FORT WORTH, Texas — Larry Foote left Pittsburgh to play for his hometown team after winning his second Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It didn’t take long before the Detroit-born linebacker was feeling homesick — for the Steel City and winning games.
“I was calling all during training camp, talking to the guys, asking what are you doing, what happened, tell me some of the stories,” Foote said Thursday, describing his lone season with the Lions. “I was already missing those guys. … I found out I’m a Steeler, and I bleed black and gold. Even though Detroit is my hometown, I’m a Steeler all the way.”
Like Foote, cornerback Bryant McFadden left in free agency after that Steelers championship two years ago. He too got back to Pittsburgh as quickly as he could.
Antwaan Randle El was gone four seasons after getting a lucrative free-agent deal from Washington, but the receiver rejoined the Steelers this season.
The trio of postseason starters is back together and back in the Super Bowl, against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Cowboys Stadium.
“I love those guys. One of the things we wanted to do this past offseason was reacquire some guys who we knew about,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “There is so much involved in the game of football that you can’t measure. The men we reacquired who were former Steelers, who were able to come back to us, bring some of that to the table.”
Randle El threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward on a gadget play against Seattle in the 2006 Super Bowl. Only weeks later, he signed a seven-year deal worth up to $31 million, and the $11.5 million in guaranteed money was too much for him to turn down.
When the Redskins released him after the 2009 season, despite being their second-leading receiver with 50 catches, Randle El signed a three-year deal to return to Pittsburgh, the team that drafted him in the second round in 2002.
“Certainly, I’ve got a good history here, and didn’t burn any bridges when I was gone,” he El said. “It’s worked out great for me.”
McFadden was a rookie when the Steelers beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. He left as a free agent after their 2009 Super Bowl victory over Arizona — to join the Cardinals.
Even after starting all 16 games and making the playoffs in Arizona, McFadden stayed there only one season before going back to the team that drafted him out of Florida State.
“Certain franchises have a lot of success for certain reasons. This franchise really does know how to win, and it speaks for itself,” McFadden said. “When I first got drafted, I was kind of disappointed about going to a cold-weather team, but the first thing I heard was, ‘Well, at least you know you’re going to be in the playoffs every year.’ That goes a long way.”
During his first seven seasons with the Steelers, Foote saw so many different players come and go.
The players who left would always say, “There ain’t no place like Pittsburgh.” And those getting their first taste of the Steelers would respond, “This is so different from where I’ve been.”
Yet, Foote still decided to leave as a two-time Super Bowl champion. He thought he could have a bigger role somewhere else since he was sharing time even while starting for the Steelers.
“I paid the price for that,” said Foote, who now characterizes his move as “just selfish.”
Foote went to his hometown Lions, who were coming off an 0-16 season. They won only two games the season he was there.
After those preseason calls to his old teammates in Pittsburgh, the reality of his decision to leave really hit him in Week 5 of that season — when the Steelers won in Detroit.
“I see all those yellow towels,” he said. “I was driving home, and didn’t see nothing but yellow towels in the cars. You see Pittsburgh, the Steelers Nation, represented. And I missed the guys.
“The experience and the winning, and the electricity that Pittsburgh delivers, you can’t pay for it. Money can’t pay for that,” Foote said. “Just being in Detroit and losing, stadium half full, that’s not football. … You know the phrase, everybody thinks the grass is greener. I found out it wasn’t.”
For McFadden, his season away wasn’t miserable. The Cardinals did make the playoffs and he got the chance to see how another organization operated.
But when he got a chance to return to the Steelers, he didn’t think twice.
“Being able to have the opportunity of being wanted and being missed and they’re requesting to have you back was even better,” McFadden said. “There’s no better feeling than that. I wouldn’t change what happened for the world.”
Randle El was talking to three or four different teams after being released by the Redskins, but there was really only one choice for him.
After leaving the Steelers with a Super Bowl title, he’s come back to play for another.
“It’s been great, it’s been special,” Randle El said. “I’ve always appreciated the organization and just the way they run things and what they’re about. … They basically have a criteria. You fit the mold, you can be here. It was good to come back and certainly it’s a blessing for me to be here.”