Anthony Wright the Steelers forgotten 4th String Quarterback. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
But Wexell’s profile of the rookie was so thorough that it prompted one reader (ok, it was me) to recall a similar profile written, possibly penned by Wexell, back in 1999 on a similar long shot rookie 4th string quarterback, namely Anthony Wright.
Given that stars rarely align with such eerie precision, it only seems fitting that take a brief look at Anthony Wright’s stint with the Steelers.
Anthony Wright Really IS the Steelers Forgotten 4th String Quarterback
In reporting Anthony Wright’s shooting, ESPN and Sports Illustrated recalled his time with the Cowboys, Bengals, Giants and Ravens, but omitted his service to the Steelers. Perhaps that’s understandable. After all, Pro Football Reference doesn’t list Anthony Wright as having played for the Steelers.
When the editor of the Steelers Digest and team website make an omission like that, you’re officially forgotten.
And the truth is, Anthony Wright’s time in Pittsburgh merits little more than a footnote in the History of Steelers Backup Quarterbacks should someone like Jim O’Brien ever decide to pen such a volume.
If memory serves, Anthony Wright was a find of Dan Rooney Jr., and acquitted himself well in the Steelers-Redskins scrimmage in early August 1999, at Frostsburg University.
The Steelers dressed Anthony Wright a few times at the end of the 1999 season, and word was they even planned to play him in the season finale against the Titans, but that never came to fruition.
Larry Foote hones in on Anthony Wright in 2005. Photo Credit: Ravens.com
The next summer Tee Martin beat him out for the 3rd string quarterback job, and Wright went on to play for Cowboys, Ravens, Bengals and Giants. Along the way he appeared in 31 games and started 19 of those, amassing an 8-11 record as a starter, going 1-1 vs. the Steelers.
While far from qualifying him as another Kurt Warner, it is a respectable career for a quarterback whose foot in the NFL door was as a training camp arm.
But in some ways, Anthony Wright’s footnote in History of Steelers Backup Quarterbacks is more notable than say that of Steve Bono. To be certain, Bono actually played in multiple games for the Steelers unlike Wright.
But Anthony Wright’s presence in Pittsburgh for one season provides and example of Bill Cowher’s desire to staff a true up and comer in the 3rd string quarterback slot. Whether it was Jim Miller, Mike Quinn, or Pete Gonzalez, The Chin spent the 1990’s trying to find someone behind his established veteran backup who offered legitimate “upside.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers begin their 2018 season today at Cleveland against the Browns. Like all other seasons, a Lombardi Trophy will define success or failure. Earlier this week this site laid out 4 key questions the Steelers needed to answer affirmatively to bring up a 7th Super Bowl.
Can the Steelers maintain the “Band of Brothers” mentality in the locker room?
Building a coheshive locker room is critical to winning championships. In his self-titled autobiography, Dan Rooneyreflected on Hines Ward’s 2005 holdout by saying he felt the team had the closeness that is necessary for championships.
Happier Times: Antonio Brown & Le’Veon Bell celebrate a touchdown. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review
Concerned that contract squabbles could jeopardize this closeness Dan Rooney had Jerome Bettis bring Hines Ward to the Latrobe airport for a one-on-one. The results was that Hines Ward reported to camp, got a new contract, and the Steelers season ended with victory in Super Bowl XL.
The Steelers overcame those difficulties, in no small part, because they remained united, and focused.
Fast forward to 2018. Everyone knows that Le’Veon Bell has refused to sign his franchise tender and is not part of the 2018 Steelers. Until this point, the rest of the Steelers locker room had been neutral, if not supportive of Bell,
Pittsburgh 247 writer Jim Wexell made what might have been the defining analytical quote of the 2018 season when he observed: “Losing Pouncey? That’s analogous to Lyndon Johnson losing Cronkite. Google it.”
That’s a pretty dramatic statement, but if there is any reporter who has an accurate pulse of the Steelers locker room, it is Jim Wexell. Right now the Steelers locker room is united, but what happens when Le’Veon Bell returns?
The Buffalo Bills easily had the most talent roster in the AFC in the early 1990’s, making for straight Super Bowl appearances. They lost each one of them. While the ’91 Redskins and the ’92 and ’93 Cowboys held clear talent edges, Buffalo didn’t help themselves by creating an atmosphere that led them to be labeled as the “Bickering Bills.”
As Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler confided to Jim Wexell, “The good thing we’ve got, I think, is our locker room. Probably our strongest suit is our locker room. That’s going to always be the case here.”
Le’Veon Bell’s eventual return promises to put the later part of Butler’s statement to the test.
But now that Joshua Dobbs is officially the Steelers new QB Number 2 behind Ben Roethlisberger that doesn’t seem likely to happen. As someone who both advocated for keeping Joshua Dobbs AND who’s a little nervous about the Steelers cutting Landry Jones, one thing is immediately clear about this choice:
Mike Tomlin has strengthened his locker room credibility in with his decision.
Joshua Dobbs scores touchdown in preseason. Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, Steelers.com
“The best 22 players will start. The best 53 men will earn roster spots. The next best 10 will join the practice squad. Everyone else had best prepare for ‘Life’s Work.'” All NFL coaches say it, all of the time. And most of them really do want to mean it.
But the realities of the modern NFL often make it hard for coaches to truly put their money where their mouths are.
Sometimes salary cap realities dictate that a player who otherwise might be cut stay on the roster. The reverse is also true, hence the term “salary cap casualty.” Other times it is draft status. The last time the Steelers cut a rookie 4th round draft pick, Bill Clinton was President (no, sorry Doran Grant in 2015 doesn’t count.)
A coach can preach his “Keep the best 53” sermon without losing credibility because NFL players understand all of the above.
Sometimes NFL coaches keep a player because cutting him falls a little too far outside his comfort zone.
Those are the choices that lead to coaches causing trouble for themselves. Most outsiders thought that Chuck Nollwas as unsentimental as Bill Belichick when it came to parting ways with old players. He wasn’t.
Keeping an aging Dwight White over Dwaine Board serves as the best example, but if you sat down with someone like Dick Hoak, Dick Haley or even Art Rooney Jr. they’d probably supply a good half dozen similar examples without breaking a sweat. Moving to more modern times, Bill Cowher’s decision to keep Duce Staley on the 2006 roster provides another example.
And that brings us to Mike Tomlin’s decision to keep Joshua Dobbs over Landry Jones.
During the Mike Tomlin era the Steelers have made personnel mistakes (see Shamarko Thomas), but they’ve rarely been guilty of hanging on to a player who is ready for “Life’s Work.” Perhaps keeping Aaron Smith into 2011 serves as one example, and certainly there are others but not many.
In the Steelers preseason win over the Panthers, Joshua Dobbs didn’t simply “lean into the tape.” His play was exceptional enough to convince Mike Tomlin to disregard 28 years of franchise Quarterback depth chart policy.
So next time a player hears Mike Tomlin insist that “The best 53 will make it,” they’ll know he means it.
Drafting Landry Jones sparked immediate controversy, compounded each time the Steelers kept him the roster.
As previously mentioned, preseason is not available here in Buenos Aires without NFL Game Pass, but Going Deep with the Steelers scribe Ivan Cole, the antithesis of a knee jerk fan if there ever was one, assured me Landry looked lost in preseason during both 2013 and 2014. The Steelers made a serious run at replacing during the summer of 2015, but Jones rose to the moment.
Landry Jones in the 2016 season finale vs Browns. Photo Credit: Archie Carpenter, via UPI.com
Indeed, it quickly became clear that Landry Jones, and not Mike Vick, was the better backup quarterback, as Jones closed victories against Arizona and Oakland.
It says here that Randy Fichtner, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert know a lot more about what qualifies a player to be ready as a backup NFL quarterback than I do. But I also know that the Pittsburgh Steelers policy dating back to Bill Cowher’s arrival has been to staff a veteran backup quarterback.
Now the Steelers have two quarterbacks holding clipboards behind Ben Roethlisberger who haven’t taken an NFL snap.
Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert have never let fear drive their personnel decisions out of fear, and they’re not starting to do so now. Good for them.
But some of the social media jubilation that cutting Landry Jones has sparked on social media gives this scribe pause.
Landry Jones might have been lost as he looked to be in 2013 and 2014, but by 2015 he showed he belonged, and by 2016 he performance merited respect. Landry Jones might never be a great or even good starting caliber NFL quarterback, but he’s proven himself to be a quality backup.
And to those who say “good riddance” at Landry’s departure, I can’t help but remember the following Darth Vader quote from the original Star Wars (sorry, its Star Wars, not A New Hope):
If you’re not up on your Star Wars history, things don’t quite work out the esteemed Lord of Sith expected.
There’s no substitute for experience in the NFL. Should Ben Roethlisberger go down with injury early in the season much as Tommy Maddox did in 2004, its possible that Mason Rudolph could play like Ben Roethlisberger did as a rookie.
And for as much as I wanted to see the Steelers find a way to keep Joshua Dobbs, that desire was rooted in a wish to see the Steelers keep 4 quarterbacks for a 3rd time since 1995.
Following the Steelers preseason win over the Carolina Panthers, Mike Tomlin claimed Pittsburgh had “4 above the line quarterbacks.” The Steelers decision to cut Landry Jones shows that Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert are ready to put their money where their mouth is.
It’s time to grade the Steelers draft. No, not the Steelers 2018 Draft but rather the Steelers 2013 draft.
You know, the draft that saw the Steelers make a bold trade involving a third round pick, replace a veteran wide out and draft of a quarterback? Sounds like the Steelers 2018 draft, doesn’t it? The comparison is intentional because reinforces a fundamental lesson:
Accurately grading an NFL draft class takes time.
The Steelers 2018 draft class has spawned waves of criticism, while the Steelers 2013 draft class won its share of instant applause. SB Nation gave the Steelers 2013 draft an A, NFL.com awarded it an A-.
Those grades don’t look so sharp today, do they?
Which doesn’t mean the Steelers 2013 Draft was a failure, but rather one that contained both failure and success as you’ll see below.
Is there anything new to say about Jarvis Jones? There’s not much. But it is useful to remember that Bucky Brooks of NFL.com claimed Jarvis Jones was the best pick made in the entire AFCNorth. Mel Kiper lauded Jarvis Jones as a “great pick.”
Other analysts, such as Gil Brandt, remained skeptical.
The skeptics were right. The Steelers were perhaps too patient with Jarvis Jones (ah, if only James Harrison had been on the field against Dallas….) As it is, Kevin Colbert’s first and only unqualified first round bust is Jarvis Jones. Grade: Bust.
True NFL Draft grades only come with years of hindsight
Steelers 2013 2nd Round – Le’Veon Bell – Grand Slam
Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated conceded that Le’Veon Bell “Fits this offense but may not have warranted pick 48.” Mel Kiper Jr. wasn’t thrilled with the Le’Veon Bell pick, but leave himself wiggle room by suggesting Bell might benefit from the Steelers line.
Le’Veon Bell’s 2nd franchise tag contract squabbles have damped his popularity, but Meril Hoge hit the nail on the head when he declared Le’Veon Bell the best back taken in the 2013 NFL Draft. Grade: Grand Slam.
Steelers 2013 3rd Round – Markus Wheaton – Serviceable Pickup
Nothing against NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks, but Brooks commended the Steelers for making Markus Wheaton the AFC North’s “steal of the draft.” Markus Wheaton wasn’t a steal. “Serviceable” is a better word to describe Markus Wheaton.
3rd round picks should become starters, and Markus Wheaton started 22 games his two healthy seasons with the Steelers.
He wasn’t a superstar, but in some ways Markus Wheaton’s ability to come up with clutch third down catches brought to mind Hines Ward’s early years in the trenches. But injuries marred Markus Wheaton’s rookie and 4th seasons, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown missed Markus Wheaton him down the stretch in 2016.
The injuries weren’t his fault, but they limited Markus Wheaton’s value to the team. Grade: Serviceable Pickup
Steelers 2013 4th Round A – Shamarko Thomas – Bust
The Steelers, like the rest of the league have been more active in trading for players, but trading away future premium picks to move up in the draft goes against the Steelers DNA.
Aside from some immediate work with the secondary during his first few rookie games, Shamarko Thomas’s defensive snap total might be countable on a single hand. Thomas was a good gunner on special teams, but players that cost you a 4th and next year’s third round pick must deliver more. Grade: Bust
Steelers 2013 4th Round B – Landry Jones – Quality Value Pick
The 2013 NFL Draft marked a change in the Steelers backup quarterback philosophy. The Steelers had always staffed a veteran backup quarterback since Bill Cowher’s 1992 arrival.
Picking Landry Jones in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL draft was the product of Pittsburgh’s pivot. He wasn’t NFL ready in 2013 and or in 2014, but fought off 3 challengers at St. Vincent’s during the summer of 2015 as Landry Jones worked his way past Mike Vick for the number 2 spot and closed key victories against Arizona and Oakland in the process.
A large and vocal contingent of Steelers Nation remain hardened Landry Jones haters, but he’s worked himself into a competent NFL backup. Grade: Quality Value Pick
Steelers 2013 5th Round — Terry Hawthorne – Bust
In 20/20 hindsight, this move seems like another Steelers attempt to reload at cornerback on the cheap. But that’s not a fair assessment. Ike Taylor hadn’t shown signs of slowing in 2012, andCortez Allen’s play late in 2012 made him appear like a stud poised to blossom.
And with William Gay’sreturn, the Steelers cornerback depth chart looked solid in the spring of 2013.
None of this changes the fact that Terry Hawthorne, Illinois the cornerback, both failed to catch on in Pittsburgh and elsewhere. Grade: Bust
Steelers 2013 6th Round A – Justin Brown – Disappointment
Justin Brown made the practice squad in 2013 which isn’t bad for a 6th round pick.
Word at the end of 2013 was that Justin Brown was looking good in practice.
Justin Brown made the regular season roster in 2014 and saw 21 balls thrown his way and he caught 12 of them. Still, as the Steelers closed in in the playoffs in late 2014, they deemed Brown expendable and he’s been heard from since. Grade: Disappointment
Steelers 2013 6th Round B – Vince Williams – Over Performer
Vince Williams experienced baptism by fire NFL style when an opening day injury to Larry Foote sent him from street clothes to starter in 3 weeks.
Vince Williams sacks Andy Dalton in December 2017. Photo Credit: Steelers.com
And make no mistake about it, Vince Williams struggled for much of the 2013 campaign.
Yet Vince Williams improved by season’s end, and did well in relief of Ryan Shazier, Sean Spence, and Lawrence Timmons during 2014, 2015 and 2016. The Steelers signed him to a contract extension in 2016 season, and year later he was starting in Timmons place.
Vince Williams isn’t an athlete who’ll compel fans to command he shift to safety. But Vince Williams is a physical player and an asset when surrounded with the right players – you don’t get 8 sacks as an inside linebacker by accident. Grade: Over Performer
Steelers 2013 7th Round – Nicholas Williams – Farm Team
The Kansas City Chiefs reduced John Mitchell’s comparison to an academic one by poaching Nicholas Williams from the Steelers practice squad in 2014.
Pro football Reference tells us that Nicholas Williams made 26 appearances for the Chiefs and Dolphins from 2014 to 2016. Grade: Farm Team
Grading the Steelers 2013 Draft – C+
With 9 picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Steelers draft report card spans the spectrum, with 1 Grand Slam, 3 Busts, 1 Serviceable Pickup, 1 Disappointment, 1 Over Performer, 1 Quality Value Pickup and 1 Farm Team pick.
If you agree that a good draft should yield 3 starters, then the Steelers came up OK in 2013.
Yes, its true that only Vince Williams and Le’Veon Belll are starters, but Markus Wheaton was a legitimate starter when healthy, and Landry Jones was drafted to be a backup. And any draft that brings home a talent like Le’Veon Bell is by definition an “Above the Line” draft.
Yet, the Steelers 2013 NFL draft class was hardly an unqualified success.
The Steelers missed badly on Jarvis Jones and Shamarko Thomas. Both of those misfires carried costly opportunity costs as forced Pittsburgh to redraft for the positions by picking Sean Davis in 2016 and T.J. Watt in 2017.
You can take the country from the boy, but you can’t take the boy from the country.
The part of me that was raised and reared in the US system of grading is tempted to give the Steelers 2013 Draft class a B-, “Good, but…” rating, but here in Argentina (where I’ve lived most of this century) grading is much more demanding, and so therefore I’ll give the Steelers 2013 Draft a C+.
Think Mason Rudolph can’t help the Steelers in 2018? Guess again. Photo Credit: John Raoux, AP, via PennLive
Steel Curtain Rising has already taken Ben Roethlisberger to task for his implicit attitude behind his statements on Rudolph. If you haven’t read it already, you can do so here. But there’s another bone to pick with Big Ben’s comments, a bone that’s completely objective in it comes from one of the few seemingly uncontroversial things he said:
Nothing against Mason. I think he’s a great football player. I don’t know him personally, but I’m sure he’s a great kid. I just don’t know how backing up or being a third [string] — well, who knows where he’s going to fall on the depth chart — helps us win now. [Emphasis added]
OF all of Roethlisberger’s remarks on Rudolph, his assertion in bold is likeliest to elicit a “Well, he’s got a point there” nod from even his harshest critics. Because on the surface it’s hard to dispute his logic. After all, third string quarterbacks don’t do much, even in practice, right?
Third string quarterbacks rarely earn even footnotes in football history. For most of their history, the Steelers offer no exception. When was the last time you saw a parent-child combo strutting around Heinz Field sporting Rick Strom and Brian St. Pierre jerseys on throwback weekend?
But in this case, experience trumps logic, and Ben’s own history with the Steelers shows his claim about Steelers 3rd string quarterbacks is wrong.
Think back to the Steelers 2005 season that culminated with victory in Super Bowl XL. That Super Bowl season saw the Steelers start their third string quarterback twice, as Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch started four games that season.
Ben Roethlisberger after Jacksonville loss. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review
Its almost certainly as coincidental as it is ironic but Steelers third string quarterbacks have enjoyed their moment in the sun during the Roethlisberger era.
We covered much of this ground on the eve of the 2015 season when justifying Landry Jones roster spot in the face of fans who felt he should have been cast aside in favor of Mike Vick. Let’s spell it out in Black and Gold again:
In 2005, Charlie Batch and Tommy Maddox both saw starts after holding the QB number 3 designation
In 2006, third string quarterback Dennis Dixon started against the Ravens
In 2010, Charlie Batch started games against Tampa Bay and Baltimore as the third stringer
In 2012, a Byron Leftwich injury again thrust Charlie Batch from 3rd to first as Batch started two games
In 2015, injuries and ineffectiveness of Mike Vick elevated Landry Jones from 3rd stringer to starter
Just looking at the math, during the Roethlisberger era about every third season has seen a Steelers third string quarterbacks suit up as a starter….
…And two full seasons have elapsed since that last occurred.
Past performance may not predict future results, but it would behoove Ben Roethlisberger to do what he can to get Mason Rudolph ready to play sooner rather than later.
And of course the Steelers drafted Mason Rudolph in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
So Wexell was right there but he was still wrong. In the week before the draft, Wexell wrote that the Steelers should only draft Rudolph if they felt he was deserving of a 1st round pick. Well, they did not, and drafted him in the third round.
Steelers 3rd round pick Mason Rudolph. Photo Credit: John Raoux, AP, via PennLive
Steelers offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner things that Mason Rudolph could have been a first round pick, explaining:
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and you know that some systems might fit better for certain people. I’ve liked him since the beginning, since we started evaluating him. I think that maybe if there’s any negative to his game, it might must be the ability to except and extend, but boy, you sure do see him do it a lot…. The ability to stand in the pock and make big plays on third down, be effective in situational football, the way he’s been, is very exciting.
The Steelers of course picked Rudolph one round after picking his favorite target, James Washington, in the second round. Rudolph discussed going to “the next chapter with one of your brothers, with your best receiver that you’ve spent your whole college days with, who you can potentially spend another 15 years with, that’s going to be one heck of a ride and I can’t wait to get it going.”
The story and idea of keeping a college QB-WR combo together makes for compelling copy, but there’s no assurance that the same magic can transfer from college to the pros. The Steelers made Charles Johnson, wide receiver out of Colorado their first round pick in 1994 and drafted Kordell Stewartin the 2nd round of the 1995 draft.
The Steelers have invested heavily in scouting Mason Rudolph, with Kevin Colbert in attendance at Oklahoma State’s 59-21 win over Pitt last season, which saw Rudolph lead his team to 49-7 half time lead while throwing 5 touchdown passes.
Here’s a longer look at his highlight reel:
Mason Rudolph certainly can plan at the college level.
But the Steelers drafted Mason Rudolph with a third round pick and even traded up a few slots to get him.
You generally don’t project third round draft picks as franchise quarterbacks, but third rounders are premium picks whom you do expect to develop into starters. And the Steelers have a history of turning third round picks into starting quarterbacks, as evidenced by the careers of Buddy Brister and Neil O’Donnell.
Neither man brought home One for the Thumb.
But Brister flashed potential in leading the 1989 Steelers to their near miracle turn around season, and Neil O’Donnell rallied a struggling 1995 Steelers all the way to Super Bowl XXX (where he promptly threw two boneheaded interceptions.)
One slot before the Steelers would have made their third round pick Bill Walsh took a young quarterback who’d grown up in Western Pennsylvania. His name is Joe Montana and he ended up tying Terry Bradshaw‘s then record 4 Super Bowl rings.
Not too many 3rd round quarterbacks have succeeded in following that template since then, but Joe Montana’s story shows that Mason Rudolph can do what’s being asked of him.
Just like Chad Pennington a few years earlier, I started hearing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger‘s name linked to the the Steelers as a potential first-round pick, long before the 2004 NFL Draft.
In fact, I remember waking up in the middle of the night in the fall of 2003 and hearing some random national sports talk show host discussing the prospects of Roethlisberger being Pittsburgh’s first first-round quarterback since Mark Malone in the spring of 1980.
The day the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger was a momentous one for the franchise. Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann, Getty Image via The SteelersWire
Of course, at that time, with the Steelers still in the throes of their ’03 campaign, the last thing I cared about was who they’d draft about six months down the road.
But if you remember that 2003 season, it was one you may want to forget.
Instead of remaining in the ring of Super Bowl contenders, a ring they occupied the previous two seasons, the Steelers started the year 2-6, before finishing with a 6-10 record.
The downside was the 6-10 record. The upside was a rare flirtation with a top-10 selection, as Pittsburgh would pick 11th in that spring’s annual NFL Draft.
Despite Roethlisberger’s name being linked to the Steelers for quite some time, the Miami of Ohio superstar quarterback took a backseat to NC State’s Philip Rivers, who was climbing up the draft boards fast and, thanks in-part to playing his college ball at the same school as head coach Bill Cowher, seemed the likely choice, if he were available, and the team was serious about finding its next great franchise passer.
But by the eve of the draft, River’s stock had risen so high, if he wasn’t selected first overall by the Chargers, he would be taken fourth by the Giants.
Rivers ultimately became a Charger, after initially being drafted by New York, who then made a rather bizarre draft-day trade with San Diego for the rights to Eli Manning, the most coveted quarterback prospect in the draft.
That left Roethlisberger as the only quarterback remaining of the “Big Three” prospects believed to have that truly elite talent, talent that could quickly change the fortunes of a franchise.
But there were still six teams drafting before the Steelers and, besides, other players who represented perhaps more urgent needs such as South Carolina cornerbackDunta Robinsonand Arkansas guard Shawn Andrews were also linked to Pittsburgh by many in the know.
The first round was held on Saturday back then, and like most Saturdays, I had to work.
I listened to pick after pick on the radio, and I was kind of giddy when I heard that Robinson was drafted by the Texans just one pick before Pittsburgh.
Who would the Steelers select with the 11th pick?
Would it be Roethlisberger or would the often conservative Bill Cowher go with a safer bet, such as an Andrews?
Before I could hear Pittsburgh’s decision, I was called away for something (the life of a retail manager is one where you’re lucky to enjoy one song on the radio without someone bothering you, let alone an entire draft).
When I returned moments later, I round out Roethlisberger was indeed the pick, and this excitement came over me that I don’t think I had ever experienced following a Steelers draft choice.
Even at the time, I didn’t know why I was so giddy.
After all, Tommy Maddoxhad established himself as the team’s starting quarterback not even two seasons earlier, and even after the drafting of Roethlisberger, it was mostly understood that Maddox would remain in that role for at least the ’04 campaign (and be backed up by veteran Charlie Batch), while the rookie watched and learned from the sideline.
Anyway, it was a surreal feeling, this joy over a first-round quarterback who, as far as anyone knew at the time, could have turned out to be a major bust (that is if he could even unseat the very determined Maddox).
I had no idea why I was so happy, and for reasons that had to do with my limited VHS options (this was a full year or so before I owned my first DVD player), I popped in Tough Guys, an NFL Films production released in 1989 and hosted by legendary head coach Mike Ditka.
That’s right, Fouts was actually included in this group–his story was the last one, in fact–and that was the main reason for popping this tape into my VCR.
I was just so happy the Steelers drafted a quarterback, I needed to watch highlights of quarterbacks.
In case you don’t know much about Fouts, in addition to being one of the most prolific passers of his day, he was also one of the toughest, as he stood in the pocket and took hit after hit, while delivering pass after pass.
Fouts played with many injuries during his career–including a broken nose suffered right in the middle of a game.
It was ironic that Fouts was my main inspiration for watching this tape that day, because Roethlisberger would go on to build a Hall of Fame career of his own complete with a reputation for physical toughness perhaps unmatched by any quarterback throughout NFL history.
You obviously know the story of Ben Roethlisberger–one that will hopefully continue for a few more seasons (that’s not what this article is about)–and why I was so excited about the drafting of a quarterback by a team that seemingly already had a starting quarterback in place.
There’s just no substitute for that truly elite, franchise quarterback.
As I’ve always said, it doesn’t matter where you rank the truly great quarterbacks of the present, because if your team is lucky enough to have one of them, your team is so far ahead of the game in terms of contending for Super Bowls.
The Steelers have accomplished so much since the drafting of Ben Roethlisberger 14 years ago.
The 2004 NFL Draft is one that will always have a special place in my heart, as it was the genesis of so many great memories yet to come.
Two days after firing Todd Haley, the Pittsburgh Steelers moved swiftly to promote quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner as offensive coordinator. The Steelers simply announced the new on their website, and did not make Fichtner available for questions. However, the Steelers new offensive coordinator did release this statement:
I want to thank Coach (Mike) Tomlin and Art Rooney II for giving me this opportunity to be the offensive coordinator for this organization. We have a tremendous roster, and it will be my charge to continue putting our offensive players in position to succeed and score points. We have the nucleus to be successful, and I am thrilled about the chance to lead the offense as we have already started preparing for the 2018 season.
Randy Fichtner joined the Steelers in 2007 as part of Mike Tomlin’s initial coaching staff, where he replaced Bruce Arians as wide receivers coach.
Randy Fichtner & Ben Roethlisberger prior to Steelers 2015 game vs 49ers. Photo Credit: AP Gene J. Puskar, via Yahoo.
At the time, commentators suggested that Tomlin was grooming Fitchner to replace Arians.
While Arians only lasted two more seasons as Steelers offensive coordinator, Randy Fitchner didn’t replace him. In fact, if reports are true, he wasn’t even Mike Tomlin’s first choice, which would have been running backs coach Kirby Wilson, who was unable to take the job due to burns suffered in a fire.
Randy Fichtner kept a low profile as Steelers quarterbacks coach, working in the booth on game day and rarely making statements to the press, save for the2013 NFL Draftwhen Fichtner spoke following the decision to draft Landry Jones.
However, in the middle of the 2017 season, new and strange face was seen talking to Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines during games. That was Randy Fichtner, who if reports are correct, had been brought down from the booth to serve as a “buffer” between Roethlisberger and Haley.
Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers Coaches Needed
By promoting Randy Fichtner, Mike Tomlin has created another vacancy on his staff as he now need a new quarterbacks coach and new receivers coach. Both Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch have been mentioned as possible quarterbacks coaches, while Hines Ward and Daniel M. Rooney, the son of Art Rooney II, have been suggested as wide receiving coaching candidates.
Futures Contracts and Free Agent Signings
Earlier this week the Steelers announced that cornerback Mike Hilton tight end Xavier Grimble and long-snapper Kameron Canaday, all exclusive rights free agents, have signed one year contracts to return to the team.
The Steelers also signed “futures contracts” with defensive end Lavon Hooks, linebackers Farrington Huguenin, Matt Galambos and Keith Kelsey, wide receivers Justin Thomas and Marcus Tucker, cornerback Dashaun Philips, Safety Jordan Dangerfield and tight end Jake McGee.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers are the NFL’s two most storied franchises. The latter defined winning and excellence in the 1960’s; the former defined the term “NFL Dynasty” in the 1970’s. Both franchises were fortunate to hit their respective peaks as the NFL was coming of age.
Yet, due to the conference and division realignment which followed the NFL-AFL merger, these two teams have seldom faced off of late.
The Pittsburgh Steelers history vs the Green Bay Packers is pretty one-sided affair, with the Cheeseheads holding a 22-15 edge as of 2017, but much of that lopsidedness is due the the Steelers pre-Immaculate Reception Record.
In fact, in the last 25 years, the teams have only met seven times, but those meetings have contributed much to the lore of both franchises. Either scroll down to click on the links below to relive your favorite moment in Steelers-Packers history.
Le’Veon Bell rushes for his 1st 100 yard game in the Steelers 2013 win over the Packers @ Lambeau Field. Photo Credit: Wesley Hitt, Getty Images via Zimbo
1992 – Bill Cowher Reveals His True Nature in 1st Loss
History will long remember this as Brett Favre’s first NFL start. Conversely, it was also Rod Woodson’s career worst and Bill Cowher’s first loss.
Although the words “Hall of Fame” and “Rod Woodson” were already being collocated in 1992, Woodson fell flat in almost every conceivable way possible on this day.
If you have a strong stomach for memories you’d rather forget, you can watch the game summary from NFL Prime Time.
For Steelers fans the significance of this game is in what Bill Cowher revealed about himself.
Near the end of the game Cowher approached Woodson. Rod turned away fearing a tongue lashing. Instead, Cowher consoled him, saying that “You’ve had a bad day at he office. When that happens, you don’t quit the job, you analyze what went wrong and bounce back.”
Steelers fans loved Cowher for his fire, brimstone and in your face bravado, but…
…in his first loss as a head coach, The Chin showed that he was a head coach who was smart enough to know when to kick a player in the a_s, and when to pat him on the back.
The Steelers playoff position was set, while the Packers still had something to play for. Bill Cowher benched many starters – Fred McAfee and Steve Avery were the Steelers starting backfield.
Yet this was a hard-fought, knock down drag out game. Kevin Greene hit Brett Favre so hard that he appeared to be coughing up his brains at one point. Jim McMahon did come in for a few snaps, but Favre refused to stay out long.
The Steelers second string almost pulled it off, as Yancey Thigpen dropped a sure touchdown pass as time expired.
Rookie Hines Ward on his 3rd NFL catch as LeRoy Butler closes in. Photo Credit: Rick Stewart, Getty Images via Bleacher Report
As the fourth quarter began, Pittsburgh appeared poised to make it 34-3, until Sherman decided to get cute on the goal line. Sherman thought it would be smart to revive Slash, and sent Mike Tomczak under center with Kordell lining up as a receiver. All went well, until the snap….
A bobbled exchange leads to a fumble, which Keith McKenzie returns 88 yards for a touchdown. The Packers score 17 unanswered points, but Pittsburgh holds on. Barley.
The moral of the story there is that trick plays can give an already efficient offense a lethal edge, but they can be just as lethal for a struggling unit.
2005 – Never Underestimate the Importance to Backups….
Bryant McFadden strip sacks Brett Favre, setting up a 77 yard Troy Polamalu touchdown return. Photo Credit: Steelers.com
But the star of the day is Duce Staley, who gets his first carry of the year that day, and adds a total of 14 more for 76 yards and including a long run of 17 and a touchdown. He also catches to passes for nine yards.
As Bill Cowher said the day Pittsburgh released Staley, “If we don’t have Duce, we don’t win that game. If we don’t win that game, we don’t make the playoffs, and never get to Super Bowl XL.”
The Steelers signed Duce Staley to a generous contract in 2004, and he only ended up playing 16 games over three season. But in the end, it was money well spent.
The Steelers and Packers combined for 936 yards and the lead changed hands four times in the fourth quarter as Aaron Rodgers passed for 383 yards. Ben Roethlisberger did him better, however, passing for 503 yards and in doing so only becoming only the 10th NFL signal caller to break the half-century mark.
Hines Ward and Heath Miller both broke the 100 yard mark, but the star of the game was Steelers rookie of the year Mike Wallace. Wallace bookended his game with touchdown catches. Taking his first pass for 60 yards to the end zone, and he did it again with his last pass, hauling in a 19 yard grab with 0:03 seconds remaining.
2010 – Super Bowl XLV – Steelers Must Wait for Stairway to Seven…
And that brings us to Super Bowl XVL and the Steelers ill-fated quest for Lombardi Number Seven.
The Steelers made some early mistakes and, as Mike Tomlin, ever the class act, insisted, the Packers made some tremendous plays that put the Steelers deep in a hole.
The men in Black and Gold fought back furiously and were alive until the game’s final minute. But, when the final gun sounded, the Packers simply showed themselves to be the better team and, to their credit, the Steelers acknowledged as much.
2013 – Le’Veon Bell Finds His Rushing Feet in the Snows of Lambeau Field
Le’Veon Bell rushes against Lamari Lattimore in the snows at Lambeau Field. Photo Credit: Jeffrey Phelps, AP via the Bleacher Report
Le’Veon Bell played as if he took it personally, ripping off runs for 11, 5, and 22 yards in his first four carries. By half time, Bell had 71 yards and was in route to his first 100 yard game. But Bell’s game was hardly blemish free.
The game also featured Bell’s first NFL fumble at Pittsburgh’s 2 yard line no less.
Eddie Lacy put Green Bay ahead, but Le’Veon Bell took his next carry and shot through the Packers defense for 25 yards. The fireworks were far from over at that point, as Cortez Allen intercepted Matt Flynn and took it to the house, only to see Green Bay return to tie the score after intercepting a failed Ben Roethlisberger pass to Heath Miller.
The Steelers however, regained the lead with 1:25 left to play on another Le’Veon Bell touchdown.
A monster return saw Green Bay return the ball all the way to the Pittsburgh’s 1, but penalties prevented the Packers from scoring as time ran out.
A hundred yard rusher, six changes in the lead, fumbles at the goal line and snow on Lambeau Field – as John Madden would say, “This is what the game of football is all about.”