As I awoke Tuesday morning to glance at a news headline on my smartphone about former Steelers defensive back Deshea Townsend and a drug raid involving heroin and a ton of cash on his property, the first thing I thought was, "Oh no. Deshea has gone the way of Bam Morris."
Thankfully, after actually reading the article that went with the headline, I learned Townsend was simply the owner of the Pittsburgh property that was raided and had no other actual involvement. (Townsend is currently the secondary coach for Mississippi State.)
I was at ease, because, as far as unsung heroes go, Townsend certainly was one during his 12 years with the Steelers.
Here's a guy that came along as a fourth round draft choice in 1998, right as the Steelers 90s run as a playoff team and Super Bowl contender had come to a halt. Not only was Townsend a mid-round draft pick, he spent his first five years playing behind Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington. Those guys weren't horrible, but they weren't exactly Rod Woodson and Mel Blount, either.
I'll always remember Townsend as a player who survived and hung in there just long enough to finally get his chance; when his chance arrived (in 2004, at the ripe "old" age of 28), it came right at the height of the Steelers next run as a Super Bowl contender. Townsend started 58 games at corner from 2004-2007 and accumulated 10 of his 21 career INTs (same amount as Polamalu during that period), as Pittsburgh did those 90s teams one better by bringing home that long sought-after "One for the Thumb" in 2005.
Speaking of that '05 team, one of my all-time favorite "Yes!" sports moments happened during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XL, and Townsend was the author.
Even though Pittsburgh had just gone up, 21-10, thanks to the iconic Antwaan Randle El to Hines Ward 43 yard touchdown pass, things certainly weren't settled. And after the officials determined that Seahawks' quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was touched down on a play in which he appeared to fumble, I had a sick feeling that we might be in for a scary ending similar to the Colts playoff game from a few weeks earlier.
Fortunately, Townsend leveled Hasselbeck for a sack on a third down blitz, forcing a punt, and, for the first time in my adult life, I knew the Steelers were going to be Super Bowl champions.
In his article on Tuesday, Neal Coolong mentioned the game-winning pick six against the Cowboys in 2008 (the year the Steelers gave us a Six Pack), but people may not remember that it was Townsend who dealt the fatal blow to New England's historic winning-streak, with his interception of Tom Brady and 39 yard touchdown return at Heinz Field on Halloween night in 2004.
The Patriots came to town as Super Bowl champions and on an NFL-record 21 game winning-streak, but Townsend's heroics put Pittsburgh ahead 21-3 in the first quarter, on route to a 34-20 victory.
When fans reflect back on those Super Bowl teams of the 2000s, Townsend isn't going to be thought of in the same way as players like Ben Roethlisberger, Jerome Bettis, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu. But great teams aren't built with superstars, alone. Every championship team needs its share of solid, dependable players to do their share and pull on the rope in order to get to the Promised Land.
During his time with the Steelers, I heard more than one beat writer refer to Townsend as "the smartest guy back there" (the secondary), so it's no wonder that he got the most out of his ability and often thrived as a starting cornerback in the NFL.
It's also no surprise that Townsend is now pursuing a coaching career.
I'm sure glad my initial fears weren't realized, and Deshea Townsend can remain an unsung hero, with the memories he provided still untarnished.