The Clock is Ticking…. For Travis Feeney to Secure his Steelers Roster Spot

Of all the Steelers rookies and young players being talked about this summer, from 1st round pick Artie Burns to Sean Davis to Javon Hargrave, Eli Rogers, Tyler Matakevich, etc, etc, the one name conspicuously absent from any sort of hype is sixth round pick Travis Feeney.

I find that rather disappointing, since I was really looking forward to the young linebacker out of Washington turning heads in training camp and during the preseason.

steelers, travis feeney, steelers 6th round pick travis feeney

Steelers 6th round pick Travis Feeney during OTA’s. Photo Credit: Keith Srakocic, AP used in Seattle Times

When you studied Travis Feeney’s NFL.com Draft profile that included such measurables as a 6-4, 230 lb frame, 4.5 speed and a 40-inch vertical, well, that was pretty darn enticing.

And then there was this analysis by Mark Dulgerian:

Feeney is one of the more athletic edge pass rushers whom many considered a late-round sleeper heading into Day 3.  As he develops, he can carry over his special teams coverage skills to the Steelers’ units.

You had to wonder why a guy who recorded eight sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in his senior year with the Huskies and possessed so much raw athleticism would slip to the third day of the draft, but as he told ESPN in May, multiple shoulder surgeries may have contributed to his falling stock:

“That’s what I’m thinking why. You never know. Kind of unpredictable.”

  • But, regardless of where an athlete is selected, if his skills shine through, the coaching staff is going to see it.

So have Feeney’s skills shined through so far this summer?

Not yet.

Rocky Training Camp for Travis Feeney Thus Far….

Google “Travis Feeney” and you don’t find much about him, other than stories that date back to the spring, right after the Steelers drafted him. Meanwhile, there are multiple stories to read about guys like Eli Rogers and 7th round pick Tyler Matakevich.

This past Thursday, he finally made his debut in the Steelers preseason loss to the Eagles at Heinz Field, but only recorded one tackle.

Is pointing this stuff out a bit unfair? Perhaps. After all, what have we heard or read about cornerback Artie Burns so far this summer, other than the lumps he’s taken while trying to cover Antonio Brown at training camp? And when someone is injured and can’t practice or get into exhibition games, there aren’t going to be many stories written about him.

Fair enough, but the difference between Artie Burns and Travis Feeney is five rounds. That means Burns was a lock to make the team the second head coach Mike Tomlin called him to tell him he was the Steelers newest first round pick on during the 2016 NFL Draft.

  • Dulgerian alluded to Feeney’s special teams prowess in his aforementioned assessment, and he was named the Huskies Special Teams Player of the Year in 2014.

There’s usually room on an NFL roster for a special teams demon, and Feeney can certainly put his skills to good use as he develops into an outside linebacker. Sadly for him, his draft status isn’t one that lends itself to the same benefit of the doubt Burns’ currently enjoys.

2 Presason Games Might Define Travis Feeney’s Steelers

So is Travis Feeney a prime candidate to wind up on the Steelers practice squad this year? At the moment, that appears to be Travis Feeney’s Steelers future.

Feeney’s a sentimental favorite in these parts. When Travis Feeney signed his rookie contract, this site observed that the Steelers have a long tradition of drafting successful linebackers in the sixth round, from Vince Williams, to Bryan Hinkle, to Eric Ravotti and of course, the legendary Greg Lloyd.

  • However, Mike Tomlin is not wont to make sentimental decisions when it comes to awarding spots on either the Steelers 53 man roster or the practice squad.

Fortunately for him, Travis Feeney still has two preseason games to allow his skills to shine through. He’d be wise to take full advantage of every snap he gets. Here’s to hoping Travis Feeney gives Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler, Joey Porter and Jerry Olsavsky every reason to give him the ultimate benefit of the doubt.

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Celebrating Tony Dungy’s Steelers Coaching Legacy

Tony Dungy now sits from his rightful perch in in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, an honor he earned through his efforts in transforming the perennial loser Tampa Bay Buccaneers into contenders and for securing the first Super Bowl win by an African American head coach with the Indianapolis Colts.

  • But Tony Dungy’s roots run Black and Gold, a fact Dungy brought home by tapping Donniey Shell to present him.

Dungy’s time in playing in Pittsburgh as well as Tony Dungy Steelers coaching resume were all about overcoming the odds, an experience that served him well in Tampa and Indy. The Pittsburgh portion of Dungy’s resume is plenty impressive, and Steelers Nation must embrace it and celebrate it.

tony dungy, tony dungy's steelers coaching career, chuck noll, keith gary, mike mayock, anthony washington

Keith Gary , Mike Mayock, Anthony Washington, Tony Dungy and Chuck Noll; Photo Credit: Donald J. Stetzer, Post-Gazette

Tony Dungy’s Time as a Steelers Defensive Back

By the spring of 1977 the Pittsburgh Steelers had won two Super Bowls and just lost the 1976 AFC Championship game with the team that, almost to a man, the Super Steelers insist was the most talented of the decade.

  • Such a talented team wouldn’t leave much room for an undrafted rookie free agent, would it?

Fortunately Chuck Noll’s philosophy flowed in a different direction. As Dungy later told Jim O’Brien of the Pittsburgh Press:

…You think you’re just a little ol’ free agent and you’d think you don’t belong, but the coaches give you as much time as they give everybody else. They really try to help you make the team. So do the veterans.

Tony Dungy not only earned spot on the team, but played extensively as the Steeler’s 5th defensive back and third safety behind Mike Wagner and Donnie Shell. During 1977 and 1978, Dungy appeared in 30 games, making two starts and hauling down 9 interceptions. Highlight’s of Dungy’s Pittsburgh Steelers playing career include:

  • Leading the team with 6 interceptions in 1979
  • Recording AND throwing an interception as an emergency Quarterback in 1977
  • Forcing a Randy White fumble in Super Bowl XIII, setting up the Steelers final score

The Steelers traded Dungy to the 49ers following 1979, where Dungy played for a year before getting traded, and ultimately cut by the New York Giants.

While Dungy didn’t have a Hall of Fame playing career for the Steelers, he did earn a Super Bowl ring, and he now joins Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Mel Blount, Franco Harris, Jack Lambert, Terry Bradshaw, Mike Webster, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth as the 10th player from the Steelers Super Bowl XIII Championship team to reach the Hall of Fame.

Not bad for an undrafted rookie free agent trying to break into the league with a team laden by Super Bowl veterans….

Noll Brings Dungy to Pittsburgh as Defensive Backs Assistant

As the exploits of Dungy’s brief playing days reveal, he might not have had the athletic talents, but he certainly possessed football smarts. New York Giants head coach Ray Perkins came to that conclusion based on Dungy’s brief time there, and gave Dungy his first interview in 1981.

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Donnie Shell takes instruction from former teammate Tony Dungy

When Dungy called Steelers defensive coordinator Woody Widenhofer for advice, Widenhofer arranged a meeting with Noll, and Dungy joined the team as a defensive backs coach.

  • By his own admission, however, Dungy spent 75% of his time during his first year working with the Steelers linebackers.

Nonetheless, Chuck Noll saw enough to send incumbent secondary coach Dick Walker packing while promoting Dungy to defensive backs coach. Tracing the impact of positions coaches was just as difficult in the early 80’s as it is today, but Dungy’s made close to an immediate impact, coaching his players to read the quarterback instead of focusing on receivers.

The fact that Dungy was able to make such a quick impact as a position coach is a little eailser tunderstand when you realize that the 27 year old Dungy had enough confidence to suggest technique changes to Mel Blount, who was well into his mid-30’s and already clear first ballot Hall of Famer.

When Woody Widenhofer left Pittsburgh to take the USFL’s Oklahoma Outlaw’s head coaching position, Chuck Noll only had one place to look….

Tony Dungy, Youngest, 1st Black Coordinator

At age 29, Chuck Noll at once made Tony Dungy the youngest coordinator in the NFL and also the first African American coordinator. While Noll admitted he’d talked to several candidates “…but not with a really open mind.”

Earning such a prestigious promotion at age 29 might seem like an uncanny a stroke of good luck, but Tony Dungy got nothing handed to him. If anything, fate worked against him:

  • News of Blount and Bradshaw’s retirements dominated the news conference announcing Dungy’s hire.

Worse yet, Jack Lambert’s career ended 3 starts into this Tony Dungy’s tenure as Steelers defensive coordinator. Undaunted, Dungy took the reins of a Steelers defense that was literally shedding Hall of Famers and defied the odds. By end of the Steelers 1984 season, the Steelers defense had the NFL’s number 5 defense (in total yards) two notches below 1983’s edition and Steelers defenders ranked 2nd in interceptions, a rank above the previous year.

In the 1984 Steelers playoff upset win over the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium, the Steelers defense dominated John Elway, sacking him 4 times and brutalizing him so badly he could barely stay in the game. Years later, a cousin of mine recounted how Elway was forced to take snaps with one hand – press accounts do not confirm that, but Elway injured his groin, bruised a kneed and twisted an ankle.

Asked about the 1984 Steelers defense following the game, Elway conceeded, “They dictated. They more or less did what they wanted.”

Tony Dungy put an exclamation point on Elway’s concession with the game tied at 3:45 left to play, with the Broncos attempting to rally on 2nd and 5 from their 20 yard line. The Steelers defense showed zone coverage, Elway looked at safety Eric Williams and assumed he had a one-on-one with Ray Alexander.

  • Except that Williams was playing man coverage, intercepted Elway’s pass and returned it to the Steelers 2.

It was Elway’s second interception of the day, and his last as it set up Frank Pollard’s go-ahead touchdown.

Pittsburgh would of course fall to the Miami Dolphins the next week in the AFC Championship, but the 1984 Steelers had shocked the world in won the AFC Championship, ruining the ’84 49er’s perfect season and upsetting Elway’s Broncos at Mile High. And Tony Dungy’s defense had led the way.

1985-1987 Tony Dungy’s Star on the Rise

Unfortunately, the 1984 Steelers success was largely a mirage. Chuck Noll had managed to coax above average performance with average talent. But as the last of the Super Steelers faded, the Steelers slipped into mediocrity during 1985 and 1986.

  • Yet Tony Dungy’s kept the Steelers defense competitive.

The 1985 Steelers finished 7-9, Chuck Noll’s first losing effort since 1971, but the Steelers defense finished 6th overall in yards allowed. The rest of the NFL took note of Tony Dungy’s Steelers coaching career.

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In 1984 Chuck Noll made Tony Dungy the NFL’s Youngest Defensive coordinator

In the winter of 1986, Dungy found himself a head coaching candidate, as the Philadelphia Eagles interviewed him for the job that ultimately went to Buddy Ryan. Dungy didn’t get the job, but by that point he was widely expected to become the NFL’s first African American head coach.

The 1986 Steelers slipped even further, dropping to 6-10,and the Steelers defense slipped to 18th in yards allowed.

The 1987 NFL draft saw Chuck Noll reload on defense, picking future stars like Rod Woodson, Greg Lloyd, Thomas Everett, and Hardy Nickerson (in addition to one-year wonder Delton Hall.) Armed with the infusion of talent, Tony Dungy oversaw a defensive rebound, as the Steelers defense improved to 13th overall, was 3rd in interceptions, and returned 7 interceptions for touchdowns, leading the league.

  • Indeed, the Steelers defense carried Pittsburgh to a 8-7 record (6-6 in non-strike games), and kept them competitive in games they had no right to contest.

Some fans insisted that the Steelers were “A quarterback away from the Super Bowl.” In 20/20 hindsight, such observations were clearly wishful thinking, but the Steelers defense appeared to be on the rise. After the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Bruce Kredan quipped that the Steelers had applied the finishing touches to Curtain II by drafting Aaron Jones, he wasn’t being entirely sarcastic.

Steelers Dreadful 1988 Campaign and Dungy’s Demise in Pittsburgh

The 1987 Steelers finished one game out of the final Wild Card slot for the playoffs. Yet, the fact that they almost won that game on thanks to 4th quarter, 45 yard pick six by Cornell Gowdy, teased that the Steelers defense was once again knocking on dominance’s door.

  • Again, the hopes of Steelers Nation fell into disappointment.

The 1988 Steelers opened with a win over Tom Landry’s Cowboys, and closed with a win over Don Shula’s Dolphins, but struggled mightily in between only winning three other contests. While the Steelers special teams and offense had their liabilities, the fact is that the 1988 Steelers saw 4th quarter lead after 4th quarter lead evaporate.

  • Statistics confirmed the defense’s decline, which slipped to 28th in yardage, worst in the NFL

The decline of the Steelers defense in 1988 defies easy explanation. 1988 saw Rod Woodson, Greg Lloyd, and Hardy Nickerson blossom into full time starters. Alongside these upstarts were players like Bryan Hinkle, David Little, Gerald Williams, Keith Willis and Dwayne Woodruff who were still playing in their primes.

  • Most likely, the 1988 Steelers defense regressed because they could not get on the same page.

Steelers linebackers coach Jed Hughes had designs on converting Aaron Jones into an outside linebacker. Tony Dungy disagreed, and wanted Jones to remain at defensive end. Jed Hughes went over Dungy’s head, and Jones spent part of the season at outside linebacker.

  • The damage this move did to Dungy’s standing with the Steelers, and the rest of the NFL should not be underestimated.

Ed Bouchette detailed it in a Dawn of a New Steel Age. In his book, Double Yoi, Myron Cope also delved into the incident, sharing that reporters silently rooted for Dungy in his struggle with Hughes, but ultimately arguing:

…I could not help but think that word travels on the football grapevine – Tony had let the linebackers coach steal Noll’s ear. Was he head coaching material or a wimp? In time, he answered the question, but the grapevine may have delayed his rise to the top for years.

The is plot actually thicker here, involving other revered Steelers legends here, which Ivan Cole documents on Going Deep with the Steelers, based on conversations with Bill Nunn.

  • Regardless, Dan Rooney didn’t like what he saw, and demanded that Chuck Noll fire several assistants.

Noll resisted, contemplated resigning until relenting. Jed Hughes name was on the hit list, Tony Dungy’s was not. But, the Steelers did ask Dungy to take a demotion. Dungy declined and resigned, ending his time in Pittsburgh.

Tony Dungy’s Arch in Pittsburgh Comes Full Circle (Sort of)

Tony Dungy had been the hot coaching prodigy in the mid and late 1980’s, often expected to be the NFL’s first black coach and/or the man to succeed Chuck Noll. Alas, Tony Dungy didn’t fufill either role, at least directly.

mike tomlin, tony dungy, steelers vs. colts 2008, steelers, colts, heinz field

Mike Tomlin and Tony Dungy prior to the 2008 Steelers-Colts matchup; Photo Credit; ESPN, used on High Court Press

In a wired twist of fate, Chuck Noll replaced Tony Dungy with Rod Rust, the recently deposed head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. Tony Dungy for his part would head to Kansas City to serve as Marty Schottenhimer’s defensive backs coach, whose secondary contributed the success of Kansas City’s defense, brining Kansas City defensive coordinator Bill Cowher to the attention of the Rooneys.

Dungy parlayed his success in Kansas City into a defensive coordinator job in Minnestoa, which he used to get his first head coaching job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In Tampa, Tony Dungy hired and mentored promising young coach by the name of Mike Tomlin, giving him his first job in the NFL.

Tony Dungy’s roots not only Black and Gold, but his influence has lived on in Pittsburgh, long after his departure.

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Steelers Hall of Famer Kevin Greene Brought “Blitzgurgh” to Pittsburgh

If you’re a Steelers fan and familiar with Pittsburgh’s  usual participation in the annual free agent frenzy that began in 1992, you’ve probably long-since resigned yourself to not expecting much in the way of splash-signings.

  • But, believe it or not, one of the Steelers first free agent signings was of the high-profile variety.

It came about following a high-profile defection, when Jerrol Williams, a fourth round pick out of Purdue in the 1989 NFL Draft who had just supplanted veteran Bryan Hinkle as the starter at left outside linebacker in 1992, signed a restricted free agent deal with the Chargers.

How would the Steelers, who were coming off one of their best seasons in years under first-year head coach Bill Cowher, respond and reload for the 1993 campaign?

Steelers Hall of Famer Kevin Green, Blitzburgh, Steelers, Steelers 1990s, Greg Lloyd

Steelers Hall of Famer Kevin Greene brought Blitzburgh to Pittsburgh; Photo Credit: USA Today Sports

  • By courting and then signing 31-year old veteran Kevin Greene, who racked up 72.5 career sacks in eight seasons with the Rams.

To say Kevin Greene, who will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend and has made it known his favorite years were spent in Pittsburgh, and that he wants to have his official ring ceremony take place at Heinz Field in 2016, was an upgrade over the younger Williams is an understatement.

Kevin Greene Brings Blitzburgh to Pittsburgh

In ’93, Greene led the Steelers with 12.5 sacks and doubled the total of defensive end Donald Evans, who finished second with 6.5.

Perhaps more importantly, Greene made right legendary outside linebacker Greg Lloyd even more dangerous by creating a “pick your poison” scenario for opposing offenses. While Greg Lloyd recorded “only” six sacks in ’93, he had 111 tackles and five forced fumbles. Following such a great all-around season of devastation, Lloyd, who had already played in two Pro Bowls by that point, was named a First-team All-Pro for the first time in his career.

Two more All-Pro seasons followed for Greg Lloyd in subsequent years, and he was named the team MVP and UPI AFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1994.

All the while, Greene was doing what he did best: Sack the quarterback. While Greg Lloyd had arguably his best season in ’94, totaling 10 sacks and five forced fumbles, Greene posted an incredible 14 sacks, a record that would stand until James Harrison broke it in 2008 (despite defenders holding Silverback on nearly EVERY play.)

That kind of production from your outside linebackers in a 3-4, zone-blitz scheme is a dream-come-true. And, in Pittsburgh, with creative Steelers fans in abundance, this is going to lead to a nickname–or two.

  • Quiver and Quake was a sign often seen hanging at old Three Rivers Stadium–Lloyd was the Quiver to Greene’s Quake.

Another nickname that became popular during the ’94 campaign was “Blitzburgh,” coined by Myron Cope after the defense recorded 55 sacks.

Blitzburgh may not be as enduring as “The Steel Curtain,” the nickname given to the legendary ’70s Steelers defenses, but when you hear it, it certainly reminds you of players like Greene and Lloyd, and the havoc they wreaked on opposing offenses in the mid-’90s.

Greene left as a free agent after the 1995 season, following the loss to the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX, and to tell you the truth, I didn’t think he considered his short three year stay in Pittsburgh to be that special.

But when you think about it, Greene got to play for an enthusiastic players’ coach in Cowher; the universally loved Dick LeBeau was the secondary coach and then the defensive coordinator during Greene’s stay in Pittsburgh; he played in-front of maybe the most passionate fans in all of sports and in one of the loudest places in Three Rivers Stadium; and he also made his only trip to the Super Bowl.

Kevin Greene Best Steelers Free Agent Signing Ever?

As fans, we sometimes reduce everything down to championships. The linebacker combo of Greene and Lloyd wasn’t as impressive as the duo of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, who teamed up for a combined 72 sacks from 2008-2010 and helped lead the Steelers to two Super Bowls and one Lombardi.

  • But those years in the mid-’90s, when Lloyd and Greene combined for 58 sacks and five Pro Bowls (Greene was also named a First-team All-Pro in ’94) weren’t so bad, either.

As far as free agents in Steelers history, other than James Farrior and Jeff Hartings, it’s hard to name a better one than Greene, who totaled 35.5 sacks during his three years in Pittsburgh.

The Rooneys sure got their money’s worth during Kevin Greene’s three years in Pittsburgh. Not only was he very productive, but the team was exciting, the fans were passionate, and it was fun to root for the Pittsburgh Steelers again.

Kevin Greene had a big role in making it fun to be a Pittsburgh Steeler again. It was also a time Kevin Greene has certainly never forgotten. Neither will Steelers Nation.

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’89 Steelers Bounced Out in Denver, 34-7

20 years ago this week, the 1989 Steelers traveled to Denver just as their successors are preparing to do this week. Steel Curtain Rising takes a look back with the caveat that we hope that Tomlin and Roethlisberger fare better in the thin Denver air than did Noll and Brister…

The Denver Broncos were the closest thing the AFC had to a dominant team in the 1980’s.

And if the Steelers had experienced success against the Broncos, with the upset in the 1984 playoffs and again in 1988 as Rod Woodson and Rodney Carter rallied behind a beleaguered Chuck Noll, there was no mistaking who was the favorite when the Steelers traveled to Mile High in the fall of 1989.

Underdogs or not, the Steelers arrived with some measure of hope.

They’d shook off humiliating 51-0 and 41-10 losses to division rivals to upset a Super Bowl contender, only to lose their starting quarterback and then suffer another shut out to yet another third division rival, but again bounced back with a dramatic victory over up and coming Kansas City Chiefs.

Could the Steelers sustain some momentum?

Steelers Flash, then Fade Quickly

For a while that seemed to be an open question. The Broncos jumped to a 10-0 lead and were on the verge of scoring again until Rod Woodson intercepted John Elway in the end zone.

It appeared that the Steelers had the makings of a long afternoon for Elway as Brian Hinkle stepped up and intercepted his next pass, and Bubby Brister and Rodney Carter hooked up for 15 yard strike to bring the score to 10-7.

But appearances can deceive, and this time they did.

The Steelers offense was done after Brister’s touchdown pass. In fact, 8 of their 12 possession ended in three and outs.

Broncos Score 24 Unanswered Points

The Broncos scored 24 unanswered points, as Bobby Humphrey ran for two touchdowns and 102 yards, and John Elway hit a 44 yard touchdown pass, before Gary Kubiack entered for mop up duty (where he went 2-2 for 30 yards, for those who must know.)

The only bright note in the Steelers 34-7 loss to Denver? Despite the team’s offensive impotency, rookie running back Tim Worley ran 75 yards on 12 carries, his best showing of the season.

The best news was that week ten would bring the Chicago Bears to Pittsburgh, where they had not won since 1944. Would the 1989 Steelers keep the Bears winless in Pittsburgh for yet another full decade…?

Thanks for visiting. Click here to check out the entire tribute to the 1989 Steelers.

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Steelers Begin ’89 Season Losing 92-10, Fall to Bengals 41-10 in Week 2

20 years ago today the Steelers traveled to Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium for the second game of the 1989 season, reeling from the 51-0 shutout inflicted on them by the Cleveland Browns the week before.

Although the Bengals were defending AFC Champions, the Steelers had won in Cincinnati as recently as 1987, and harbored aspirations of showing the NFL that they were better than their opening day debacle.

The Steelers failed to realize those aspirations.

The Monday morning after the game my friend BBD approached my locker suggesting that “I think the Steelers should fire their defensive coordinator.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because they lost their first two games by a combined score of 92-10.”

I responded, “If 34 of those points came directly off of the offense, you can’t come down too hard on the defense too hard, can you?”

Truthfully, if offensive self-destruction had defined the 1989 Steelers first game, dismal defense defined their second.

Boomer Esiason threw for 328 yards while Tim McGee and James Brooks had 100 yard days receiving and rushing respectively.

But the Steelers defense could not get out of its own way. The Steelers committed a record 144 yards in penalties 144 yards and handed the Bengals 7 of their 30 first downs. Worse yet, the Steelers failed to force the Bengals to punt even once.

This was the first time a Chuck Noll team, including his 1-13 team from his 1969 rookie campaign, had failed to force a punt.

Signs of Hope?

The difference between losing 41-10 and 51-0 is cosmetic at best.

Yet had the Steelers given their faithful fans some hope to hang on to?

Steel Curtain Rising applauds no one’s injury, but on defense Greg Lloyd and Thomas Everett had teamed up to deliver a devastating hit on Icky Woods that unfortunately derailed is career.

On offense, Bubby Brister, despite taking 6 sacks for the second consecutive week, completed 54% of his passes, and did not throw a single interception. Louis Lipps caught 5 passes for 122 yards and scored the team’s only touchdown.

Lipps has been a familiar target in 1988, but Brister hit a total of eight receivers, as Dwight Stone, Rodney Carter, and newcomer Mike Mularkey began to make their presence in the offense felt.

Putting faith in these kinds of stats would constitute rose-colored glasses optimism on steroids; 20 years later they remain nothing more than glorified garbage time numbers.

Brian Hinkle’s Statement

But hard numbers do not carry the day in football games or football seasons.

The Tuesday after the game the Washington Post ran a little one inch, 4 line blurb on titled “Man of Steel.”

It revealed that linebacker Brian Hinkle had played a full two quarters during the second half of the Bengals game on a broken fibula.

Brian Hinkle’s resolve and determination made a statement for the few with the savvy to listen.

Losing their first two games by cumulative score of 92-10 may have humiliated the team, but the 1989 Pittsburgh Steelers were very far from defeated.

Thanks for visiting. Steel Curtain Rising will pay tribute to the ’89 Steelers all season long. Game posts appear on Thursdays. To read the entire series click on the Steelers 1989 season tag. Leave a comment sharing your thoughts and memories.

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Voice of Steelers Nation Silenced: Myron Cope 1929-2008

Steelers Nation lost a definitive voice with the passing of Myron Cope. No Steeler summed up Cope’s legacy better than Art Rooney II when he explained that “Myron Cope brought the Steelers closer to the fans.” Myron Cope was, as Sports Illustrated, opined in 1992, “the soul of the Pittsburgh Steelers.”

myron cope, steelers nation, WTAE, 1929-2008

Steelers Nation Still Honors Myron Cope

In an age when sports broadcasting is increasingly defined by either former athletes who are there by virtue of their names or professionals who excel in their drive to be vanilla, Myron Cope brought a new meaning the term “color commentator.”

  • Cope was a character and, to his credit, he made no apologies for that.

Growing up in Maryland, my exposure to Myron Cope did not come until the 1987 season’s final contest. Sitting on an 8-6 record, Pittsburgh needed only to beat the “Cleve Brownies” at home to clinch a playoff berth in that strike shortened season.

Heading into Pittsburgh the day after Christmas, we had just reached WTAE’s range as Browns were in the process of putting us away. Suddenly safety Cornell Gowdy returned an interception a touchdown. “We got ourselves a football game, we got ourselves a football game!” boomed the speakers.

The Steelers went on to loose that game 21 years ago, but I remember Myron Cope’s accounts of the second half as vividly as if they’d happened yesterday. When Brian Hinkle went down “ooh, that hurts, that hurts!” Later, Jack Fleming spotted one of the team captains jumping up and down after a disputed call Cope interjected “is it for joy or for anger? Fleming, is he jumping joy or for anger?!”

Up to that point 95% of my experience with football on the radio had come from listening WMAL’s Redskins broadcast team of Sonny, Sam, Frank, and Huff. While those guys bled red and yellow just as profusely as Myron bled Black and Gold, an important difference was apparent:

  • Myron’s wit was legendary, but he called the game as he saw it, and he never took himself too seriously.

In fact, in his book Double Yoi, Myron Cope made a point of saying that, as opposed to his writing, he did not take broadcasting seriously at all. Case in point, writing about creating the Terrible Towel in Steelers Digest, he said he’d been asked to come up with a gimmick, and “I am a gimmicly kind of guy.” (Interestingly enough, this account conflicts with recently published accounts.)

Yet Myron never let his antics interfere with his insights into the game. I remember an outbound PA Turnpike trip as the Steelers played the Vikings in the third game of the 1989 season. Myron Cope, true to form, came out with gems like, “and there’s Mike Mularkey arguing with the Minny Vike defender saying ‘now don’t you give me any of that mularkey….”

But at a crucial point in the game a Steeler receiver had been ruled out of bounds. Before the next play could be called Myron exclaimed, “Both feet were in bounds, both feet were in bounds. Did you see it Fleming? Did you see it? Tell me, am I right or are my eye balls LYING TO ME? He got both feet in bounds. FLEMING did you see what I saw!” The officials reviewed the play, and sure enough, the Steelers receiver had gotten both feet in bounds.

  • Myron Cope’s contribution to the game was unique.

He invented the Terrible Towel. In 1989, Cope coaxed coaches into drafting Carlton Haselrig, a college wrestler who never even played football. Haselrig made the 1992 Pro Bowl as a guard. In 1992, he realized that Barry Foster was sitting on the bench only a few yards shy of a 100. He pounded on the glass of the press box to make the assistant coaches next to him aware of this. Foster got his 100.

Whether it was with his Christmas songs, nick names like “Drac Lambert,” or “the Bus,” the enthusiasm Myron Cope shared with fans was contagious. He brought a vivid tone and texture to football games that took on a life of its own, at least in Steelers Nation.

  • Its not so much that no broadcaster will never leave a bigger footprint on that game, its that none will ever leave better one.

Rest in peace Myron, Steelers Nation misses you! Double Yoi!

[Lectores de Español, para leer un articulo sobre Myron Cope hagan clic acá.]

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