The brotherhood that the Steelers have, their way of doing business, their way of playing football, spans decades. Their way of building teams that do not blink and players that do not shrink, well, there is nothing come-lately about it. Sure, this 27-23 Pittsburgh victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium will stand alone in Steelers lore as a supreme championship game.
Really, though, it's all connected.
The dots can be tied to the patriarch, founder Art Rooney, to Noll to Bradshaw to Franco to Cowher. To Bettis and now Roethlisberger and Harrison and Holmes.
Six championships in all. No NFL franchise has more. None has a blueprint quite like these Steelers.
The common thread through them all is hard work and then harder work. Teamwork. Big defense, punching and piercing offense when needed. More hard work. Team first. Team last. Physical. Hungry. A bond. A brotherhood.
When you have a Super Bowl that appears won and lost and then won and then lost again, when backed up and nearly hung to dry, something bigger, something greater has to happen for a 53-man unit. What the Steelers faced in Super Bowl XLIII down 23-20 with 2:37 left after Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald sliced them for a 64-yard catch and score was not pretty. It was not promising.
The wrong end of the Pittsburgh team was being asked to win the game.
Their offense was pressed to assume the role of leader, wave-maker, to be front and center, be it all, do it all.
This was like asking one of Bruce Springsteen's backup singers to grab the microphone at halftime and make the show. Like grabbing Jennifer Aniston before kickoff and expecting her to belt the national anthem better than Jennifer Hudson.
Big Ben was Big Flop in such moments, everyone knew. And Santonio Holmes? This guy was deactivated by his coach, Mike Tomlin, on Oct. 26 when the Steelers hosted the Giants. Tomlin thought Holmes had lost his focus, his professionalism. What was Holmes, ever rising since that benching, going to do to top Arizona's effervescent Fitzgerald?
But Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger kept coming. Holmes kept coming. The Steelers kept coming. They built it all season long, tough road games and menacing home games, and by the time they reached this, battle-tested and true with an inward light and cohesion that would serve them well, no mountain was too high. No task insurmountable.
Zip, zip, zap, and there it was, Roethlisberger to Holmes on a 6-yard dart of a pass in the back right corner of the end zone. Head up, feet down, firmly planted, touchdown, 35 seconds left -- championship.
The team became one. Nothing too heavy. Brothers in arms.
"Santonio had that look in his eyes, that thing that (Michael) Jordan used to have when the basket seemed like an ocean to him," Steelers safety Anthony Madison said.
"You had a quarterback over there killing us, and his team was too, and we did not want to become part of his legacy," Steelers safety Troy Polamalu said. "We are built over time, through the years. They have a wonderful team that kind of came together this year. Our team has some foundation that goes throughout Pittsburgh Steelers history."
And so it was. The dots connected. The reservoir of what the Steelers are, who they are, what they do, rising, engulfing. Holmes' 40-yard catch-and-run to the Arizona 6 on the winning drive. Holmes' toe-tap catch that won it.
Really, the critical play, the one I will long remember on that winning drive, is the play after the two-minute warning. Pittsburgh faced a third-and-6 at its own 26. Now, in that situation, you have two plays to make 6 yards. Make it, and the drive ensues. Failure means the game is over. You are rather deep in your territory or, at least, a heck of a distance from a score. You need a play to keep hope alive.
You do not want to face fourth-and-6, do-or-die, make it or end it. Not the way the Arizona defensive linemen were batting down Roethlisberger passes all night long. Not the way the ball can wickedly bounce in a fourth-down situation. Too much to chance. Too much at risk.
So, third-and-6 at the Pittsburgh 26 turned into a 13-yard Holmes catch. It was all curl routes by the Steelers' receiver, and Roethlisberger scrambled and found Holmes. Huge play. Ball at the Pittsburgh 39. The drive continued. History unfolded.
"Santonio has always been the type of player that makes plays, that wants the ball when there are important plays to be made," LeBeau said. "I was watching that third-and-6 play and knew in that situation that we had better get it right then. That was the play that almost made my heart stop. That was the biggie. It set us up for everything else. It made us avoid a fourth-down and-everything-on-the-line play. I liked our chances after getting that. And then Santonio goes on to make that winning touchdown catch, one of the best ever."
Holmes said he stuck with Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger stuck with him.
"At the beginning of every game, he tells me no matter what goes on, just stick with me," Holmes said of Roethlisberger. "He was able to get me the ball. I wanted to be that guy that everyone looks up to."
And so Holmes was. Big Brother at age 24. Big playmaker.
That is the thing about a bond, a brotherhood. There is room for excellence, no matter the age or experience. Once the talent is in tow, only the heart, mind and work ethic are required. That is the dot that connects these Steelers to all of the great ones in their past.
Long after the confetti had fallen, veteran wide receiver Hines Ward stood at his locker, his hands wiping away his tears. During the falling confetti, rookie wide receiver Limas Sweed looked for his mother on the field.
Before he found her, he reminisced about his rookie season, the drops, the catches, this game in which he did not grab a single pass.
You would have thought he caught 100.
"I am overwhelmed, overjoyed," Sweed said, wiping away tears. "It has been a long season. A lot of injuries on our team. Each week, a different challenge. I didn't do much in this game, but I feel like a big part of it. I haven't even gotten started yet in my career, but this is something I am going to hold close to my heart. We won the national championship at Texas, but this seems four times bigger right now. Man, I'm a Pittsburgh Steeler and a world champion. So sweet."
In this franchise, they start them young, train them young. And watch them blossom. And sometimes, especially on a night like this one, the dots connect. The bond endures. The brotherhood rises. Greatness is touched.
And champions are made.