The Pittsburgh Steelers 23-14 win over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC title game on Sunday carried a lot of significance. And it’s not that the Steelers are trying for their fifth Super Bowl title in seven appearances, although that’s a tremendous feat. The fact that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, 36, is the youngest coach to take a team to a Super Bowl and that he is a Black man holds the most amount of significance. Tomlin came out of nowhere to get the job after Bill Cowher stepped down, much to the dismay of some who thought Russ Grimm, Ken Whisenhunt or some other “more qualified” candidate should have gotten the job.
Tomlin is only the third Black coach to take a team to the Super Bowl. Tomlin’s mentor Tony Dungy, who recently stepped down as coach of the Indianapolis Colts, and Bears head man Lovie Smith are the others. In a year where there were a record number of Black coaches – 7 – having one lead a team to the Super Bowl was the proverbial icing on the cake. What’s most impressive about Tomlin’s reign was that he was smart enough to know not to fix what wasn’t broken. He allowed famed defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to stay on board. He kept the Steelers offensive philosophy intact. He allowed the Steeler mystique to keep its rightful place. All of which helped him gain the respect of his players, which is the most important aspect of being a head coach. While there are some who believe we are at a point where one’s color isn’t an issue, there is a segment of the population that needs to see the brass ring before they will become believers. As for the game, it was a typical Steelers victory; a hard hitting defense led by Troy Polamalu buoyed by an efficient offense. Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, unflappable in two previous playoff games, lost some of the ice water in his veins in the face of the Pittsburgh defense. Flacco was intercepted three times and completed just 13 of 30 passes. And forget about the Ravens running game, which gained 73 yards on 25 carries. Typical Steelers win? Maybe. Historical Steelers win? Without a doubt.