TAMPA, Fla. - Please don't mention the word "repeat" when you're around Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. And don't bother with the catchphrase "defending champions." He won't be referencing either in the months ahead as the Steelers attempt to repe . . . er . . . defend . . . um . . . try and win next year's Super Bowl.
"The thing that I'll sell to our football team is that we're not attempting to repeat," said Tomlin, who at 36 became the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl title. "That special group of men , that's gone forever. There will be a new 53 men."
OK, when Tomlin says "we're not attempting to repeat," he doesn't mean they won't try to win Super Bowl XLIV next year in Miami. It's just that he won't use the word to his players as he prepares them for the 2009 season.
New season. New team. New challenge. But no additional pressure necessary to get the job done.
"A lot of faces will be the same, but nothing stays the same," Tomlin said. "We're not different than anyone else. I think 'repeating' and 'defending champions' is somewhat of a misnomer. You won't hear me say those words because it will be a brand-new year."
The Steelers pulled off an incredible comeback as Ben Roethlisberger led a drive capped by Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes' 6-yard touchdown reception with 35 seconds left in Pittsburgh's 27-23 win over the Cardinals.
The win came in what has to be considered one of the greatest fourth quarters in Super Bowl history. The Steelers saw a 20-7 lead evaporate on Kurt Warner's spectacular comeback bid. But after Warner and receiver Larry Fitzgerald hooked up for two touchdowns to put Arizona up 23-20, Roethlisberger led the Steelers to the game-winning score on a 78-yard drive in the final minutes. He capped it with his touchdown pass to Holmes, who extended his body fully and got both feet - actually, more like toes - inbounds to make the catch.
"I'd like to tip my hat to the Arizona Cardinals organization," Tomlin said. "That was a fierce battle last night. We appreciate the spectacle of today's NFL and we realize that it's because of the work of people that have come before us. It was a very blessed evening, and I was excited to be a part of it. It was surreal in a way, being a lifelong fan of the game. It's humbling to consider what happened to us last night."
Tomlin became only the second African-American coach to win the Super Bowl. Former Colts coach Tony Dungy won the Super Bowl two years ago.
"Coach Dungy paved that road, and I just have to walk down it," Tomlin said. "I benefited from the sacrifices. It makes it all the sweeter that I consider him a personal friend of mine. It's great. It's beautiful."
As Tomlin looks to prepare his team for next season, he'll look to do so with the same core players from this year's team. Roethlisberger, 26, continues to develop into one of the most successful quarterbacks at such a young age in league history. Holmes is emerging as a big-time receiver and combines with Super Bowl XL MVP Hines Ward to form an elite starting tandem. The offensive line, while a bit suspect in pass blocking, was good enough to win a championship.
Just as important, the defense will remain intact next year. Led by Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison and fellow linebackers James Farrior and LaMarr Woodley, as well as All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu, the Steelers are loaded heading into the 2009 season.
Good enough to repeat?
You bet . . . even if Tomlin won't admit it.