10 Critical Dan Rooney Decisions that Shaped the Pittsburgh Steelers

As Steelers Nation mourns Dan Rooney’s passing and takes stock of his legacy, Steel Curtain Rising reviews the 10 critical Dan Rooney decisions that shaped the modern Pittsburgh Steelers and continue to impact the franchise to this day.

Dan Rooney, Dan Rooney obituary, Dan Rooney decisions, Dan Rooney Lombardi trophies

Dan Rooney, sitting in front of the Steelers 1st five Lombardi Trophies. Photo Credit: Steeles.com

1965: Accepting Buddyy Parker’s Resignation

Art Rooney Sr. was a noble human being, a terrific odds-maker of horses, and a terrible Pro Football owner. But The Chief’s hire of Buddy Parker was one of his better moves. Parker arrived in Pittsburgh with a 47-23 record with the Detroit Lions which included two NFL Championships.

  • Once in Pittsburgh, Parker led the Steelers to 5 non-losing seasons in 8 tries, and finished with a .520 record.

At that point in the Steelers dismal history, such a record should have earned Parker a bust on the franchise’s Rushmore wall. But as Dan Rooney observed in his self-titled autobiography, “Parker could be unpredictable on and off the field.” He had no use for rookies and consequently traded away draft picks in favor of veteran players.

Buddy Parker, Dan Rooney fires Buddy Parker,

Buddy Parker as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Photo Credit: Behind the Steel Curtain

By 1964, Art Rooney Sr. had ceded much of the day-to-day control of the Steelers over to Dan, and Dan warned Buddy Parker not to make cuts or trades without his approval. Parker balked at the order, and often went to The Chief to get what he wanted.

Finally, during the 1965 preseason, Parker wanted to trade Ben McGee (who later went to two Pro Bowls) and Dan refused. Parker offered his resignation, Dan accepted, but asked him to reconsider and discuss the matter in the morning. Dan discussed it with The Chief, and convinced his father this was the way to go. The next morning when Parker threatened to resign, Dan gladly accepted.

  • The Steelers would go 2-12 during the 1965 season with Mike Nixon as their head coach.

But Dan Rooney had put his foot down and made the franchise’s first significant shift away from Art Rooney Sr.’s arbitrary decision making and towards Dan’s methodical mindset.

1966: Luring Bill Nunn Jr. away from the Pittsburgh Courier

Bill Nunn Jr. covered football extensively as a columnist for the Pittsburgh Courier, then one of the most influential black newspapers in the country. But he didn’t devote much coverage to the Steelers, in part because he didn’t like the way the Steelers did business.

Art Rooney Sr. was certainly no racist – Ray Kemp was an original Steeler and the NFL’s first African American player in 1933. But the same cannot be said for some of the other people in his employ (think Bill Austin).

When Dan Rooney learned of Nunn’s attitude, he asked for a one-on-one meeting, and convinced Nunn to begin working as a scout for the Steelers on a part-time basis beginning in 1966.

Bill Nunn Jr., Bill Nunn Steelers, Bill Nunn Steelers draft room

Bill Nunn inside the Steelers draft war room. Photo Credit: SteelersGab.com

By 1969, Bill Nunn was working as a full time scout for the Steelers. While Paul Brown had been one of the few NFL coaches to actively scout African American players prior to the civil rights era, Bill Nunn had an extensive network of connections to the Historically Black Colleges. Those connections paid off in the form of Ernie Holmes, Joe Gilliam, Glen Edwards, Frank Lewis, Donnie Shell, L.C. Greenwood, Mel Blount, and John Stallworth.

  • Note, you have two Hall of Famers and at least one (L.C. Greenwood) should be Hall of Famers and perhaps a fourth (Donnie Shell.)

Dan Rooney’s views on racial equality were founded in his deeply rooted sense of justice and his decision to hire Bill Nunn at a time when there were few, if any African American scouts, coaches or front office personnel in the game, symbolized the Steelers commitment to treating everyone fairly and judging them on their contribution to the team, regardless of where they came from, what their last name was or what they looked like.

The Six Lombardi Trophies in the lobby at the South Side demonstrate the practical impact of what many would still write off as wistful “idealism.”

1969: Hiring Chuck Noll

This decision speaks for itself. Prior to 1969 the Pittsburgh Steelers set records for professional football futility. Today the Pittsburgh Steelers have more championships than any other franchise.

  • You can trace that shift to the moment Dan Rooney introduced Chuck Noll as head coach in 1969.

On the day he took the job in January 1969, Chuck Noll proclaimed that “Losing has nothing to do with geography.” Ten years later, rival Houston Oiler’s coach Bum Philip lamented that “The road to the Super Bowl runs through Pittsburgh.”

Ironically, both men and both statements were absolutely right.

1986: Firing Art Rooney Jr. as Head of the Scouting Department

Dan Rooney stuck with Chuck Noll through a very mediocre stretch in the 1980’s, just as he stood behind Bill Cowher despite The Chin’s chronic stumbles in AFC Championship games. More than a few talking heads took that as a sign that Dan Rooney was “soft.”

  • What they failed realize is that the so-called softie Dan Rooney made a tough as nails decision in 1986 to fire his brother Art Rooney Jr. as head of scouting.
Dan Rooney, Art Rooney Jr.

Dan Rooney and his brother Art Rooney Jr. at St. Vincents in Latrobe. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

The quality of the Steelers drafting took a nose dive in the latter half of the 1970’s and Pittsburgh’s drafting didn’t get any better as the Steelers drafting position dropped as trips to the playoffs became rare in the 80s. There are a lot of reasons for this, and it would be horrendously unfair to scapegoat Art Rooney Jr. for the decline.

  • But it is also clear that by the mid-1980’s Chuck Noll and Art Rooney Jr. could no longer effectively function as a team.

That forced Dan Rooney into a terrible decision – do you fire your brother or do you fire the man that you and your wife respect so much you’d trust him to raise your kids? Dan opted to fire his brother, dropping the hammer in January 1986. In his 1993 must read book Dawn of a New Steel Age, Ed Bouchette concluded that firing Art Rooney Jr. didn’t improve communication between Chuck Noll and the scouting department.

Perhaps the move wasn’t a panacea, but Chuck Noll did pick future Hall of Famers Rod Woodson and Dermontti Dawson in his next two drafts. And his next three drafts brought Hardy Nickerson, Greg Lloyd, Thomas Everett, Merril Hoge, John Jackson, Carnell Lake and Jerry Olsavsky to the Steelers.

  • Anyone of those players represents an improvement over any player not named Louis Lipps that the Steelers drafted between 1984 and 1986.

Art Rooney Sr. was a man of integrity whose ability to treat everyone he met with dignity, kindness and respect was legendary. He passed those qualities on to his kids, but he did so with the admonition to “…never let them mistake your kindness for weakness.”

Dan Rooney was a kind man but a tough man, tough enough to fire his own brother.

1988: Managing the Christmas Coaching Crisis with Chuck Noll

In 1988 Steelers finished at 5-11, giving them their worst season since 1970. Chuck Noll himself quipped that his team would struggle to beat a grade school team. After one particularly egregious loss, Dan Rooney decried the “Stupid play calling.”

That 1988 Steelers squad set several new standards for franchise ineptitude, but Dan Rooney had enough wisdom to see he needed a surgeon’s scalpel and not a sledgehammer to set things right. The ’88 Steelers had, after all, finished 3-1 after Thanksgiving and prior to that tested several playoff teams to the wire.

  • Rooney determined that several assistant coaches, including Chuck Noll’s favorite Jed Hughes, had to go.

This was the first time Dan Rooney had never questioned one of Noll’s staffing decisions. Noll resisted Rooney when they discussed the subject before the season, and after Christmas The Emperor went as far as to inform his assistants he that was intent on resigning. Joe Greene alerted Rooney to Noll’s intentions, and Rooney and Noll agreed to continue discussions.

Dan Rooney, Chuck Noll, Chuck Noll Hall of Fame

Dan Rooney and Chuck Noll at Noll’s Hall of Fame induction in 1993. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Noll ultimately agreed to fire several assistants, although he saved a job or two in the process per Ed Bouchette’s reporting, and Dan Rooney in turn offered to make him a lifetime employee of the team.

  • Dan Rooney’s deft handling of a delicate situation remains important for several reasons.

First, he proved that “The Steelers Way” – a middle path between the extremes that normally govern most franchise operations – worked. Second, he also showed that it was possible to honor loyalty and tradition while forcing difficult changes. Third, move also saw the elevation of Tom Donahoe’s profile in the organization, which would be critical to the Steelers success in the 1990’s.

1992: Hiring Bill Cowher

NFL owners face a daunting task when forced to replace a legendary NFL coach. There are a lot more Richie Petitbons and Ray Handleys than there are Jimmy Johnsons. But replacing a legend was just what Dan Rooney needed to do after Chuck Noll stepped down on December 26th 1991.

Rooney left the day-to-day mechanics of the search to Tom Donahoe, but the Steelers employed a methodical approach that saw the Steelers interview well over a dozen candidates. Rooney wanted, although he didn’t insist on, a candidate who had a link to the city. He also made it clear he didn’t want to consider re-tread coaches.

  • The process of course ended with Dan Rooney selecting Crafton native Bill Cowher.

The move proved, once again, that Dan Rooney was an owner who was capable of moving outside of his comfort zone. Chuck Noll was about as stoic as an NFL head coach can be, while Bill Cowher was an extrovert’s extrovert.

Dan Rooney, Bill Cowher, Bill Cowher and Dan Rooney

Bill Cowher and Dan Rooney after Cowher’s signing as Steelers head coach in 1992. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Likewise, Rooney’s decision dispensed with any illusion that sentimentality guided his decision making. Joe Greene had entered the process as a favorite, but Rooney set aside the tremendous affection and respect he holds for Joe Greene, and determined that Mean Joe wasn’t ready to be a head coach.

While some fans might still insist that Dan Rooney was too patient with Bill Cowher’s repeated AFC Championship losses, a little 20/20 hindsight shows that Bill Cowher’s ability to make it that far with a rookie quarterback once and Kordell Stewart twice is a testament to Cowher’s coaching acumen.

The Steelers won more games during Bill Cowher’s tenure than any other NFL team and of course brought the Lombardi Trophy back to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL.

2000: Replacing Tom Donahoe with Kevin Colbert

As hinted above, Tom Donahoe certainly deserves more credit than he gets for the Steelers reclaiming the mantel of contender in the 1990’s. In the days before Heinz Field was built, the Steelers struggled to compete in free agency. Tom Donahoe helped map out the Steelers strategy of resigning key free agents before their contracts expired, and he uncovered under the radar free agency signings such as Kevin Greene, John Williams and Ray Seals.

Tom Donahoe, Tom Modark, Dan Rooney, Bill Cowher, Steelers 1992 draft room

Tom Donahoe, Tom Modark, Dan Rooney and Bill Cowher in the Steelers 1992 draft room. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Likewise, Donahoe’s ability to find mid and late round draft gems allowed the Steelers to continually reload in the face of annual free agent exoduses of the mid-90’s.

  • But, as the breakdown between Noll and Art Rooney Jr. illustrated, having a great coach and a great front office matters not if the two men don’t get along.

Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe worked well together at the beginning, but their relationship quickly deteriorated. The rift became public after Fog Bowl II and, by 1999, they were barely speaking to each other. Dan Rooney had to make a choice, and he chose Cowher over Donahoe, a move that was extremely unpopular both inside and outside the South Side.

  • For the record, my own first reaction was that Rooney had chosen the wrong man.

But Tom Donahoe floundered as president of the Buffalo Bills, while Kevin Colbert gave Cowher his second wind.

Want to know why the Steelers were champions in the 00’s but only contenders in the ‘90’s? Look no further than Kevin Colbert’s 15-1-1 record with first round draft picks and his uncanny ability to uncover undrafted rookie free agents such as Willie Parker and James Harrison. Clearly, Dan Rooney knew more than his critics.

2004: Drafting Ben Roethlisberger

After the 2002 season, the Steelers thought they had a Super Bowl quarterback in Tommy Maddox. While Maddox struggled in 2003, quarterback wasn’t perceived as a major area of need heading into the 2004 NFL Draft.

And, when the Steelers turn came to draft, the focus was on picking Arkansas tackle Shawn Andrews. But Rooney, haunted by the ghosts of the 1983 draft and the team’s two decade struggle to replace Terry Bradshaw, steered the conversation toward Ben Roethlisberger.

Like his choice of Chuck Noll, this decision speaks for itself. There are 3 quarterbacks in this era who wear multiple Super Bowl rings. Roethlisberger is one of them for a reason.

2007: Signing Off on Mike Tomlin’s Hire

You’ll find no shortage of fans in Steelers Nation who’ll disagree with this one. They’re entitled to their opinions of course. The facts however speak for themselves.

  • Taking over a Super Bowl contender is no sure bet to success (just ask Ray Handley or Mike Martz for that matter.)

But Mike Tomlin took an 8-8 2006 Steelers squad and brought home an AFC North Division title in his first season, and bagged Lombardi Number Six in his second in Super Bowl XLIII.

Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin, Dan Rooney, Super Bowl XLIII

Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin and Dan Rooney celebrate the Steelers victory in Super Bowl XLIII. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Two years later he got the team back to the Super Bowl but fell short. Since then has overseen a rebuilding effort without going under .500, and included and an almost heroic turnaround from a disastrous 2-6 start in 2013.

By all accounts, it was Art Rooney II who made the decision to hire Mike Tomlin in 2008, but Dan Rooney signed off on the choice.

2009: Accepting the Ambassadorship to Ireland

Dan Rooney’s decision to accept his country’s call to service at age 77 to work as the United States ambassador to Ireland speaks volumes about his character and his commitment to serving the greater good.

  • But it also had an important impact on the Steelers.
Ben Roethlisberger, Ashley Roethlisberger, Patrica Rooney, Dan Rooney

The Rothlisbergers and the Rooney’s stand outside the US ambassador’s residence in Ireland. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Accepting the ambassadorship meant that Dan Rooney had to relinquish any formal role with the Steelers and the NFL. While Art Rooney II had been given the role of “President” of the Steelers in 2004 and had been groomed to take control of the team in since the early 1990’s, he would now need to go it alone.

  • Art Rooney, in effect, had a chance to do what few in his position would ever get a chance to do: He got to test drive running the Steelers on his own.

When asked about Steelers issues while he was ambassador to Ireland, Dan Rooney routinely rebuffed and redirected questions to his son. While that was to be expected, if press accounts are accurate, Rooney really did remove himself from decision making.

He did, however, resume his role as Chairman in 2012, and you can imagine that he and Art II had plenty of discussions over what went right and what went wrong during his absence and this can only help Art Rooney II make better decisions moving forward.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Pittsburgh Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney Dies

The news is hitting Steelers Nation like a shock wave:

  • Pittsburgh Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney has passed away at the age of 84.

No cause of death has been reported and the news comes as a shock as there have been no reports of Rooney battling health problems. Nonetheless, it caught this blogger’s attention that Dan Rooney appeared to be absent in the photo that the Steelers published following the 2016 NFL Draft.

"Dan

Dan Rooney was born in 1932, one year before his father Art Rooney Sr. founded the Pittsburgh Steelers, then known as the Pirates. Although he was the owner’s son, Dan Rooney literally pulled the pro football equivalent of working his way up from the shop floor onward, first working as a ball boy, then working in various aspects of the Steelers management.

  • During this time the Pittsburgh Steelers were the worst franchise in the NFL.

Those lessons were not lost on Dan Rooney, however. Quite the contrary, Rooney learned from his father’s mistakes, and by the time Art Rooney Sr. turned over control of the franchise to him in the 1960’s, Rooney was already laying the blueprints for the foundation that would support the greatest dynasty the NFL has ever known.

It was at Dan Rooney’s behest that the Steelers parted with Buddy Parker, who insisted trading away draft picks in favor of washed up veterans. It was Dan Rooney who convince the Pittsburgh Courier’s Bill Nunn Jr. to begin scouting for the Steelers. Bill Nunn’s connections of led the Steelers to draft such veterans as Mel Blount, John Stallworth and L.C. Greenwood.

  • His most important decision of course came in 1969 when Rooney hired Chuck Noll.

Chuck Noll would go one to be the first NFL coach to win 4 Super Bowls, and the only man to win 4 championships in 6 years. Dan Rooney did it again in 1992 when he hired Bill Cowher and, while the decision to hire Mike Tomlin is reported to have been Art Rooney II’s, Dan fully signed off on that move as well.

It should also be noted that, during the 2004 NFL Draft, while the Steelers were on the clock it was Dan Rooney who spoke up and suggested Ben Roethlisberger‘s name when Cowher and Kevin Colbert appeared ready to draft an offensive line man.

Aside from giving the franchise a legacy of stability in the “Not for Long” league, Rooney’s wise management decisions directly resulted in the Steelers winning 6 Super Bowls, or more than any other franchise.

Editors Note: Steel Curtain Rising will have further coverage on Dan Rooney’s life and legacy. Check back soon.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Pittsburgh Steelers History vs Washington Redskins

The Pittsburgh Steelers history vs. the Washington Redskins includes 77 contests played over the course of 83 years.

The record reflects that the Washington holds the advantage over Pittsburgh. Overall, the Steelers record vs. the Redskins is 33-43-4. However, the Steelers are 7-4 vs. the Redskins since Chuck Noll’s arrival in Pittsburgh in 1969. The Steelers 2016 season opener on Monday Night Football at FedEx Field will mark the 78 installment of this series.

Art Rooney Sr. was the polar opposite to both George Preston Marshall and Jack Kent Cooke. And about the only similarity between Daniel Rooney and Daniel Snyder is the their first name.

Even if the rest of Steelers Nation isn’t ready to get the pitchforks out for the Redskins, the Steelers history vs. the Washington Redskins has provided a lot of memorable games – for both franchises. With the help of Tony Defeo we recount them here.

Scroll down or click on the link below.

LaMarr Woodley sacks Jason Campbell in Steelers 2008 win over Redskins. Photo Credit: Evan Vucci, Associated Press

LaMarr Woodley sacks Jason Campbell in Steelers 2008 win over Redskins. Photo Credit: Evan Vucci, Associated Press

1979 – Super Steelers Peak Against Redskins

November 4, 1979 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 38, Washington 7

Terry Bradshaw had his best day passing, to that point in his career. Both Lynn Swann and John Stallworth caught for over 100 yards, for only the second time in their careers. Chuck Noll’s offense totaled 545 yards – his best effort to that point. The Steelers scored 38 points against a Redskins team that entered the game as the stingiest defense in points allowed. It was the worst Redskins loss since 1970… And did we mention that Bradshaw missed most of the second half with a concussion?

  • If the Super Steelers of the 70’s had a single peak moment, the 1979 Redskins victory would be a candidate.

Joe Theismann describes the Redskins effort as “Embarrassing.” John Riggins conceded to John Clayton, then of the Pittsburgh Press:

They’re the defending Super Bowl Champs, and they’re playing at the top of their game now. You expect them to when November rolls around. That’s when the giants tart to wake from their slumber. They were awake today.

Indeed, in addition to the touchdown John Stallworth’s two touchdowns, Terry Bradshaw threw scores to Bennie Cunningham and Randy Grossman, while Rick Moser (who?) scored the Steelers final touchdown. Donnie Shell and Mel Blount both recorded interceptions.

The win over Washington marked the third straight week the 1979 Steelers demolished a playoff contender, with victories over Denver and Dallas preceding it, followed by another win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Key Takeaway from Steelers vs Washington Redskins History: 2 weeks later the 1979 Steelers fell 35-7, suffering their worst defeat in San Diego at the hands of Don Coryell, whose offense was coached by a then-obscure offensive coordinator named Joe Gibbs….

1985 – Redskins “Officially” Send Steelers into 80’s Mediocrity Era

November 24, 1985 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Washington 30, Pittsburgh 23

The 1984 Steelers had shocked the NFL by winning the AFC Central, upsetting John Elway at Mile High in the Divisional Playoff game and knocking on heaven’s door by reaching the AFC Championship. 1985 started with the bang of Mark Malone’s 5 touchdown game vs. the Colts. But that win was led to a 3-5 record at midseason, when a Malone injury led to David Woodley getting the starting nod, who led Pittsburgh to 3 straight wins.

  • Unfortunately, stomach flu would sideline Woodley, forcing Scott Campbell into his first NFL action.

Change was also the watch word in Washington. A week before Lawrence Taylor had sacked Joe Theismann, knocking out of the game and ending his career. Jay Schroeder responded by rallying the Redskins to victory, and started his first game against the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium.

Scott Campbell played a respectable first half, connecting with Louis Lipps and Rich Erenberg to tie the score at the half. However, the Redskins owned the second half, with the Steelers only managing two Gary Anderson field goals as John Riggins ran for a touchdown, while Mark Mosley knocked in two more.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: The 1985 loss to the Redskins dropped the Steelers record to 6-6, signaling 7-9 finish and introducing an era of Pittsburgh would find itself mired in mediocrity.

1988 – Young Steelers Suffer Serious Growing Pains vs. Redskins

September 11, 1988 @ RFK Stadium
Washington 30, Pittsburgh 29

Chuck Noll’s 1988 Steelers won the franchise’s first game without Art Rooney Sr. a week earlier against Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys. Could this young Steelers team upset the Super Bowl champions?

  • For 3 and 3/4 quarters, the 1988 Steelers teased that they could.

Bubby Brister showcased his rocket like arm and his mobility. First hitting Louis Lipps on an 80 pass were Lipps burned future Hall of Famer Darrell Green. Brister then scrabbled for a touchdown, although mistake that proved costly, Harry Newsome bobbled the snap, and the Steelers missed the extra point.

The Redskins pulled a point ahead as the fourth quarter began, but Brister hit Dwight Stone over the middle, Stone zinged past Wilber Marshall and ran 70 yards untouched for a touchdown. Gary Anderson knocked in his 3rd field goal of the game. Midway through the 4th quarter, the Steelers had a nine point lead…

…Yet, in what would be a recurring theme during the 1988 season, Tony Dungy’s defense failed to defend a 4th quarter lead. The Redskins scored quickly on a 74 yard drive, and then Darrell Green returned a punt 13 yards to the Steelers 44, setting up an easy field goal drive.

Just how bad was the Steelers defense? After the game Doug Williams confided in Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “I played terrible in the first half. The offensive line gave me time, and I wasn’t doing my job.” For the record, Williams had what was then a second best passing day for a Redskins quarterback completing 30 of 52 passes for 430 yards.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: The 1988 Steelers would lose several close games like this. But the great individual efforts that powered those “almost wins” revealed that these Steelers had real potential, something that the 1989 Steelers would realize. None of that was apparent as Pittsburgh finished 1988 at 5-11.

1991 – Redskins Render Steelers as Road Kill on Ride to Super Bowl XXVI

November 17th, 1991 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Washington 41, Pittsburgh 14

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins both entered the 1991 season with something to prove. The Redskins had gone all the way to the NFC Championship, only to fall to the 49ers who were in route to their 4th Super Bowl. Only a few years before, it was the Redskins, and not the 49ers who’d been dubbed “The team of the 80’s.”

Although 80’s were over, another Super Bowl would put Redskins back in the conversation.

In contrast, the 1989 Pittsburgh Steelers had shocked the world, overcoming a disastrous start and a regular season that saw them shut out 3 times, only to see them make the playoffs and upset the Oilers in the Astrodome. In 1990 however, the Steelers limped to a 9-7 record, as inconsistency and an inability to win divisional games cost them a playoff game. Steelers Digest Bob Labriola editor remarked that 1990 marked the year the Steelers had either learned to win or to lose games.

  • The Steelers entered 1991 hoping to prove that learned to win.

Sadly, by the time the Redskins arrived at Three Rivers Stadium in week 11, Washington already had an 11-0 record, while Steelers held a 4-6 record, which wasn’t nearly as good as it looked.

The Redskins trashed the Steelers that day, as a Mark Rypien to Art Monk 63 yard hookup led to a 1 yard Gerald Riggs touchdown just four plays into the game. By half time the Redskins led 17-0. After three quarters the Redskins led 27-0.

  • Then the Steelers did what those 1990 and 1991 Chuck Noll teams did all too well – the teased.

Neil O’Donnell hooked up with Adrian Cooper and then Dwight Stone early in the 4th quarter to cut the
Redskin’s lead to 13. Suddenly, it seemed like the Steelers had a chance. Of course they didn’t. Ricky Sanders and Gary Clark hooked up with Rypein from 49 and 40 yards to reestablish the Redskin’s 27 point margin.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: Chuck Noll may hold a 2-1 advantage over Bill Walsh, but the Emperor was 0-3 vs. Joe Gibbs, a statistic that reveals just how great of a coach Joe Gibbs was – and that comes from someone who grew up actively rooting against Gibbs’ Redskins.

1997 – 3 Scappy Steelers Interceptions Seal the Deal

September 7, 1997 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 14, Washington 13

Just like in 1988, Pittsburgh opened the season with back-to-back games against Dallas and Washington. And like 1988, the Steelers were facing a Cowboys Super Bowl coach who would ultimately be heading into his final campaign. But unlike 1988, the Dallas Cowboys had come into Three Rivers Stadium, trashing the Steelers to the tune of 37-7.

  • So the Redskins arrived in Pittsburgh facing a Steelers team looking for a comeback to defuse the “Free Agency is ruining the Steelers” stories that were a stable of 1990’s.

The Steelers got their comeback win, but the outcome was in doubt until the final gun. For the record, Kordell Stewart rushed for one touchdown, to open the scoring and Jerome Bettis closed it with another touchdown. But the Steelers defense wrote the real story of the game.

Twice in the first half Gus Frerotte led the Washington deep into the Red Zone, and twice Pittsburgh’s defense picked off his pass in the end zone, with Darren Perry and Levon Kirkland splitting the honors. Following Bettis’ touchdown, Frerotte ripped off a perfect pass to Michael Westbrook, only to have Randy Fuller, he of 1995 AFC Championship fame, deflected the pass.

The Redskins had one final chance following the 2 minute warning and threatened to reach field goal range when Jason Gildon tipped a pass that Chris Oldham picked off, ending the game.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: This game established the 1997 Steelers as a scrappy, team that could rally to beat just about anyone during the regular season.

2000 – Steelers Scalp Redskins to Close Three Rivers Stadium

December 16, 2000 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 24, Washington 3

If ever there was a case study in contrast to who Daniel Rooney and Daniel Snyder run their franchises, the Steelers 2000 victory over the Redskins offers the perfect example.

The 2000 off season marked Daniel Snyder’s first full year as Redskins owner, and he made no bones about breaking from the past. Upon assuming control of the team, Snyder summarily fired dozens of Redskins first office workers, many secretaries and administrative staff, some who’d had decades of service to the team.

  • That meant less to Snyder than showing everyone a new chief was in charge.

The offseason also saw Snyder the first of many off season Lombardi Trophies by signing any and every big name free agent the Redskins could fit under their salary cap. Washingtonians drank the Kool-Aid. Deion Sanders signing earned a front page story in the Washington Post and 2 and a quarter full pages from the sports section. Fans called into radio shows predicting an undefeated season.

Prior to the season opener, an owner at the Wheaton Athletic Club remarked to a patron, “…I’m tired of hearing about Tampa’s injured players. A win is going to be a win.” The client’s response, “Yeah. And a Super Bowl is gonna be a Super Bowl.”

  • Given that the Steelers were coming off a 6-10 season, Redskins fans figured the final game at Three Rivers Stadium would be a road sign route to Lombardi number 4. If they thought of it at all.

By reality unfolds at its own pace. The 2000 Steelers started 0-3, but rallied with 5 straight wins and held a 7-7 record heading into their matchup against Washington. Meanwhile, at 7-6 but on a two game losing streak, Snyder fired Norv Turner. Before the Steelers game, interim coach Terry Robiskie was forced to admit that he’d need to clear any quarterback changes with Snyder.

  • The game itself was a work of beauty. A better send off for Three Rivers Stadium could not be had.

Jerome Bettis rumbled for 104 yards, and Deion Sanders pulled back rather than try to tackle. Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington intercepted Jeff George, Snyder’s anointed starter, two times while future Super Bowl quarterback Brad Johnson watched from the bench.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: When Daniel Snyder objects to Myron Cope’s “Wash Redfaces” nickname for the Redskins, Cope mocks Snyder on the air declaring: “If that boy billionaire thinks he can shut me up, he can take his head and stick it in a bucket of paint.”

2004 – Jerome Bettis Ties Franco Harris Record for 100 Yard Games

November 28th, 2004 @ Heinz Field
Pittsburgh 16, Washington 10

Joe Gibbs return from retirement heading into the 2004 season was one of the biggest stories, as one of the most underrated coaches (nationally) would seek to revive the fortunes of a once proud fantasy. The Pittsburgh Steelers, following their 6-10 2003 campaign, were supposed to be in “Rebuilding” mode, as rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was to get an apprentice year behind Tommy Maddox.

  • But of course things seldom workout as planned.

The Steelers entered their week 12 matchup vs. Washington with a 9-1 record, while Gibbs Redskins had a 3-7 mark. But again, what looked to be a mismatch on paper, turned out to be something very different in reality.

The 2004 Redskins defense was deceptively good, holding the Steelers to a 13-0 lead at half time, thanks to two Jeff Reed Field goal and a Jerome Bettis touchdown (set up by a Antwaan Randle El punt return.) In the third quarter the Redskins made it look like they’d give Pittsburgh a run for their money, as Patrick Ramsey hooked up with Chris Cooley to make the score 13-7.

But another Jeff Reed Field goal, followed by a Deshea Townsend put the game out of reach as on a day where Clark Haggans, Joey Porter and Aaron Smith teamed to sack Patrick Ramsey 5 times.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: With his 4ths straight 100 yard game, Jerome Bettis tied Franco Harris’ franchise record for 100 yard games. Not bad for a player supposedly getting a “scholarship” year.

2008 – Steelers Nation Anexxes over Fed ExField

November 3, 2008 @ FedEx Field
Pittsburgh 23, Washington 6

For a Steelers fan who grew up in Metro Washington DC subjected to an endless stream of “Are you a Redskins fan?” “No,” “Then you’re a Cowboy in Redskins territory….” The Steelers 2008 Monday night win at FedEx Field was a portrait of glory.

Fans forget in hindsight that this game did not start out well for the Steelers. Bob Ligashesky’s special teams botched a surprise on-sides kick to open the game, followed by another Steelers turnover deep in their own territory. Redskins fans at FedEx Field were fired up, as Washington led for the first 29:28 of the first half until Ben Roethlisberger put the Steelers ahead with a rushing touchdown.

  • With Byron Leftwich taking over for an injured Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers defense took over.

James Farrior, LaMarr Woodley, Nick Eason, Aaron Smith, James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons, who saw his first extended action – at outside linebacker, combined for 7 sacks, and Tyrone Carter end a Jason Campbell streak of 271 passes without an interception.

Best of all, before it was all over, Steelers fans had taken over FedEx Field to the point where the Redskins were forced to use a silent count.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: Jim Zorn’s Redskins were 5-2 heading into the game, looking to make “statement.” Instead, the Steelers made a statement that they were serious Super Bowl contenders.

2012 – Dick LeBeau Schools RGIII

October 12, 2012 @ Heinz Field
Pittsburgh 27, Washington 12

In 2012 Robert Griffith III, or RG3 was a rookie sensation that was shaking the NFL. After just 7 games pundit were already saying that RG3 was doing what Doug Flutie, Randall Cunningham, Steve McNair and Donovan McNabb had promised to do in earlier generations – prove that you could win big with a non-pocket passer.

  • Worse yet, the Steelers 2012 defense had been shaky, having failed to protect 4th quarter leads on 3 separate occasions.

Dick LeBeau answered by unleashing his defensive backs on the Redskins wide receivers, and the Steelers corners and safeties hit hard. This led to numerous drops on the part of the Redskins’ receivers. On offense, Todd Haley did his best Ron Ernhart impression, as the Steelers fed the ball to Jonathan Dwyer and dominated time of possession, keeping the ball for over 33 minutes as the Steelers beat the Redskins 27-12.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: Dick LeBeau improves his record to 15-1 against rookie quarterbacks. For the Record RGIII finished the day 16-34-177, 1 touchdown and 8 yards rushing. Need we say more?

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Terry Bradshaw’s Last Pass: Calvin Sweeney’s Under Apperciated Role in Steelers History

Coming to the Steelers as  their fourth round pick in the 1980 NFL Draft, Calvin Sweeney, a receiver out of USC, had to be at least a little conscious of the glass-ceiling at the position he would try to play professionally.

With Lynn Swann, a fellow USC graduate, and John Stallworth having long-since established themselves as one of the top-receiver duos in the NFL, just making the Steelers’ squad was going to be a difficult task.

But if the youngster did make Pittsburgh’s squad, at least he could  get in on the championship success that saw the organization win four Super Bowls in the previous six years, right?

Sadly, while Sweeney came to Pittsburgh already knowing he would be the low man on the receiver dept chart, he also arrived on the scene just as the Super Bowl days were coming to an end.

  • Like Tunch Ilkin, Calvin Sweeney was “Too Late for Super Bowls, Too Early for Free Agency”

However, as Sweeney told the Steelers site, SteelerAddicts, in an interview from 2007, Pittsburgh was a class organization that quickly made a great impression on him, and even the superstars such as two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback Terry Bradshaw were down-to-Earth and accommodating:

My rookie year, the team was leaving for a preseason game. I had surgery on my foot and Terry Bradshaw asked me what are you going to do this weekend? I told him I would stay around St. Vincent. He knew my girlfriend was in Arlington, Virginia visiting her parents. He told me to take his car and go see her. I didn’t know anything about Arlington and he told me it was just a few hours down the road. He just got a new Lincoln Continental. He gave me the keys and I went to see my girlfriend. That was my first impression. He was such a good guy. Everyone on the team were great guys.

Speaking of class, there was nobody classier than Art Rooney Sr., the team founder, who made an impression on the rookie Sweeney right away.

As Sweeney explained in an interview he did with Pittsburgh Sports Daily Bulletin in 2012: 

When Art Rooney Sr. brought the four of us  top picks in to meet the press and coaches. He came up to me and asked me my name. I told him “Calvin”. He said, ‘Calvin?’ That’s not a good Irish name. I’ll call you Mikey.’ And he never called me Calvin again. He’d come up to me in practice and say, ‘Hey Mikey–how are you doing?’

In an eight-year career in Pittsburgh, Sweeney caught just 113 passes for 1,775 yards and seven touchdowns. However, in 1983, due to retirement (Swann hung up his cleats following the ’82 season) and injury (Stallworth only played in four games), Sweeney had a career-year, as he led the team in receptions (39), receiving yards (577) and touchdowns (five) while starting all 16 games.

  • Of course, the highlight of Sweeney’s ’83 season (and perhaps the thing that he’s most remembered for) was Terry Bradshaw’s last pass.

Bradshaw had been out the entire ’83 season up to that point, recovering from offseason elbow surgery. However, in a Week 15 match-up against the Jets at Shea Stadium – in the last game at that historic venue – Terry Bradshaw made his regular season debut. After giving Pittsburgh a 7-0 lead thanks to a 17-yard touchdown pass to Gregg Garrity in the first quarter, Bradshaw put the Steelers ahead, 14-0, with a 10-yard strike to Sweeney in the second quarter.

Here’s Sweeney’s description of Terry Bradshaw’s last pass and the aftermath, courtesy of SteelerAddicts:

I didn’t know if was [Bradshaw’s] final one then. We set up a play where I lined up close to Bennie Cunningham. Bradshaw came out of the pocket and just jumped and threw it and I caught it. He grabbed his elbow then and  tried to shake it off. We went to the sideline and he said I am through, my arm is killing me. We thought it would be a few weeks. Cliff Stoudt came in and played. Next thing I knew Brad said I can’t go anymore.

Sweeney would go on to play four more years and was out of football following the strike-shortened ’87 season.

As per his Pittsburgh Sports Daily Bulletin interview from 2012, Sweeney, 61, is working in management for UPS, a company he began with as a delivery driver, immediately after his playing days ended.

Calvin Sweeney may not have had a great career, but he certainly seemed to enjoy his time in Pittsburgh and in catching Terry Bradshaw’s last pass he played an under appreciated role in Steelers history. And he appears to embody the same class as the team founder who called him “Mikey” and the Hall of Fame quarterback who loaned him his new car and honored him with his final pass.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Steelers Ownership Reshuffled Dan and Art Rooney II to Maintain Control

Since Art Rooney Sr. founded the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1933, the names “Rooney” and “Steelers” have been synonymous, save for a brief period in the 40’s when Art Rooney sold the team to Bert Bell.

That began changing in 2008 as the Steelers restructured their ownership group on the heels of an order from Roger Goodell to divest gambling interest while Stanley Druckenmiller attempted a hostile takeover.

Dan and Art II prevailed in part because Art Rooney Jr. and John Rooney were not ready to sell out and also in part because Roger Goodell made no bones about the fact that the NFL would do all it could to block any sale of majority interest to Stanley Drukenmiller.

Yet if Dan and Art II still controlled the team, precious little information was available to the public about the structure of the Steelers ownership.

That is changing however, thanks to a report from Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Steelers Ownership Reshuffled Again, Dan and Art II Stay on Top

Super Bowl XLIII represented a peak for the franchise, but the moment was bitter sweet for the Rooney family as it marked the last time the five brothers would control the franchise their father founded. As Ed Bouchette noted at the time, it was a bittersweet moment for the Rooney brothers, as none of were smiling in the photo taken after the game.

Pat Rooney, John Rooney, Tim Rooney, Art Rooney Jr., Rooney Brothers, Super Bowl XLIII

Pat, John Tim and Art Rooney Jr. @ Super Bowl XLIII, Photo by Kay Rooney

When the initial Steelers ownership restructuring was announced, it was known that Tim and Pat Rooney would essentially divest their shares of the Steelers, while Art Rooney Jr. and John Rooney would give up about half of their 16% stakes.

  • At the time reports indicated that they might be giving up more at a later time.

Per Ed Bouchette’s report, that time has come.

The 2009 agreement includes options for minority partners to buy out the other Rooney brothers , and John Rooney apparently sold his shares at the end of 2015. Art Rooney Jr. could follow, and the 2.5% stake that Pat Rooney still holds could also be sold.

While no public information who owned what percentage of the Steelers ever saw the light of day in 2009, the general outlines of the Steelers ownership structure were fairly clear. NFL rules mandate that one partner control at least 30%, although the rule was bent to allow Art and Dan to satisfy that requirement together.

With John and Art Jr. holding 16% together, that gave the Rooney family around 46%. Combine that with the McGinley’s close to 20% and the Rooneys and McGinleys must have controlled over 50%.

  • Ed Bouchette’s report indicates that is changing.

John Rooney is out or almost out, and the other shareholders retain the right to buy out all or part of Art Jr.’s and the McGinley’s shares.

But Bouchette’s article goes at great pains to assure fans that Art Rooney II and Dan Rooney are not going anywhere.

Bouchette reveals that Art Rooney II had a 20% stake in 2009 and has since increased his percentage. While Bouchette did not provide any details on how or when this occurred, Jimmy Haslam sold his stake in the Steelers when he bought the Browns, and Rita McGinley’s death could have potentially provided Art II with another chance to increase his stake.

Ed Bouchette also got Jack McGinley and Thomas Tull, who could probably be the next largest share holder, on the record supporting Art Rooney II’s continued control of the team.

Bouchette’s report also implies that even after the Steelers ownership reshuffling, the Rooneys will remain, at the very least, the largest minority.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Steelers Should Guarantee the Rest of Antonio Brown’s Contract

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is one smart cookie on a lot of levels.

By instinct, Steelers fans disdain showboats and the ostentatiousness that comes with it. It began with Art Rooney Sr.’s disdain for “Putting on the dog” and it explains why Dan Rooney was last seen driving a Pontiac and why cheers erupted in when Deion Sanders walked off the field injured after getting rammed by Jerome Bettis during the final game at Three Rivers Stadium.

  • Pulling up to St. Vincents in a Rolls-Royce is something that would generally not sit well in Steelers Nation especially for a player who is rumored to harbor holdout intentions.

But almost as soon as he stepped out of his Rolls-Royce, Antonio Brown was asked about a potential hold out and he killed two birds with one stone, “Holdouts never go well. Just look at history. It always ends badly. It wouldn’t be the best decision. I make a lot of money. I pull up to camp in Rolls-Royces.”

  • It says here that Antonio Brown is grossly underpaid for his performance on the field compared to his peers.

Brown knows that. He also seems to know that the Steelers don’t renegotiate contracts until a player is entering his final year remaining. And he realizes the Steelers don’t negotiate with players who refuse to honor their contracts. Finally, he’s smart enough to understand that if Dan Rooney didn’t bend for Franco Harris, he’s not going to bend for Antonio Brown.

Brown is one player who is unquestionably out preforming his contract but who nonetheless is doing and saying all right things. Good for Antonio Brown. Now the Pittsburgh Steelers must do their part.

Steelers Must Guarantee Balance Brown’s Contract

Three summers ago Mike Wallace was another player who was out performing his contract, and he made no attempt to conceal his unhappiness. He held out. Without blinking an eye, the Steelers pivoted and offered the money they had earmarked for Wallace to Antonio Brown, taking the unprecedented step of giving a second contract to a 2nd year player.

  • The Steelers took a real risk in giving almost 42 million to a player who’d only officially started 3 games.

Brown has since vindicated the faith the Steelers placed him. In fact, he’s vindicated that faith several times over. Clearly, Brown is one of the top 5 wide receivers in the NFL, yet his salary doesn’t remotely approach that level. But the Steelers will not and should not re-negotiate Brown’s contract now. To do so would open a Pandora’s Box.

  • But the Pittsburgh Steelers must still show good faith.

To show good faith the Steelers should guarantee the rest of Antonio Brown’s contract. According to the site Over the Cap, Antonio Brown will earn base salaries of 6 million dollars in 2015, 8.25 million dollars in 2016, and 8.71 million dollars in 2017.

The Steelers should step forward and commit to paying Antonio Brown every penny of the final three years of his contract. While the move would still leave Brown underpaid compared to contemporaries like the Calvin Johnsons of the league, guaranteeing Brown’s contract would be far more than a symbolic gesture.

  • By guaranteeing Brown’s contract, the Steelers would be making an unequivocal commitment to one of their top three players.

The Steelers made an extremely shrewd choice when they picked Brown in the 6th round of the 2010 NFL Draft. While Brown must still earn this distinction, if he plays the bulk of his career in Pittsburgh, he’ll certainly surpass Hines Ward, Lynn Swann, and John Stallworth in the hierarchy of great Steelers wide receivers.

Truth be told, you could already make a strong argument “that Antonio Brown is a better receiver than Ben Roethlisberger is a quarterback. Keep the offensive line healthy and then factor Le’Veon Bell into the equation and the Steelers offense becomes nearly unstoppable.

By guaranteeing Antonio Brown’s contract, the Steelers would be giving an iron clad commitment that, even if he should suffer a catastrophic injury, Pittsburgh will stand by him. The life of an NFL player is fleeting. Guarantees are few and far between for that very reason.

But Antonio Brown has earned it. The Steelers should guarantee the final three years of his contract.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Steelers Nation’s Love for Jerome Bettis was Real

There was no questioning the love, respect and admiration those who knew Art Rooney had for the late founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who passed away in 1988.

In fact, the legendary Mean Joe Greene has stated more than once that winning the franchise’s first Super Bowl following the 1974 season and doing it for his thoughtful and affectionate 73 year old boss, a man who had literally suffered through decades of losing, was “real.” Obviously, this sentiment was shared by most of Greene’s teammates, including linebacker and team captain Andy Russell, who, during the post-game celebration in the team’s locker room, made a last second decision to give the game ball to Mr. Rooney, instead of Greene, the team’s ferocious defensive tackle.

Nobody in that locker room thought twice about Russell’s actions, because it was the right thing and, again, it was “real.”

  • Stuff like that in sports is priceless, and it’s rare to find.

Such was the love for now Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis during his 10 seasons toting the rock in Pittsburgh.

Bettis came to the Steelers in 1996, with a bit of a reputation as a malcontent and selfish player from his days with the Rams. But that reputation was quickly washed away upon No. 36’s arrival, and he soon became one of the leaders in the locker room and one of the most beloved players the City of Pittsburgh has ever seen.

  • There was just something special about Bettis scoring a touchdown.

Maybe it was his charismatic demeanor, or the way he seemed to love sticking up for his teammates by taking on defenders. But whenever Bettis reached pay-dirt either by bowling over defenders or carrying them with him, Yours truly would just “mark out,” as they say in the wrestling business, and it just felt more thrilling and satisfying than when any other Steeler did the same.

  • Obviously, Bettis had the collective ear of his teammates, who seemed to want to play well and win as much for him as for themselves.

In his now famous interview with reporters the day after the Steelers disappointing home loss to New England in the 2004 AFC Championship game, an emotional Hines Ward, said of Bettis, “I wanted to win more for him than anything. He deserves to be a champion.” 

Ward was one of several teammates who stood in the team’s locker room at Heinz Field moments earlier and listened to Bettis thank his teammates for the “memories.”

  • It was unclear at that point if Bettis would return for another season.

Thankfully, he did. This is just speculation, of course, but it’s doubtful the 2005 Steelers would have had that “extra something” to get them over the hump and to Detroit for Super Bowl XL, if Bettis wasn’t around to act as a lightning rod of inspiration. Pittsburgh was 7-5 and on the outside looking in at the playoffs, with only four games left. But there was that “drive” to take the Bus to Detroit.

  • Bettis is a Detroit native, and his teammates wanted desperately to get him “back home” for the Super Bowl.

Bettis wasn’t a starter in ’05, and he only rushed for 368 yards as a back-up to Willie Parker. But he was still one of the leaders of the team, and he had the collective ear of those around him.

The love for Bettis was so real and so genuine, Joey Porter even arranged for The Bus to run out of the tunnel all by himself during the team introductions in Super Bowl XL.

The Steelers winning their first Super Bowl in 26 seasons (a 21-10 victory over Seattle) was special enough, but when you add in the story of Bettis, the love he had from his teammates, and the love the City of Pittsburgh had for him? It turned a great and memorable campaign into a magical one.

Much like with the love and respect his players have for former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the affection Bettis’s teammates had for him is a rare commodity in today’s professional sports world.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Art Rooney Sr. Displayed Incredible Foresight on Merril Hoge

Art Rooney Sr. was not a micromanaging owner, often times to a fault. After Walter Kiesling refused to even let Johnny Unitas practice and was set to cut him, Tim Rooney wrote The Chief a 22 page letter imploring his father to overrule his head coach.

  • Rooney dutifully read the letter, then balled it up and threw it in the trash.

Art Sr. liked Unitas, but stuck by his philosophy of “Let the coach, coach.” All of which is to say that Rooney Sr. might have been a fair judge of talent, although he did once admit to stopping short of prohibiting Dan Rooney and Chuck Noll from cutting Terry Bradshaw when the blonde bomber struggled, but The Chief wasn’t known for his personnel moves.

  • All of which makes a bit of news reported by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on-line editor Dan Gigler in the Blog-N-Gold more interesting.

On the heels of the Steelers 2014 Draft, Gigler caught up with ESPN Commentator and legendary Pittsburgh Steelers running back Merril Hoge. As expected, a good bit of Gigler’s interview with Hoge centered around the Steelers decision to pick Ryan Shazier.

  • But Gigler also asked Hoge about his time with the Steelers, specifically about his interactions with Chuck Noll and The Chief. 

Hoge shares the story of the final day at Three Rivers Stadium during his rookie year, when he didn’t get the season ending meeting he was expecting with Noll, but was treated to this unexpected encounter:

And as I started to walk out, here comes ‘The Chief’ walking with [the team’s chief contract negotiator] Dan Ferens. And The Chief stops me and he says, “Hey — you are one heck of a football player. We’re lucky we got you on our team.” He said, “Where you heading?” I said I’m heading home to finish school and he said, “Well, get that done and get back here.” And he stopped at the drinking fountain and I started to walk out and turned the corner near the coaches’ offices and Dan Ferens came after me and said, “You know something? That’s the greatest compliment you could probably ever get right there. The Chief doesn’t say that about everybody.”

In hindsight, this of course makes perfect sense. Hoge was never a superstar in the vein of Franco Harris or Jerome Bettis. He lacked the heart rendering comeback story of Rocky Bleier. He didn’t have the speed of a Willie Parker. His contemporaries Tim Worley and Barry Foster had more athleticism.

  • But Merril Hoge made up for that in hard work, grit, determination, leadership, and toughness.

Hoge was a gamer like Hines Ward, a player who teammates turned to when times got tough.

His back-to-back 100 yard playoff games vs. Houston and Denver in 1989 sufficed to earn him legend status, but it was the everyday dedication that made Hoge the hero he was.

  • The curious thing about Rooney’s statement was when he made it.

As mentioned, it came after Steelers 1987 season where Hoge entered as a rookie 10th round draft pick. He rushed 3 times for eight yards that year, and caught 7 passes for 97 yards. Yes, he did bag a touchdown catch, but that came in the final striker-replacement game. He also came in 5th on special teams tackles.

  • Unglamorous stats to be certain, but the Chief knew enough to see through glamor and glitter, and he’d seen enough to know Hoge was someone.

Perhaps the Chief should be know for having an eye for talent afterall….

Thanks for visiting. Click here to check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising. Or… Follow @SteelCurtainRis

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Super Bowl XIII Lombardi Trophy Presentation Video

You see a young Dick Enberg, but you see no custom designed on the field stage. No confetti. No preprinted Super Bowl Champion shirts or hats. But none of that diminishes what was and remains one of Steelers Nation’s crowning moments of glory.

Through the magic of YouTube we can all relive the Lombardi Trophy presentation from Super Bowl XIII and behold Art Rooney Sr.’s unshakable humility in the face of the franchise’s greatest glory. Listen to the The Chief’s gracious words while hearing our fathers and grandfathers echoed in his accent. Watch it here now (note, available as of 2/07/14):

Every Super Bowl victory is precious, but the Super Bowl XIII victory did something extra special for the franchise.

The NFL came of age in the 1970’s, and that process was midwifed by Hank Stram’s Chiefs, an aging Johnny Unitas and the Colts, and John Madden’s Raiders. By 1978 these teams had already assured themselves legend status,  but they nonetheless took a back seat to three others – The Miami Dolphins, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Pittsburgh Steelers who had each who two Super Bowls in the decade.

By winning Super Bowl XIII either the Steelers or the Cowboys would separate the great from the greatest by becoming the first franchise to win 3 Super Bowls.

Future Hall of Famers Tom Landry, Randy White, Roger Staubach and Tony Dorestt put Pittsburgh to the test, taking the game to the wire.

But at day ultimately belonged to future another group of future Hall of Famers Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Mel Blount, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Jack Lambert, Mike Webster, John Stallworth, and Lynn Swann all led by an uncharacteristically exuberant Chuck Noll, who rightly predicted that “This team hasn’t peaked yet.”

Since then the Pittsburgh Steelers have doubled the Lombardi total reached in Miami. But on that day, 3 was enough.

Thanks for visiting. Click here to check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising. Or… Follow @SteelCurtainRis

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Watch Tower: Dissention in Pittsburgh Over Jonathan Dwyer? Plus Hail to the Chief, Art Rooney Sr.

Cut down day always brings a flurry of news around the NFL, this year things were more active than ever at the South Side as the Steelers 2013 Roster contained some surprises, giving the Watch Tower plenty to focus on. And it begins by shining its light on a story that wasn’t told.

Dwyer:  The Glory and Agony of 140 Characters 

The biggest cut that the Steelers made the release of Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer was not only their season leading rusher, he was also the only healthy back.

  • Nonetheless, he got a visit from the Turk.

The fact that Dwyer’s roster spot was in jeopardy was not a surprise in Steelers Nation. On the blogesphere, (or at least at Behind the Steel Curtain) several articles and many fan exchanges rested on the premise that the numbers game would dictate that either Dwyer or Isaac Redman would be a goner.

But among the professional press, the conventional wisdom was that Dwyer was safe, esp. in light of the injury to Le’Veon Bell, as Jim Wexell’s tweet indicates.

This is why #Steelers wouldn’t have cut Dwyer. They can win with him as feature back.
— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) August 15, 2013

To be fair, the arrival of Felix Jones complicated the picture, but the move to cut Dwyer was nonetheless a surprise.

Shortly after the move became public, Mark Kaboly  of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review dropped a bomb via Twitter:

One last thing on Dwyer … it wasn’t the coaching staff that wanted him gone.
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) September 2, 2013

In journalism speak, Kabloy had a scoop.

News of the front office overruling the coaching staff on a personnel selection, regarding a past and potential future starter, is a tremendous news coup for Kaboly. In fact, such a morsel literally screams for more.

  • Yet none was forth coming.

Not in the regular Tribune Review, not in the Steel Mill Blog (which still remains inaccessible from the Trib’s main Steelers site – yours truly had thought the blog had gone dark and needed to find it by Googling it), not anywhere else.

To make matters worse, Kabloy himself seemed to validate the need for more information in an additional Tweet.

24 hours later and it still makes no sense whey #Steelers released Dwyer.
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) September 1, 2013

  • The Watch Tower agrees… or at least it makes no sense that a further explanation was given.

Kaboly obviously learned that Dwyer had supporters on the coaching staff, perhaps the entire coaching staff, but that they were overruled by someone else in the organization, and since you can rule out the business and scouting departments, that leaves the front office.

Which means that someone named Colbert and/or someone name Rooney spoke up on the issue. What happened?

  • Did the coaches split and Colbert/Rooney provided the deciding influence?
  • Were the coaches united, but a cap conscious Kevin Colbert, with backing from Rooney, overruled them?
  • Or did Art Rooney II just pull rank?

We know from Bob Labriola’s tweets that coaches had concerns about Dwyer, but no matter how you slice it there’s a story screaming to be told there, and one that goes far beyond the confines of Twitter’s 140 characters.

5 Bars of Hail to The Chief

August 25 marked the 25th Anniversary of the passing of a legend, namely the death of Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr.

The death of Art Rooney Sr. was a touchstone moment for me, as it coincided with my renewed following of the team (not very easy to do from suburban Maryland in the pre-internet era.)

And although his passing had little impact on the Steelers, clearly Pittsburgh lost some of its finest citizens then.

  • Credit the Post-Gazette for remembering the anniversary.

It was entirely appropriate to do so and the Tribune Review did not run anything on the Chief. Neither did ESPN, nor did any of the other major fan sites.

  • Yet the commemorative piece(s) were not without problems.

The article dealt with the way in which the five Rooney sons divided their father’s possessions, and then offered perspectives on how each of the five Rooney sons, Dan, Art Jr., Tim, John, and Pat, felt about that day and provided some insights into the relationships that the men had with their father.

  • The real issue was with the Post-Gazette’s presentation of the articles. There was one article which told the entire story. And then there were five other articles on each of the Rooney brothers.

The problem was that the individual pieces on the Rooney brothers were written as part of a single story, and not intended to be stand alone pieces. So if you clicked on one of the individual links, such as the story on Tim Rooney, the stories were disjointed, making references to events in other stories.

The Post Gazette did later provide some clarifying text and a link to the main story, but that was only after several people complained via Facebook.

PG Takes Shot at SEO?

One possible reason behind the Post-Gazette’s decision to publish multiple articles on the Rooney brothers is to catch more search engine traffic.

  • SEO, for those not familiar with the term, is the art of trying to get your pages to rank well on Google (and Bing, for what that’s worth) so that you get more visitors to your site.

While the Watch Tower has not (yet) done any comprehensive assessment of how the various major Steelers news sites fare in SEO, some cursoury analysis shows them lagging behind the competition.

Search rankings for major Steelers related stories are frequently dominated by the likes of Behind the Steel Curtain and the Bleacher Report.

The decision to break the Rooney stories up into multiple pieces, could be a step towards changing that, as could their decision to create a separate landing page for what has been a rather impressive series of regular season previews.

Post-Gazette Goof on Dwyer

While the Post-Gazette’s regular season preview coverage was generally very good, they did let one rather glaring error slip through in Ed Bouchette’s Five Keys piece as the screen shot reveals:

post-gazette-error-jonathan-dwyer
Jonathan Dwyer had been cut by the time this ran…
  • The problem with this piece is that Jonathan Dwyer had already been cut by the time this article ran.

Its normal (and highly advisable) to write stories like this in advance of publication, but going back and making these corrections is also necessary.

Steelers Today Goes Dark?

Finally, the Watch Tower notes, and laments, what appears to be the passing of a long established, well written fan site Steelers Today.

Steelers Today has been around for several years, dating back to about 2006 if memory serves. While the site was known for long periods of inactivity during the off season, it had been active up until the NFL draft.

However, attempts to access it now reveal that the domain registry has expired, seemingly signaling that the days one of the more prominent fan-based sites has unfortunately come to an end.

Thanks for visiting. Click here to check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising. Or… Follow @SteelCurtainRis

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!