It's been 24 years since Stamford High alum Craig Bingham last wore the black and gold of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He's still amazed by the passion of the team's fans, especially as Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers.
"The town [Pittsburgh] goes crazy,'' said Craig, who played at Stamford High and Syracuse before going on to a five-year pro career that included a stop in San Diego. "I've never seen anything like it, where things just shut down on game day."
Bingham has remained in the Pittsburgh area after his playing days and still maintains a relationship with the club and attends functions for Steelers veterans. He played for Pittsburgh from 1982-84, went to San Diego for a year, and then returned to the Steelers. He goes to games and still sees things from a player's perspective.
"I was at a game this season and I could see the way the plays developed,'' Bingham said. "I'm watching this and I'm saying on this one formation, 'The tight end's open, the tight end's open.' People around me wondered what I was seeing. Eventually the ball was thrown to the tight end. Certain things just stay in your system."
Bingham never made it to the Super Bowl. The team did reach the AFC Championship game in 1985, when the Steelers lost to the Miami Dolphins, 45-28.
"Up until that point Dan Marino had been doing everything from under center,'' Bingham remembered. "We thought we had a pretty good game plan. Then in the second half, he went into the shotgun. No matter what blitzes we had, we couldn't get him. He had one of the quickest releases I've ever seen. I remember Jack Lambert had a few choice words for us. Marino just got rid of that thing so dang fast."
Bingham's career started at Stamford High, where he played just one year. He started high school at the recently closed Wright Tech, where he played soccer. He went to Stamford High to work out with his brother when Marc Lyons, the Stamford coach at the time, asked him where he was planning to go to college. Lyons was surprised Craig still had a year left in high school. It was his first exposure to football.
"When they called defenses, I had no concept of what was going on,'' Bingham said. "The coaches told me whoever has the football, tackle him. I said okay. People tell me that there were times I tackled the running back and the quarterback on the same play. I didn't know who had the football. I just tackled whoever was back there. Certainly, leaving soccer was a very good career move."
After just one year of high school football, Bingham received a scholarship to Syracuse, where he played with Orange legends including Art Monk, Gary Anderson and Joe Morris. He was a Steelers’ sixth-round draft choice of in 1982 and played primarily on special teams during his career. He's fascinated by the matchup in the Super Bowl.
"You have to like the Steelers' chances,'' Craig said. "What's interesting is that they are both rich in history, and they have similar offenses and defenses. The Packers' defensive coordinator [Dom Capers] was with the Steelers, and Darren Perry [Green Bay's secondary coach] and Kevin Greene [the Packers' linebackers coach] also played for them. You have two teams that mirror each other."
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