Distractions and Super Bowl champions often go hand in hand, a pairing too well-known around these parts. It was three years ago today that the Steelers' quest for consecutive Super Bowl victories hit the pavement riding when Ben Roethlisberger's motorcycle accident set the tone for their 2006 season.
Yesterday, the newest Super Bowl champs polished off their spring practices. They enter the truly off part of their offseason with some words of advice from a head coach who was not here three years ago.
"What I said to the football team," coach Mike Tomlin said yesterday after the spring practice finale, "was physical conditioning [means] more than anything else. So, between now and July 31st, they need to do whatever they can to be in great physical condition."
Along with whatever they can to avoid great physical trauma.
Tomlin, of course, professes to care little about what happened in 2006, when the Super Bowl XL winners staggered to a 2-6 start that ended with an 8-8 record and the resignation of coach Bill Cowher.
"I am not concerned about what happened in '05, '06 -- '07 or '08 for that matter," said Tomlin. "I am a singularly focused guy. My single focus is on developing a world championship-caliber team for 2009."
Not to dismiss what happened last season because "it was an awesome team," Tomlin said. But, "Where we are is where we are. Where we are headed, more importantly than that, is our focus."
Players such as Hines Ward have suggested this spring that they lost that focus three years ago and that experience should help them in 2009. So, too, should the fact that 20 of their 22 Super Bowl starters return, along with the health of others such as Rashard Mendenhall and punter Daniel Sepulveda.
And, while the real distractions in 2006 did not begin until the Monday after the end of spring drills, there has been nothing but diversions rather than distractions since their 27-23 victory against Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII. That they involved the NFL defensive player of the year and the Super Bowl MVP made them slightly more interesting.
There was the flap over linebacker James Harrison's refusal to join his teammates at the White House, followed by his strange reasoning, followed by his pit bull problem. And there was the ongoing marijuana charge floating above the head of receiver Santonio Holmes. That charge was dismissed Wednesday, leaving the Steelers with no real off-field issues entering their seven-week offseason. Another came when linebacker Larry Foote begged out of his contract and then signed with Detroit.
Yet Tomlin talked about distractions yesterday as if they belong around a championship team.
"My mentality in regards to distractions is really changing, and this is probably how I am growing with the job," said Tomlin, who will enter his third season. "If you are going to be good, distractions are a part of it."
And, for the record, Roethlisberger missed his final spring practice yesterday to prepare for his date today with Michael Jordan and Justin Timberlake as they try to break 100 at Bethpage Black. That's a golf course, not a highway.
NOTES -- Luke Palko, who served as an intern in the Steelers' scouting department the past two years, was hired as a full-time college scout by the Arizona Cardinals. His brother, former Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko, is on the Cardinals' roster. ... The coaching staff will stick around next week to work with some of the rookies and young players. ... Ward and Ryan Clark, while in attendance, did not practice this spring because of shoulder surgeries. They both expect to be ready for training camp. ... Tomlin said Limas Sweed does not have an edge on the No. 3 spot, and said Dennis Dixon has a chance to become the No. 2 quarterback. "What he is capable of doing above the neck is going to ultimately determine that."
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .