Hines Ward, Steelers not feeling Super Bowl heat

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by Associated Press

NWCN.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 1:35 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 24 at 12:36 PM

TAMPA, Fla. - Brett Keisel began sweating the minute he walked off the Pittsburgh Steelers' plane and into Florida's bright sunshine and warm weather.

It might be the only time this week the Steelers feel the heat of being favored to win a record sixth Super Bowl.

With injured wide receiver Hines Ward resting comfortably in his shipped-in hyperbaric chamber, the Steelers didn't seem the least bit bothered Monday by all the attention they're drawing for a game that can unnerve the most experienced of players.

Maybe it's because 20 of them, counting Ward and 10 other starters, played and won a Super Bowl three years ago in Detroit, where the weather was never as comfortable as it is in Tampa. Or maybe it's the three AFC title games and 10 playoff games many Steelers have been part of during the last five seasons.

While the Super Bowl is a whole new deal for the Arizona Cardinals, who have gone longer without a major pro sports championship (61 years) than any team except for the Chicago Cubs, the Steelers are accustomed to playing what coach Mike Tomlin calls January football.

Or, in this case, February football.

The Steelers also are encouraged that Ward -- the player whose toughness and whatever-it-takes attitude defines the franchise -- is certain he will play Sunday despite a sprained right knee. Ward was injured during the first quarter of the AFC championship game on Jan. 18.

He is undergoing strenuous rehabilitation, including a session in Pittsburgh on Monday morning before hopping on the Steelers' private charter. He may be on the field again as soon as Thursday's practice at the University of South Florida.

As quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said: This is Hines Ward, and how could the MVP of the only Steelers' Super Bowl victory in the last 29 years possibly miss a game so big?

Answer: He won't.

"People ask me that question and I want to smack them," Roethlisberger said. "It's Hines Ward, he's going to be out here. It's the Super Bowl."

No kidding. And that means honking horns outside the Steelers' hotel and twirling Terrible Towels, courtesy of the dozens and dozens of fans who've made it down here for the game.

"You have to take it with a smile and appreciate it all," Keisel said. "The chance to bring home Pittsburgh's sixth trophy, to me that's extremely exciting."

Unlike the Arizona players who wore suits for their first Super Bowl press conference, the Steelers came dressed in gear that appeared to be from the House of Reebok. Roethlisberger even wore a coach's shirt, something most players wouldn't dare do.

Super Bowl pressure? The Steelers?

"I'm going to enjoy it," Roethlisberger said. "I don't know if it's going to be my last one."

There's a better chance that Ward, who will be 33 in March, is playing in his last Super Bowl than the 26-year-old Roethlisberger. That's why Ward is doing everything possible to make sure the knee sprain doesn't prevent him from being on the field.

He even shipped a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to the team hotel -- yes, just like the device Michael Jackson once used. Ward believes it stimulates the production of red blood cells and will hasten his recuperation from the same type of injury that benched running back Willie Parker for a month this season.

"I don't have a brace on, I'm walking around fine," Ward said. "I'm not going to be 100 percent. I'm not going to trick anybody. But I think I'm going to be able to go out there and perform like I'm used to."

A normal game for Ward is a half-dozen catches, a half-dozen punishing blocks and a half-dozen verbal skirmishes with opposing defensive backs.

"You look at it, you can be a part of history," Ward said. "It's something as a (Steelers) player -- we envision going to the Super Bowl and winning it. We have a lot of veteran guys who experienced it. The adrenaline is going to be there."

The Steelers are fairly certain Ward is going to be there, too.

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