sports (2006-05)

Tennessee Delegate

Cedric Wilson represents Knoxville in Super Bowl XL

Tennessee Delegate

by Tony Basilio

When the post-season began, many UT fans wondered, “Could this finally be the year that he gets the recognition in the NFL that he deserves? Could one of the great team players to come through UT in the past couple of decades win a couple of consecutive playoff games and get to the Super Bowl?” If you’ve been following along, you know the answer by now. It is emphatically, yes! Oh, I’m not talking about a Manning, but I am talking about a man. When you play in the NFL at only 5’10” and 183 pounds, you better be a man! Cedric Wilson, who’s matriculated in eight months from pro football’s outhouse to the penthouse is exactly that.

In ’04, while the Steelers were rolling to a 15-1 regular season, Wilson was toiling on the left coast with the woebegone San Francisco 49ers. The Niners were so awful that they ended the season with the league’s worst record at 2-14.

Despite Frisco’s foibles, Wilson flourished by having a breakout year, which saw him snag a career high 47 passes in 14 starts. A free agent at the end of the season, Wilson saw the opportunity for a greater stage and grabbed it. You could say it was Wilson’s entrée into top-flight NFL football. Born Dec. 17, 1978, Cedric was only 13 months old when the Steelers won their last Super Bowl. “This is a great football town. It matters so much to these people in Pittsburgh,” Wilson said. In fact, the former Vol sees some of his past in the present: “This town (Pittsburgh) reminds me a lot of Knoxville in how nuts about football they are. You want to get up every Sunday here and win for these folks just because they appreciate the game so much.”

It’s one thing to play in the same city once dominated by the likes of Bradshaw, Lambert, Green, Swan and Stallworth. It’s quite another to make memorable plays in the postseason. With two key touchdown receptions in the ’05 playoffs, Wilson has been more than just a complementary part to Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El. Not bad for a guy who had only 26 catches and no touchdowns in the regular season.  With eight playoff catches for 196 yards heading into the Super Bowl, Wilson has almost twice as many receiving yards as anyone else on the Steelers. Still, Wilson’s not about numbers: “This season is so special because we became healthy at the right time. Winning is so sweet. It’s even more special when you win three playoff games on the road. Considering the history here, it’s a great honor to be a part of this organization.”

Wilson rejects the idea that the Steelers have risen from anonymity for this post-season run: “We were picked to be one of the best teams in the NFL. The thing that’s helped us out the most is the fact that we’re clicking on all cylinders at times. Of course you can always do some things better, but we have really played some great football in the past seven weeks!”

One of the most memorable Steelers wins in years came when the Black and Gold knocked the seemingly invincible Colts and Peyton Manning out in the second round. The game was marred by a bizarre piece of officiating that almost turned a Steelers rout into a narrow Colts victory. Troy Polamalu picked off Manning with just over five minutes left only to have the call overturned on what the NFL admitted the next day was a blown call. Despite his team’s success, Wilson holds no quarter for the horrendous call that almost cost his team a Super Bowl shot: “Now, the interception that Troy had overturned is one of those things you can’t explain. There were so many of those types of [controversial] plays that have gone against us. It was just so tough for them to overturn that call when there are so many receivers [not defensive players] who have caught a ball and gotten up to run and ended up getting credit for the catch.”

The loss dealt a blow to the stature and status of Manning, who has felt the wrath of a plethora of critics. Having caught passes from Manning in ’97 at Tennessee, Wilson bristles at the notion that Manning can’t seem to win the big one. “I don’t look at the Colts losing to us this year and say, ‘Well, Peyton, he can’t win.’ The quarterback, any quarterback doesn’t win games on his own. Beating them was a team effort. The last time I checked, Peyton doesn’t play defense. We scored 30 plus points on those guys. Our front seven came after the quarterback with some great blitzes and schemes. It just happened to be Peyton Manning. We doubled his best receiver in Marvin Harrison and dared him to throw the ball to other guys. We got so much pressure with our front seven that they couldn’t even send their tight end out in pass patterns. In turn, they weren’t able to run the ball or do much until it was too late. People who want to blame Peyton for everything forget that this is a team game.”

Manning or not, it’s great to see a Tennessee Man in the Super Bowl.

Listen up! Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM.