Title-starved Pittsburgh welcomes its heroes

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

The Steelers shared the spoils of Sunday's victory over the Seahawks.

PITTSBURGH -- Some fans waited 26 years for this Super Bowl celebratory parade. Others were too young to remember the Pittsburgh Steelers' last championship. Some weren't even born.

It didn't matter Tuesday as fans of all ages jammed a mile-long parade route -- 10 or more people deep in many spots -- to thank the team for securing the long-sought fifth Super Bowl win.

Sixty-seven-year-old Evelyne Potts recalled being downtown for the last victory parade when her sons were both in elementary school. She said she wasn't going to miss this one.

"I wanted to be part of history," she said.

She was watching with her friend Joan Bartolacci. Both work at Duquesne University and were given several hours off to attend.

"We just love 'em, that's all," Potts said.

And the players loved the fans back. Safety Troy Polamalu twice dove from atop a pickup truck into the cheering crowd.

"Thank you guys so much. This has been a dream come true for all of us," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.

Wide receiver Hines Ward told the crowd the championship was for them. "This is where the championship truly belongs, in the city of Pittsburgh," he said.

The Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 in Detroit on Sunday in the team's first Super Bowl win since 1980.

The city loves its Bus

Ward introduced retiring running back Jerome Bettis, with whom he had tearfully pleaded to return for one more year after last season's conference championship loss to the New England Patriots.

"He's the greatest Steeler of all time, in my book," Ward said.

Bettis rode in a convertible with the top down and carried the Vince Lombardi trophy.

"Thank you for all the memories that you've given me and the way that you've taken me in," Bettis told fans, who chanted in response, "thank you, Bus."

Fans braved temperatures in the 20s and occasional flurries. Many arrived hours before the scheduled 11 a.m. start. Police estimated 250,000 fans turned out and reported no problems.

Most fans were decked out in black and gold. Many held signs saying "THANKS" and "CHAMPS" or waved Terrible Towels.

Players, coaches, local officials and several school marching bands participated in the parade.

Coach Bill Cowher and the players, dressed in gray Super Bowl champion sweat shirts, slowly rode along the route in the back of pickup trucks and other cars. Among the bands was that of the Carlynton School District, the suburban Pittsburgh district where Cowher graduated.

"I was here with you in the '70s and all we kept hearing was how great it was," Cowher, referring to the team's previous four Super Bowl wins, told the crowd gathered at the end of the parade route. "All I can say to you now -- how great it is. We don't have to hear from anyone else anymore. We are living it, baby."

Team owner Dan Rooney held up a sign saying "Thanks."

"This sign says it all and it's for you. Thank you," Rooney told fans. "The press, they had their doubts, but you never did and we thank you."

Fans came from near and far. Pete Paolello staked out a nice spot on a traffic island next to the parade route. That was the reward for making the 12-hour drive from Boston and getting into town at 5 a.m. Tuesday.

"I gave my bosses a heads up last week, 'If we win, I'll be out,"' Paolello said. His sister, Josie, carried a sign that read "We came from Beantown to Bus-town," referring to Bettis.

Jeff and Stacy Krieger traveled 3 1/2 hours from York County to Pittsburgh on Monday night to be at the parade with their 9-year-old son, Dylan, and 6-year-old daughter, Makensey.

"It's been 25 years or however long it's been," said Jeff Krieger, a construction foreman and lifelong Steelers fan. "It might be another 25 years. You never know."

Associated Press writer Genaro Armas contributed to this report.

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