|And Then Came the Super Bowl|
A big year for Brown football culminated, oddly enough, at Super Bowl XL in Detroit. Present at Ford Field February 5 were three alumni who have played key roles in one another's careers over the past three decades. Chris Berman '77 was there providing commentary for ABC Sports. His good friend Mark Whipple '79, a former Brown player and head coach, was working the sidelines as the Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterbacks coach. And one of Whipple's former Brown recruits, Sean Morey '99, was on the Steelers roster—the first-ever appearance by a Brown alumnus in the game itself. Berman watched as Whipple and Morey helped the Steelers secure their first championship in twenty-six years with a 21-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Also looking on was Detroit News columnist Jerry Green '50, one of just four sportswriters to have covered all forty Super Bowls.
The Bears' streak of good fortune began last August, when Green and Fritz Pollard '19, the first African American to coach in the National Football League, were both inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Then, last fall, the Bears won their first outright Ivy League championship. And in January, legendary coach Joe Paterno '50, who is now seventy-nine, took Penn State to victory in the Orange Bowl.
"This is as good as it's ever going to get," Berman said of the Bears' presence at the Super Bowl, pointing out that he and Whipple have been close friends for more than thirty years. "I'm just so proud of him. [His success] shows that Joe Paterno wasn't the last coach to have [graduated] from Brown that knew what he was doing."
In the early years of Whipple's coaching career, he turned around football programs at the University of New Haven, at Brown (1994-97), and at the University of Massachusetts before the Steelers hired him two years ago. At Brown, he recruited Morey, an undersized and underrecruited wide receiver from Hebron Academy in Maine. Along with current Bears head coach Phil Estes, Whipple oversaw Morey's emergence as one of the Ivy League's most impressive talents of all time and its 1997 Player of the Year.
"He's a reckless kid," Berman now says of Morey, "a little kid dealing with guys twice his size."
"I'm as proud of Sean as any player I've ever coached," Whipple said. "It's a credit to Sean's perseverance, his character, his heart he's been cut a few times [by NFL teams], and now he's a champion. He hadn't been highly recruited coming out of prep school, but he was one of the key factors in turning around [Brown's] program."
Morey's work ethic and love of football have secured him a solid spot on the Pittsburgh roster, where he serves as the Steelers' special-teams captain and was named a Pro Bowl alternate for his performance this year.
"This was his lifelong dream," Estes said of Morey's desire to play in the NFL. Estes recalled having to force the young Morey to leave the office when the coach was reviewing films. "He wanted to know every aspect of the game."
Whipple, too, always aspired to join the NFL, and he got his shot with the Steelers after a recommendation from Berman. "Mark's credentials as a coach speak for themselves," Berman said. "But I know a few coaches in the NFL, and when the Steelers lost their offensive coordinator and their quarterbacks coach, I called coach [Bill] Cowher and told him that I had a good friend of mine that was a hell of a coach and was ready to make the jump. All I did was connect the dots."
Behind the sensational play of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Whipple's pupil, Pittsburgh won seven straight games to reach the Super Bowl, including all three playoff games on the road. Whipple said the team tried to maintain its normal routine amid the chaos leading up to the big game. "We had gotten everything done and put in the game plan the week before, so [Super Bowl] week was really more like a long road trip," he said. "Things got a little more hectic on Friday when the families came in. I think it was more hectic for the players than the coaching staff."
Whipple and Morey called Estes from the Steelers' victory party, in the wee hours of the morning. Whipple said the celebration's most poignant moment came when he and Morey were rehashing a loss to Dartmouth during Morey's sophomore year. Morey had dropped a potential touchdown catch and the Big Green went on to win the game and knock Brown from the title picture.
"I told him after [the Dartmouth] game that something good would come of it, that he would have his chance to be a champion," Whipple said. "Now he's a Super Bowl champion."
Stephen Colelli is the Brown Daily Herald's sports editor.