At the risk of being sacrilegious, let’s relate the biggest news story in the world this week to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
If you’re a devout Catholic, reader discretion is advised.
A new Pope was elected Wednesday and greeted by thousands of worshipers at the Vatican.
If Steelers fans knew that Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin all would win at least one Super Bowl, perhaps they’d have been greeted by throngs of Steelers worshipers outside the team’s offices when they were hired.
The Steelers sure needed prayers when Noll was hired in 1969. Since then, the Catholic Church has changed Popes more than the Steelers have changed head coaches. That makes the Steelers head coaching position the only one in professional sports that parallels Papal succession.
I’ll bet Cowher would get a kick out of wearing the big, pointy hat. Tomlin and Noll? Probably not.
Just for that line alone, I realize I could be struck by a bolt of lightning the second I hit the “Publish” button on this article. But why not link faith and football? I’m Catholic, so I’m allowed.
After all, it took an Immaculate Reception to change the Steelers’ fortunes after a 40-year Penance, “Hail Mary” is an accepted football term and the Steelers did have a Pope on their team in 2012.
Tight end Leonard Pope was once a Cardinal, and he once saved a child from drowning. I’ll bet God was happy with that.
Pope might not be with the Steelers next season, but Tomlin almost certainly will.
In the same way that Pope Francis makes history as the first Latin American Pope and the first non-European Pope since the year 741 (not sure who won the Super Bowl that year), Tomlin was a historic hire as the Steelers’ first African-American head coach.
Hired in 2007, Tomlin has followed in the footsteps of Cowher, who coached from 1992 to 2006. Before that, Noll coached from 1969 to 1991.
Meanwhile, Pope John Paul I was elected in 1978, then died after 33 days. He was replaced by Pope John Paul II, who served until his death in 2005. Then came Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned last month and was succeeded Wednesday by Pope Francis.
Unlike Popes, Steelers coaches aren’t elected by Cardinals, but Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm went to the Cardinals when they were passed over in favor of Tomlin in 2007.
Since then, the Steelers have churned out a virtual College of Cardinals.
Former Steelers Keydrick Vincent, Chukky Okobi, Rodney Bailey, Jerame Tuman, Brian St. Pierre, Sean Morey, Bryant McFadden, Dan Kreider, Clark Haggans, Alan Faneca, Joey Porter, Crezdon Butler, Brian Hoyer and Nick Eason all have played for the Cardinals. William Gay also went from the Steelers to the Cardinals, but now is back with the Steelers.
Now that former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is the Cardinals head coach, the exodus to the desert has continued with Rashard Mendenhall, who’s been surprisingly quiet on Twitter since the new Pope has been chosen.
The Steelers and Cardinals are further linked by Super Bowl XLIII, when the Steelers defeated the Cardinals for their unprecedented sixth championship.
Perhaps it was a sin to beat a team named for a religious order, because the Steelers haven’t won a championship since then.
But maybe the election of a new Pope is a good omen.
Since Noll became the Steelers coach, they’ve won the Super Bowl each year a new Pope was elected. Two Popes were elected in 1978, and the Steelers won the next two Super Bowls.
Now I have to go. A bunch of nuns are knocking on my door, and they’re holding rulers.