Everyone knows about the much anticipated return of wide receiver Santonio Holmes to Pittsburgh to face his former team, the Steelers. But there are three other Jets on the trip who also have ties to the Steel City.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis, linebacker Jason Taylor and defensive tackle Sione Pouha are all returning to a special place for them personally, but under completely different circumstances. Taylor and Revis grew up in Pittsburgh, while Pouha lived there during two formative years in college.
As the 9-4 Jets go into windy, sub-freezing conditions to face the 10-3 Steelers, they'll go up against a franchise that has won six Super Bowl championships. Taylor, a Pittsburgh native, grew up idolizing Steelers greats Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene and knows just what type of prestige and weight the organization carries.
"It's one of the tougher places to play," Taylor said. "It's not just because of the atmosphere, but it's because of the football team that you're playing against. They traditionally have a very good team and I was born and raised there so I've seen it for 36 years. The Pittsburgh Steelers — it's amazing how over decades their real philosophy and mantra as a team doesn't change."
Revis is from nearby Aliquippa, played his college football at the University of Pittsburgh, and the Jets traded up to make him the 14th overall selection in the 2007 draft. If they hadn't, the Steelers were selecting at pick 15, which meant Revis was one selection away from potentially playing his entire football life in Pittsburgh. As a result, he'll have a large following at the game.
"I had to buy 30 tickets, I think, for this game," Revis said. "I'm from that area and it's going to be good for my family and friends to come see me play."
While low-key in the locker room, Revis is known for his aggressive style and intensity on the field. He's played high school and college games at Heinz Field, but he'll be playing his first professional game there Sunday and won't be holding back his passion in the slightest.
"My emotion is going to be the same, I'm a football player," Revis said. "Football is all about emotion. It's not just because I'm going home. I have to go there and execute my job and try to come out of there with a win."
Pouha has a sentimental return for a very different reason. While he was at the University of Utah, he completed a two-year Mormon mission in Pittsburgh from 1998-2000. He was there to study scripture and go door to door to talk about his beliefs. During that time he was not allowed to use radio or television and could call home only on Mother's Day and Christmas. Asked if it will be emotional returning to the place where he grew into a man, Pouha was emphatic.
"Always, man," Pouha said "I shed some blood, sweat and tears in that area, so I'm quite familiar with the area. I know some people there, so definitely."
Now Pouha's ability to use technology has helped him reconnect with some of the people he met during his mission. Like Revis and Taylor, he'll have plenty cheering him on when he arrives in the city that helped him develop into the man he is today.
"I've had people from the surrounding areas Facebook me and stuff," Pouha said. "They say, 'Hey, we're true Steelers fans but we're cheering for you.' "
Toughness is something that Pouha learned while he was there, and that was instilled in Revis and Taylor during their childhoods in the city. The veteran linebacker said that at its core, Pittsburgh is still about power football. The three Jets defenders who have ties to the town will be fully ready for the attitude, intensity and difficulties presented by the Steelers and their fans, but are confident that they can achieve their 10th win this year.
"Growing up there," Taylor said, "we always prided ourselves on it being a tough place for people to come in and play and now as a player you understand it's a difficult place to play. But they're not undefeated there, either. They can be beat."