Tomlin a Cowboys fan at heart
09:31 PM CDT on Saturday, September 1, 2007
Mike Tomlin has become a big fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. That's logical.
"I've been a fan of whoever feeds my family for a long time now," said Tomlin, the new coach of the Steelers.
But in the 1970s, when the Cowboys and Steelers were battling it out for the NFL's team of the decade honor, Tomlin was squarely in the Dallas corner. That in itself was ironic, because Tomlin grew up in Hampton, Va., deep in the heart of Redskins' country.
"You either supported the Redskins or you didn't," recalled Tomlin of his youth. "I was one who did not. I always went against the grain. I loved the personalities on the Cowboys – Drew Pearson, Butch Johnson, Hollywood, Too Tall, Harvey Martin, Randy White, Tony D, Robert Newhouse. ... I bought into the whole America's Team thing."
Tomlin played wide receiver in high school in the late 1980s and in college at William & Mary in the early 1990s, setting a record there with 20 career touchdown catches. So his favorite Cowboy was obvious: Pearson.
"I had his jersey," Tomlin said. "I got a different one every year. I had Tony D, Pearson, Too Tall... The last jersey I remember having was Danny White."
Tomlin broke into coaching at VMI in 1995, working with the wide receivers. He moved on to Memphis in 1996, then to Arkansas State and Cincinnati before hiring into the NFL in 2001 as the defensive backfield coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"The very first regular-season game I coached in this league was at Texas Stadium," Tomlin said. "I'd never been there, never seen it in person. Then the first time I get there I'm there on business, I'm working.
"Now I'm not one to smell the roses. That's not me. I take everything as it comes. But that was one of the moments that I've had in coaching where I walked out in pregame warmups, looked up at that open roof and thought, 'Wow...' That was a hair-stand-up-on-your-arm moment for me.
"So I took 20 seconds or so to enjoy it. There's a mystique about that place. It has nothing to do with the quality of the place. It's the memories of the place, the aura of the place."
Mike Tomlin is in first season as Steelers head coach.
The Buccaneers won that day, 10-6. Tomlin's Bucs played the Cowboys again in 2003 in Tampa, winning 16-0. His NFL teams have not played Dallas since then, and the Steelers aren't scheduled to play the Cowboys in 2007 unless both wind up in Phoenix the opening weekend of February for the Super Bowl.
But the Steelers will play the Baltimore Ravens twice each season in the AFC North. That means Tomlin will see a coaching pal, Ravens defensive backfield coach Dennis Thurman. He was playing safety for the Cowboys when the first Dallas dynasty crashed in the 1981 NFC Championship Game with "The Catch" by Dwight Clark.
"I kill Dennis Thurman every time I see him," Tomlin said. "I tell him, 'You broke my heart.' "