Fast Willie Parker’s greatest asset in the biggest moment of his professional career turned out to be his ability to slow things down and be patient. That is how his NFL-record 75-yard rushing touchdown that helped the Pittsburgh Steelers secure victory in Super Bowl XL came about, as he recently told Ed Bouchette of The Athletic.
Now an iconic moment in Pittsburgh sports history, Parker dashed to the finish line on just the second play of the third quarter, at a time when the score was just 7-3 in the Steelers’ favor. He followed the pulling block of left guard Alan Faneca and just outran everybody. But only after he slowed down to allow the play to develop. Thanks to Jerome Bettis coaching him up between halves.
“We discussed it at halftime, because we ran it a few times before and felt we could have done a lot better but I was kind of overrunning the play”, he told Bouchette. “I was too fast and I had to kind of slow down a little and let the play come to me. Jerome pretty much told me, ‘you just need to slow down’, that I’m not being patient. He just coached me up, telling me to slow down, run the ball. ‘You have plenty of time, we know it’s a big game, just keep doing what you’ve been doing and everything else will take care of itself’”.
It did. He slowed it down, the block was there, the play developed, and his elite speed took over once the hole opened up. The Steelers took a 14-3 lead that they would not relinquish, ultimately claiming their first Super Bowl title in 26 years, 21-10, over the Seattle Seahawks.
Undrafted out of North Carolina the year before in 2004, it didn’t take Parker long to make an impact. He was their lead runner in 2005, rushing for over 1200 yards. He only scored four touchdowns, but that was the year Bettis became the goal line back. He scored nine touchdowns on just 110 carries (he also had 13 the year before).
Albeit shortlived, Parker and Bettis made a great, complementary duo, and it really rounded out what was becoming a young offense with the second-year Ben Roethlisberger under center. The Steelers came out throwing during the postseason, but allowed the running game to take over against Seattle.
Roethlisberger only attempted 21 passes, though Parker and Bettis only combined for 24 rushes themselves—for 136 yards, and a touchdown. Roethlisberger also had seven carries, including a touchdown, for 25 yards. Of course, Antwaan Randle El sealed the game with a 43-yard touchdown pass to MVP Hines Ward. But it was that iconic rush that was the turning point.
“We’re in the huddle and Ben calls the play”, Parker recalled. “I look at everybody and Jeff Hartings always gave me a look like, ‘you better run the ball a lot’, and I tell everybody, ‘meet me in the end zone.”.
He did. An hour or so later, they had new hardware for their trophy case.