Steady Steelers stay on the four-decade plan

DALLAS (AP) - Instead of focusing on the eight Super Bowl trips and six Lombardi trophies, Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell likes to talk about these numbers: four and nine.

That’s four players he’s coached on the Pittsburgh roster for nine or more seasons.

Mitchell’s veteran linemen _ Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith and Chris Hoke _ may not be the Steel Curtain of the 1970s, but they speak to a larger truth. They were brought to the team, given time to develop and never jettisoned when the going got tough. And through it all, they were coached to play a single, specific, hard-nosed style.

In short, that’s the “Steeler Way” _ an unwavering devotion to getting one kind of player and playing one brand of football that has resulted in one outcome more often than any other over the past 40 years: The season ending with the Steelers holding the Super Bowl trophy.

They play Green Bay on Sunday in search of their seventh NFL championship.

“In the ‘70s, when you had the Steel Curtain, those guys were there for a long time,” Mitchell said. “They had continuity with the scheme, the coaches, the ownership, and you look at it, and it’s those same reasons we’re playing very well today. I don’t think there’s many teams in this league that can say they’ve had four players with the same assistant coach for nine years or more. That’s the thing. Because the Rooneys, they don’t panic.”

The Rooney family, of course, has owned the Steelers since the beginning, back in 1933. They do more than talk the talk about “family.” To build a sense of togetherness, they like to eat with the players in the team cafeteria. When it comes to the big picture, they run an organization that loves stability but isn’t fond of drama.

One of the most significant tests of the Rooney resolve came when Ben Roethlisberger got in trouble in the offseason, when police investigated allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman at a bar in Georgia. One of the quarterback’s loudest critics during that time: the team president, Art Rooney II. No charges were filed against the quarterback. Roethlisberger ended up with a four-game suspension from the NFL and a second chance from the Steelers.

About the same time, though, the team said goodbye to receiver Santonio Holmes, who caught the winning pass in Pittsburgh’s last Super Bowl, but whose trouble with drugs, legal problems and untoward Twitter messages became too much for the team to stomach.

“The key to it is, we’ve always believed in having good people,” Rooney said.

And for the most part, they have. While other teams dominate headlines with contract holdouts, loudmouth coaches and videotaping scandals, about the most news the Steelers serve up on a regular basis _ from the Mean Joe Greene days to the present time _ is that they hit too hard.

The biggest flare-up of Super Bowl week so far has been James Harrison’s decision to use the big game as his platform to call out the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell for cracking down on violent hits, among other things. Harrison is this season’s most-fined player. Perhaps, then, it’s not surprising that he finished third in the recent voting for Associated Press defensive player of the year, while his teammate and fellow defender Troy Polamalu won the award.

“It’s always about talent and evaluation of talent,” Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw said. “It’s always about a style. Their style of play is not any different than when we started winning in 1972. It’s great defense, ball-control offense, big plays in the passing game.”

What could seem boring to some _ the Steelers ran 43 times and passed 19 in their AFC title game win over the Jets _ might come off as refreshing to others, especially in cities where changes in offensive and defensive philosophies, to say nothing of overhauls of coaching staffs, hardly raise an eyebrow anymore.

They do in Pittsburgh.

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