Super Bowl Sunday has evolved into an unofficial national holiday in the decades since Jack Ham and his Steel Curtain teammates played in Super Bowl IX.
Johnstown’s Ham sometimes is amazed at how the game has evolved into such a spectacle in which 30-second TV spots cost $4 million and legendary rockers such as Bruce Springsteen, The Who, Rolling Stones, Prince and U2 have performed lengthy halftime productions.
“The game has grown so much now,” Ham said during a visit to his hometown on Thursday. “Someone told me there was 5,000 reporters at the game for the Super Bowl. Obviously, it’s gotten bigger and bigger each year.”
At least one part of the Super Bowl experience remains the same for participants, whether they are superstars or role players.
“There is so much pressure on the players,” Ham said. “It’s not a best-of-7 like baseball or hockey, where if you have a bad game, you can make up for it. This is one game, one time. You’ve got to be at your best. It’s a lot of pressure but that’s what you play for. You always remember the winner, but not the loser.”
Ham and the Steelers were at their best in four Super Bowl appearances during a six-year span in the 1970s. Pittsburgh won all four of its title-game opportunities during Ham’s Hall of Fame career. He played in three of the games (IX, X and XIII) and was injured during the other (XIV).
The Steelers made their Super Bowl debut on Jan. 12, 1975 after decades of frustration and losing.
Just like the 49ers and Ravens in today’s Super Bowl XLVII, the Steelers played for the NFL championship in New Orleans. Pittsburgh took the first step toward becoming a dynasty by shutting down the Minnesota Vikings’ heralded running game in a 16-6 defensive struggle at Tulane Stadium.
“I think about how dominating our front four was in that game,” said Ham, still considered among the best outside linebackers to play the game. “We were playing that stunt 4-3. Minnesota came in with a pretty good running game and could not run the football an inch against us.
“I actually may have had two tackles in that whole game. It didn’t feel like I did a whole hell of a lot in that game,” Ham said, crediting the front four’s performance. “That was a defensive struggle. We won our first two Super Bowls with defense and the running game. The last two, our offense really got it cranked throwing the football and all the wide receivers we had.”