On the Steelers: Hampton has Texas-sized will to win in his home state
January 25, 2011 5:00 AM
Wide receiver Mike Wallace shares a laugh at a news conference Monday on the South Side, a day after the Steelers earned their eighth trip to the Super Bowl with a 24-19 victory against the New York Jets.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Big D meet Big Snack, otherwise known as Casey Hampton, who is living proof that they grow them bigger in Texas.
The Steelers' oversized nose tackle grew up (and out) surrounded by Cowboys fans in Galveston, Texas, and later at college in Austin. He turned some of those fans the way he turns ballcarriers trying to run up the middle.
Now he'd like nothing better than to win another Super Bowl and do so in the Cowboys' new home that Jerry Jones built. The Steelers are one of the most hated NFL teams in the state of Texas because of their Super Bowl rivalry with the Cowboys and their old AFC Central Division rivalry with the former Houston Oilers, which was Hampton's team growing up.
The Cowboys beat the Steelers to five Super Bowl victories but have since fallen behind.
PG VIDEO: STEELERS PLAYERS COMMENT ON TRIP TO THE SUPER BOWL
Jones built his $1 billion stadium in Arlington that opened in 2009 and he stated his desire to have his Cowboys play in the first Super Bowl there. Instead, it will be the Steelers vs. the Green Bay Packers, two franchises that have tormented Dallas through the decades.
"I hated the Cowboys growing up anyway, so if he's going to be mad at us, that's even better," said Hampton, who is 6 feet 1 and in the neighborhood of 350 pounds.
"That would be, like, the best thing. What's crazy is all my boys growing up, they like the Steelers now, but they were all Cowboys fans. It's kind of like we're their second favorite team and they're still Cowboys fans."
Those fans do not have many fond memories of either Super Bowl XLV participant.
Green Bay won the first two Super Bowls, getting there at the expense of Dallas in each NFL championship game that preceded them, including the famous Ice Bowl in Green Bay before Super Bowl II.
Super Bowl XLV
Matchup: Stelers (14-4) vs. Green Bay Packers (13-6).
When: 6:30 p.m. Feb. 6
Where Cowboy Stadium, Arlington, Texas.
The Steelers beat the Cowboys twice in epic Super Bowls in the 1970s that helped launch them to the Team of the Decade and established the Steelers as one of the NFL's most endearing franchises. The Cowboys did extract some revenge with their victory against the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX.
None of that matters to Hampton nor his teammates, and probably not the Packers either.
"I just play the game; I'm not real big on history," said Hampton, who hopes to rent a house in the Dallas area for his large extended family that will drive from the Houston area.
"It's going to be a lot cheaper," Hampton said. "I won't have to buy any flights; that's going to be big."
What has been big is what Hampton and the Steelers' defense has done to opposing runners this season when the team set a franchise record by allowing just 62.8 yards per game, lowest in the league. Nothing was more impressive than their first half against the New York Jets, who had 1 yard rushing Sunday night in the first two quarters of the AFC championship game. New York finished with 70 yards on 22 carries.
The Packers had only the 24th-best running team in the NFL in 2010 (100.4 yards per game) compared to the league's fifth-best passing offense (257.8). But Hampton said stopping them on the ground remains paramount.
"They're not really too much of a running team, but you can't let them do both. You can't let them mix the run in. You have to shut that down."
And, for Hampton, there will be no place like Texas to make that happen.
"I think he'll be fired up," said Chris Hoke, his longtime backup. "Before the game, he told me he really wanted to get back because it's his home state, Texas. ... I thought I saw him more possessed this game than I've seen him in a long time.
Back in Texas
Hampton is not the only one going home to the Super Bowl. There are Dallas natives Arnaz Battle and Jonathan Scott, Amarillo's Ziggy Hood and Bellville's Emmanuel Sanders, who played for SMU in the city.
There also is another big man, tackle Flozell Adams. The Hotel is a northerner, born in Chicago and tutored at Michigan State, but he played the previous 12 seasons for the Dallas Cowboys, who drafted him and then released him after last season. That made Adams available to sign with the Steelers last summer after tackle Willie Colon's Achilles tendon was ruptured.
Adams claims not to get any extra satisfaction at playing in a Super Bowl because it's in the Cowboys' new home.
"It doesn't matter, a Super Bowl is a Super Bowl," said Adams, whose Cowboys went just 1-6 in the playoffs during his career. "It could be Dallas, Pittsburgh -- wherever the Super Bowl's going to be that's all that matters to me. As long as it's the Super Bowl, that's all I'm going for.
"It doesn't matter, man. I really mean that from the bottom of my heart. As long as it's the Super Bowl. Every football player's dream is to get to the Super Bowl, no matter where it is."
Apparently it mattered to at least one teammate.
"Flozell Adams has been playing in the league for like 14 years and never ... had a chance to go to the Super Bowl," cornerback Ike Taylor said. "I kept telling him from training camp, 'Flo, we're going to get you back home.' I don't know if he believed me or not."
Back for more
Because the Packers have not been in a Super Bowl since Brett Favre was a young man -- a loss to Denver 13 years ago -- the Steelers have more of that big-game experience.
There are 18 Steelers with two Super Bowl rings from their victories in the 2005 and '08 seasons. That includes three players who are now or were then on injured reserve: Max Starks (now), Charlie Batch ('08) and Greg Warren ('08).
The rest with two rings and a shot at three include Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, Hampton, Hoke, Brett Keisel, James Farrior, Troy Polamalu, Taylor, Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison, Heath Miller, Trai Essex, Chris Kemoeatu, Larry Foote and Bryant McFadden.
"We have some guys that have been there," said safety Ryan Clark.
Center Maurkice Pouncey has a high left ankle sprain and his status for the Feb. 6 Super Bowl is uncertain. The Steelers did not provide an injury update Monday. Pouncey has not missed a game this season and has told people that he had a high right ankle sprain in college at Florida and played in the next game. He has vowed to play in the Super Bowl.