My heroes growing up all had the same common traits. Hard-working, blue-collar, and the ability to overcome adversity in order to succeed.
My favorite superhero was Batman. He didn't even have any super powers for goodness sake. But, he got it done anyway.
In football, my two favorite heroes were Terry Bradshaw and Rocky Bleier.
Bradshaw overcame quite a bit of adversity in the early years of his career. He was booed by the fans and ridiculed by his critics. Things appeared at their worst in 1974 when Bradshaw was benched in favor of Joe Gilliam, got his job back, then lost it again to Terry Hanratty.
But, Bradshaw persevered. He regained his starting spot late in the season and was on fire down the stretch and through the playoffs. He finished as the highest rated quarterback during the playoffs that season and capped it off with a triumph over Minnesota in Super Bowl IX, the Steelers' first of four titles in the decade of the '70s.
My favorite Bradshaw moment was in Super Bowl XIV. I think it is because he faced more adversity in that game than in the other three Super Bowls.
He had lost his favorite target, Lynn Swann, to an injury and had thrown a couple of interceptions in the third quarter. Early in the fourth quarter, the Steelers trailed the pesky Rams 19-17 when I looked to my Terry Bradshaw poster for a little luck.
I am convinced that poster had magic powers because all I had to do was glance at Terry and say a little prayer and something big always seemed to happen. This seemed as good a time as any for a big play. As I finished doing my thing, I looked back at the television just as Bradshaw unleashed the 73-yard bomb to Stallworth to put the Steelers back in front.
It was magic I tell you!
My other hero, Rocky Bleier, was a Vietnam veteran whose war wounds made it difficult to entertain thoughts of a pro football career. But, he worked hard and fought his way into the starting lineup.
My favorite Bleier moment came in Super Bowl XIII. Just before halftime, he made an incredible, leaping catch in the end zone to put the Steelers ahead at the half over Dallas.
A friend of mine, who was a Cowboys fan and was watching the game with me, threw his cowboy hat on the floor in disgust. That's right, I said cowboy hat. It was a different time. I just laughed and thanked my lucky stars that Rocky had come up big again in a big game for Pittsburgh.
Nowadays, it's hard to find players who fit my criteria for a hero. The T.O.'s and Ocho Cinco's of today's game are all about "me first". They thrive on attention, and teamwork holds little meaning to them.
My hero now is Hines Ward. The third round selection in the '98 Draft has had to overcome a lot to make it big. The Super Bowl XL MVP wasn't given much of a chance to be a star in this league but has continually proven everyone wrong.
The league's hardest working receiver will someday have a bust in the Hall of Fame.
It seems all the great ones had to overcome some type of adversity. Just the way I like them.