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Gorman: Steelers play Super villain

| Friday, Feb. 4, 2011

DALLAS, Texas — Maybe it was no coincidence that Hines Ward arrived here dressed in all black with a cowboy hat and Texas-sized belt buckle, looking like the antagonist in a Wild West shootout.

Where the Green Bay Packers are fan favorites — and giving 2.5 points based the Vegas odds — the Steelers are purposely playing the villain at Super Bowl XLV.

"It's kind of like us against the world — that's the motto we've always had," Ward said with a sly smile. "I guess we're the bad guys."

If the Steelers have a boulder on their shoulders, it's because they seemed to be at the center of one controversy after another since last March, when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault.

After James Harrison's helmet-to-helmet hits drew fines totaling $100,000 this season, the Steelers All-Pro outside linebacker on media day sarcastically suggested that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell "lay pillows down where I tackle them so they don't get hurt when they hit the ground."

A media day mocking of Goodell is comparable to a pillow fight, but the Steelers sound like they want to turn it into a bare-knuckle brawl. They have used the Super Bowl stage to gripe about Goodell and his rules enforcement amid contentious labor negotiations and a looming lockout.

"Everybody knows what it is with Goodell, so guys are going to speak out on that," nose tackle Casey Hampton said. "Guys on this team have put in enough work to where they can voice their opinion. The guys that are saying stuff have been in the league for a long time. How long has he been commissioner?"

For the record, Goodell took office in 2006, a few months after the Steelers won Super Bowl XL. But he started as an NFL intern in 1982 and worked his way up to executive vice president and chief operating officer in 2001, a few months after Hampton was drafted by the Steelers.

But who's counting?

The Steelers will use motivation wherever they can find it, whether it's insisting on wearing road white jerseys as the home team in Super Bowl XL after making it there as a No. 6 seed or convincing themselves there is an NFL conspiracy to keep them from winning a seventh Lombardi Trophy.

That has brought about an air of defiance from the Steelers.

"That's how we feel — that nobody wants us to do nothing — and it makes us play better," Hampton said. "Everybody hates on us anyway. That's how we look at it. Every time we're out there, we think everybody is cheating on us, that nobody wants us to win. That's how it's always been, and we just play like that. We play mad. We play like nobody wants us to do good but us, and that works for us."

Well, almost nobody.

"Maybe to you guys we may be the villains or whatever it may be, but there's a million other people out there that's called Steelers Nation that would greatly disagree," Harrison said. "That's the only ones I care about."

Call it Super Bowl syndrome.

The Steelers are making their eighth appearance in the championship and third in six seasons. The only team to win six Lombardi trophies, they can put even more distance between themselves and the rest of the league.

Such success can create jealousy.

"Why?" cornerback Ike Taylor asked. "You get tired of seeing the same people win big games."

New England's popularity peaked when the Patriots won their third Super Bowl in four years in 2005 but plummeted after the Spygate scandal broke in 2007. When the Patriots went undefeated that season, it was easy to root for a New York Giants upset in Super Bowl XLII. So the Steelers accept that winning breeds winning but also sometimes contempt.

"Villain or no villain, we've still got to play this game," Ward said. "What a great feeling if we can win our third Super Bowl in six years."

A greater feeling if Goodell has to grudgingly hand the Lombardi Trophy to one of the "bad guys" like Roethlisberger or Harrison. That should be all the motivation the Steelers need to win a seventh Super Bowl title.

If that happens, here's a suggestion for the commissioner:

Bring a pillow.

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