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Steelers trainer Iso believes family atmosphere big part of team’s success

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Ariko Iso, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Japanese athletic trainer, wasn’t quite sure what sort of differences she notices when comparing the last two Super Bowls she experienced while with the team.

But the team has been enriched by those experiences, and it has reached another NFL title game, its third Super Bowl in six years. She said, though, that she could barely call it a “change.”

“This is my third time (Super Bowl XL and XLIII), but it’s basically the same,” Iso said during Pittsburgh’s media session at Texas Christian University’s basketball arena on Thursday. “It’s the same as what we always do to prepare for the next game on a weekend.

“Certainly, we have some differences in terms of being away from Pittsburgh and using different facilities, but other than that we’ve been spending this week like any other week during the season since Tuesday.”

Pittsburgh, which faces the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in Super Bowl XLV, has 20 players that were part of the Super Bowl-winning team two years ago (over the Arizona Cardinals). Iso said that it is a huge plus to have those experienced men on the squad.

And it has made her job a lot easier, too.

“We have a lot of veterans and they know what kind of equipment they wanted to bring down here and how to spend the week,” the 40-year-old Tokyo native said. “Those veterans can also tell younger players how to deal with the week, such as, ‘You enjoy Monday and Tuesday and get to seriously work after Wednesday.’ Of course the coaches tell them the same things, though. But those kind of things certainly are a big help for our supporting staff and medical staff, because they don’t have to explain a lot.”

Iso, who became part of the Steelers’ full-time staff in the 2002 season, was the first female athletic trainer to work in the NFL and no one else has followed her path to this day.

Asked if there were any jitters and difficulties coming into the league as a female trainer, Iso, who had previously worked as the head trainer for the football team at Portland State, said that the transition from the college team to the pro club was pretty smooth, thanks to the Steelers organization.

“This organization has an atmosphere that doesn’t make you feel such a thing, because of the staff working there, including our owner Mr. (Art) Rooney (II),” she said. “I can’t compare with other teams, but what I feel are, we have veterans and the club approaches everyone like he or she is a family member.”

Iso said that that philosophy of the Steelers is related to how it strengthens the team when acquiring players, mainly through the draft.

“When we scout players and bring them in, we don’t just look into their skills on the field but we also evaluate their individual backgrounds, what kind of person they are, that kind of thing as well.

“So once you’re with us, you’re our family. And our coaches and front office staff are on the same page in that respect. Everybody knows his or her first name, and our owner, Mr. Art Rooney, and Ambassador (to Ireland Dan) Rooney (the ballclub’s chairman emeritus) are the same. They always walk around the facilities, shaking hands with the staff and hug them.”

Iso, who received a “champion pendant” and “ring” after the previous two Super Bowls, respectively, said that she couldn’t imagine what she would get if Pittsburgh wins another title this time around. But she certainly wanted the team to win and earn something the members can proudly wear.

“If we win, we win a Super Bowl championship ring. If we lose, we earn the AFC championship ring,” she said. “But nobody wants to wear that AFC ring. So hopefully, we can finish in a victorious fashion on Sunday.”