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Steelers take part in final practice before Super Bowl XLIII

TAMPA, Fla. -- With approximately 250 family members and friends watching from the end zone, and Rev. Jesse Jackson invited as a special guest of head coach Mike Tomlin, the Pittsburgh Steelers held a 38-minute walkthrough at the University of South Florida on Saturday morning, their final on-field practice before Super Bowl XLIII.

The Steelers did not have family members and friends at their final walkthrough practice prior to Super Bowl XL, under former coach Bill Cowher.

"We had some people who have been special to us come to practice today -- family members and high school coaches," Tomlin said. "It's not a big deal to us, but it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them. We wanted to show our appreciation for what they've done for us by allowing them to be a part of it."

Of Jackson's presence, Tomlin said, "I got to know him recently. He's a fan of football, a supporter of us, and we appreciate it."

Other guests at practice included Florida State safety and Rhodes Scholar Myron Rolle and Mike Utley, the paralyzed former Detroit Lions offensive lineman. Utley, who took a picture with Tomlin after practice, was a guest of Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert.

"I had the good fortune of working for the Detroit Lions when Mike Utley was one of our players, and it was real special to have him be able to share this with us," Colbert said.

At the end of the practice, Tomlin called all family members and friends to the middle of one of the two practice fields at the University of South Florida, shouting out instructions as a team photographer -- standing high on a ladder -- snapped a large group picture. Tomlin then stayed on the field for 37 minutes signing autographs and taking individual pictures with players' families. Many players brought their own cameras and video recorders to the practice.

Asked if he was pleased with the health-related progress of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Hines Ward, Tomlin said "both guys are fine." Roethlisberger took a shot to the kidney area in the AFC Championship Game Jan. 18, and Ward strained his right knee in that game.

With Saturday's walkthrough practice being held at half speed, Ward did not wear a brace over his injured right knee as he did earlier in the week. He walked through drills at a normal pace.

Summing up the week, Tomlin said, "It's been good. Ultimately, though, it will be judged by how we perform tomorrow. We understand that."

Tomlin also thanked the University of South Florida for the hospitality shown to the Steelers.

"We appreciate them opening up their facility to us," he said. "We felt more than welcome."

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