Dexter Rogers

Dexter Rogers

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mike Tomlin leads the Pittsburgh Steelers to Super Bowl title

On February 1stead coach Mike Tomlin led the Pittsburgh Steelers to its sixth Super Bowl title in franchise history. The Steelers defeated the resilient Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in one of the best games in Super Bowl history.

I picked the Cardinals to win. I felt the persistence they demonstrated in the playoffs would be enough to beat the Steelers. The Cardinals nearly pulled off the upset, but as fate would have it the Steelers were destined to hoist the trophy.

Tomlin was the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl. He’s also the second African American to raise the Vince Lombardy trophy in victory. Tony Dungy was the first when he led the Indianapolis Colts over the Chicago Bears in 2006. Dungy played for the Steelers from 1977-78. His first NFL coaching job was with the Steelers in 1981. In 2001 Dungy, then head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, hired a 28 year old Mike Tomlin as his defensive backs coach. Now just eight years into his career and second year as head coach he’s a champion.

Two years ago Tomlin seemingly came out of know where and took over a team that’s had just two coaches in franchise history. Chuck Knoll coached the Steelers from 1969-1991 and Bill Cowher was the man from (1992-2006). Now he’s joined the small coaching fraternity in being a Super Bowl winner like his Steeler predecessors.

Tomlin’s victory along with Dungy’s triumph in 2006 is the culmination of the persistence African Americans have displayed in the NFL. You see, there’s a reason why African Americans have not been commonplace leading NFL franchises: much like the African American athlete coaches were denied entry because of systematic racism.

No matter what one achieves today someone from back in the day endured and sacrificed to make things easier for those who follow. It is important to chronicle those in history who set the table for those to dine today. This gives one the ultimate perspective of this country and the historical journey of the African American in mainstream America.

In 1921 NFL pioneer Fritz Pollard was the first African American head coach in the NFL. He was player/head coach for the Akron Pros. Pollard, who attended Brown University, was one of the greatest players of his day. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.

Sadly the NFL wouldn’t see another African American head coach for nearly seven decades. Art Shell was hired by the Oakland Raider in 1989. Since the Shell’s hiring the NFL slowly began to hire African American head coaches. Fritz Pollard planted the seed in 1921 and Shell opened the modern-era door in the NFL for African Americans like Dungy and Tomlin to coach.

In 2003 the league was forced to institute the “Rooney Rule” because African American coaches were not given enough opportunities to coach. The rule states teams must interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching openings. It’s quite the ironic the rule is named after the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Dan Rooney) who is an advocate of diversity. He put his money where his mouth was. His hiring of Tomlin culminated in another Super Bowl victory. I guess if you do the right thing good things follow.

There’s been little mention of Tomlin being the second African American to coach a Super Bowl winner. Has America relaxed racial doctrines enough that race is no longer a big deal?

In the case of Mike Tomlin’s victory it’s wonderful and should be celebrated, but we can’t neglect the fact it took the NFL nearly 70 years to hire an Art Shell. You must also note even after Shells’ success teams were still reluctant to hire African American coaches and the “Rooney Rule” was needed. I think things are better, but much work still needs to be done.

Here’s something to ponder. In 2007 two men were lurking whom we knew little about. They went to use their intelligence to seemingly come out of know where to claim their glory at the highest level. Before we could figure out what happened the task was undertaken and their goals achieved. One became President of the United States and the other became a Super Bowl winning coach.

Don’t be surprised. There are others lurking in other domains of society who will one soon ascend as well.

1 comment:

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