with three rivers.
Next Sunday’s Super Bowl features the NFL’s dynasty of the 1960s, the Packers, against the franchise that dominated the ’70s, the Steelers. Never has a Super Bowl been so loaded with history.
But since those lofty times, neither team has been so dominant, although the Steelers are making quite the run for a second string of championships. Led by Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu, they’re in their third Super Bowl in six years, and already own a record six rings.
That, folks in Blitzburgh say, is worthy of the name Cheeseheads claim up in northeastern Wisconsin.
So maybe more than a simple NFL championship will be on the line next weekend.
“We can call it what you want, we just want to keep winning championships,” says Steelers receiver Antwaan Randle El, now in his second go-around in Pittsburgh. “We want to be the, I guess, the bully on the block, the team that everybody’s hunting for.”
Adds nose tackle Casey Hampton, owner of two championships already: “Man, we’ll worry about that if we’re fortunate enough to get this one. I’m not going to take away from what guys have done because they’ve done it in the past and won their Super Bowl. I’m not going to compare us to them until we finish the job, and we haven’t finished the job yet.”
Even if they do finish off the Packers, who won six championships before the merger. Green Bay took the first two Super Bowls under Vince Lombardi, didn’t return to it until 1997, when it won its only other title. Does that mean Pittsburgh deserves to be dubbed Titletown over the original version?
Rocky Bleier, a key performer on the Steelers’ four championships in six seasons (1974-79), is a Pittsburgh icon. He also grew up in Appleton, Wis., just down the road from Lambeau Field. While he has no mixed emotions about the upcoming matchup at Dallas Cowboys Stadium – he’ll be there waving his Terrible Towel – Bleier concedes that Green Bay can keep the title of Titletown USA.
“Being a Packers fan growing up and them winning the NFL championships and then the Super Bowls, it was a fact that they were Titletown,” Bleier says. “That’s a small market capturing the imaginations of their fan base and even of America. And they have worn that mantle for a long time and should be proud of it.”
Yet, Paul Hornung, a hero on those vintage Packers, recognizes the reasoning by Steelers fans.
“Well, if (Pittsburgh) wins you’ve got to hand it to them, it’s as simple as that,” Hornung says.
Hornung also thinks the current Packers could challenge what his teams did.
“The Packers have had more championships if you add them all up,” he adds. “We won five, and if they can get on track they can win three or four in the next few years. They’re good enough to do that.”
There’s something else that only Pack fans can revel in, according to former Packers receiver Antonio Freeman, who caught an 81-yard TD pass in the 1997 Super Bowl and scored two more TDs the next year, when Denver beat Green Bay.
“Those first two Super Bowls, that was the start of it and made it all relevant,” he says. “That is why they named it the Vince Lombardi Trophy. I repeat, the Vince Lombardi Trophy.”
The Steelers own a half-dozen of those, and even though the original Steel Curtain came down for the last time more than 30 years ago, its legacy is as strong as, well, steel in Pittsburgh – and among Steelers fans everywhere.
A connection remains with those teams, and not just because Bleier and Franco Harris and other members of Chuck Noll’s championship squads are still so visible in Pittsburgh today.
“They’re amazing,” safety Ryan Clark says. “I talked to Franco a couple weeks ago. It’s almost like a fraternity: once in, always in. I don’t know how much Terry Bradshaw likes us at times, if you watch us on TV, but the guys around here: Louis Lipps, Mel Blount. Mr. Greene, that’s what we call him – I don’t call him Joe – just seeing those guys and the love they still have and the respect they show when they see us. They don’t have to. They started all this, but for them to always be so excited about us and be so complimentary of the things we’re doing, it’s amazing.”
Yes, but is it dynastic? If the Steelers win a third crown in six years, is it fair to list them with the Steel Curtain teams? Or with the Lombardi Packers?
Is it worthy of moving Titletown 665 miles southeast?
Packers coach Mike McCarthy has one sure way of blunting that conversation. If his team wins next Sunday, the Pittsburgh native will be lionized in Green Bay the way Mike Holmgren was 14 years ago. And, if only slightly, in the way Lombardi was while McCarthy was growing up – in the Steel City.
“Pittsburgh is obviously a big part of who I am. And my family’s still back there,” McCarthy says. “This is going to be a very unique experience for everybody. Half my coaching staff has either played in Pittsburgh or is from Pittsburgh.
“And I think the fact that I’m from back there, it’s neat. I’m a Pittsburgh Steelers fan growing up. They’re my second favorite team. I thought it was awesome to have Terry Bradshaw present the Halas Trophy in the locker room (to the Packers). Personally I got a charge out of that. Terry was obviously the quarterback in my youth during the ’70s when they won the four Super Bowls.
“But trust me I’m a Green Bay Packer and it’s important for us to bring the Lombardi Trophy back home.”
To Titletown USA.
– AP sportswriter Will Graves in Louisville and freelance writer Chris Adamski in Pittsburgh contributed to this story.