TAMPA, Fla. -- The morning after, Mike Tomlin talked about a historic call from the president, his feelings about becoming the second African-American coach to win a Super Bowl, a safety he was prepared to accept and the R-word he doesn't want recited about his Super Bowl champion Steelers.
"The thing I'm going to sell to our football team, we're not attempting to repeat," the second-year Steelers coach said at a news conference today, barely 10 hours after the Steelers' come-from-behind, 27-23 victory in Super Bowl XLIII last night at Raymond James Stadium. "That special group of men in that locker room last night at the end of that game, that's gone forever. There will be 53 new men in there. A lot of the faces will be the same, but nothing stays the same in this game. Those that remain, the roles will change. Some will ascend, some will descend.
"Our focus will be about being the one at the end of the season. I think repeating and defending Super Bowl championships in today's NFL is something of a misnomer. When I walk down the hallway [at the Steelers' offices] and look at the champions of the Steelers from the '70s, it's the same faces in the same positions on those photos, in terms of the Steel Curtain and so forth. That's not the reality of today's NFL, to be quite honest with you. We'll start with a new group of men --- hopefully a lot of them will be the same.
"You won't hear me say 'repeat' or 'defending,' because it's brand new. This group will always be special to me. But, you know, sometime soon, that group will assume its place with others in history. And they'll be just that, history."
Tomlin grew emotional when the subject was broached about the first African-American president's congratulatory telephone call to a professional sports champion --- and, in particular, to the second African-American coach to win a Super Bowl, after his mentor and former boss Tony Dungy of Indianapolis two years ago.
"Just very surreal, a very humbling experience to be a part of that," he said. "It's what you dream about. It's amazing not only as a coach, but just as a citizen.
"I heard very little, very little of what he said. I let him know that. I said, 'Mr. President, I can't hear what you're saying, I appreciate your call, I appreciate your congratulations,' and I handed the phone back to Mr. [Dan] Rooney."
And, strategically speaking, Tomlin said he decided to have punter Mitch Berger on fourth down run out of the end zone and take a safety before Arizona on third down recorded one to whittle the Steelers' fourth-quarter lead to 20-16. Center Justin Hartwig was called for a holding penalty in the end zone, negating a first down completion from Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes and, under rules, giving the Cardinals 2 points.
"I had already made the decision to take the safety," Tomlin said. "Their punt-rush team is spectacular, led by [ex-Steeler] Sean Morey, their Pro Bowl special teamer. So I really wasn't all that devastated by that safety. It was a little disappointing because we had converted the first down. But my mentality was, had that pass come up incomplete, that we were going to take the safety on fourth down, anyway."