COVID-19 is radically transforming our world. Not even the NFL is immune. Yet, Coronavirus can’t touch James Harrison’s status as the “gift that keeps on giving” to Pittsburgh Steelers bloggers.
Seriously. Just when you think there’s nothing left to add James Harrison’s story, a new chapter emerges. No disrespect to Antonio Brown, but James Harrison out does him when it comes to controversy. Heck, Harrison might give Terry Bradshaw a run for his money at this rate.
Football news has been slow during the pandemic, but Steelers Nation can count on James Harrison to speed it up. And that’s actually a real shame. For James Harrison.
James Harrison and Mike Tomlin after Steelers ’15 loss to Seahawks. Photo Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
And so it was that James Harrison went on Willie Colon’s Going Deep Podcast talking about a wide range of topics. From a journalistic standpoint, Harrison’s interview with Colon was revealing.
He reaffirmed his love for Dick LeBeau. He contrasted how players partied heavily the Bill Cowher era as compared to the atmosphere on Mike Tomlin’s watch. He left no doubt that Kevin Colbert stood shoulder to shoulder with him in 2010 when Roger Goodell unfairly scapegoated him for hits to the head. He shed light on a previously unreported clash with Bruce Arians that started when he bumped into Ben Roethlisberger.
Our knowledge about the inner workings of the Steelers of the 00’s and the ‘10’s is richer for Harrison’s chat with Colon. Then, after referencing his $75,000 fine Roger Goodell slapped on him for his legal hit of Mohamed Massaquoi he dropped this bomb:
And I ain’t gonna lie to you, when that happened, right? the G-est thing Mike Tomlin ever did, he handed me an envelope after that. I ain’t gonna say what, but he handed me an envelope after that.
Of course James Harrison was implying that Mike Tomlin was paying the fine for him. Harrison knew what he was doing would set off a firestorm. That was his intention all along.
And that’s the problem.
James Harrison Needs to Get Over Himself
Reaction has been swift to Harrison’s bomb. Art Rooney II issued an unequivocal denial. Harrison’s agent Bill Parise declared that the exchange “Never Happened.” Harrison himself partially walked back comments, clarifying that Mike Tomlin never paid him to hurt anyone.
This came after Sean Peyton suggested the Steelers should face some sort of Bountygate investigation similar to what he was subjected to.
Hum. It seems like Harrison is confronting the law of unintended consequences, doesn’t it? He wanted to poke his former coach. He wanted to make some mischief? But get him and the organization into real trouble? Not so much.
But both men moved on and ultimately reconciled with their first NFL franchise.
Rod Woodson terrorized the Houston Oilers
Whether James Harrison reconciles with the Steelers is his choice. Regardless, he would do well follow Rod Woodson’s lead. Even when blood was bad in the ‘90’s, Woodson never resorted to taking petty potshots of the kind at Harrison is taking. (Even if Woodson was on the receiving end of some of those from Tom Donahoe.)
James Harrison again insisted to Colon that he’d been promised more playing time and made no bones about mailing it in once when he didn’t get it. Even promises were made, Harrison must take responsibility for his own actions.
Yes, Harrison could still contribute in 2017. But rookie T.J. Watt was better than Harrison. Faking injuries, sleeping through meetings or going home when deactivated is no way to prove you deserve to play.
As the late Myron Cope argued, the Pittsburgh Steelers yield nothing to the rest of the NFL when it comes to its linebacking legacy.
But how James Harrison transformed himself from a practice squad bubble baby into a an NFL Defensive Player of the Year who made game a changing play in Super Bowl XLIII was always part of his mystique.
Now he’s tarnishing that mystique. James Harrison needs to get over himself and see just how petty his one-sided feud with Mike Tomlin has become.
Interestingly enough, for as strong as the starters have been, they’ve never really had much in the way of understudies of note.
That’s a bit of a contrast to inside linebacker, where Jerry Olsavsky and later Larry Foote (after his return) forged names for themselves as backups who could step in at a moment’s notice without the unit missing a beat.
Could Anthony Chickillo play that role at outside linebacker? As he reaches free agency we may soon find that out.
Anthony Chickillo recovers a blocked punt for a touchdown in the 2017 season opener at Cleveland. Photo Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA Today via BTSC
Capsule Profile of Anthony Chickillo’s Steelers Career
But Chickillo made the team playing mostly on special teams where he forced and recovered a fumble. In 2016, Anthony Chickillo started a total of 7 games, both due to injury and a rotation system, where he recorded 2.5 sacks and forced two more fumble. In 2017 Anthony Chickillo only made 2 starts, but recorded 3 more sacks. He also recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown in the season opener against Cleveland.
In 2018 didn’t make any starts as the coaches scrapped the rotation system, in part to keep T.J. Watt on the field. Yet Chickillo’s snap count remain relatively constant, as he made 1.5 sacks and recovered two more fumbles.
The Case for the Steelers Resigning Anthony Chickillo
In the age of the salary cap, depth can often be a primary difference maker.
If you think that’s just a cliché look at how the Steelers wide receiver corps struggled down the stretch in 2016 where the Steelers tried every possible combination of Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton, Sammie Coates or Demarcus Ayers and none of them could take heat off of Antonio Brown.
Anthony Chickillo isn’t going to be a prime-time starter at outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he has done everything this team has asked of him. Anthony Chickillo has delivered when called upon. He’s provides a quality backup presence who can play at both sides as well as special teams.
Those are 3 good reasons to keep Anthony Chickillo in Pittsburgh.
The Case Against the Steelers Resigning Anthony Chickillo
Outside linebacker isn’t a position of strength for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and bringing Anthony Chickillo back does nothing to change that calculus. Sure, he does well enough in spot duty, but who is to say that Ola Adeniyi and Keion Adams can’t do the same, but for less money?
The Steelers have gotten good value out of Anthony Chickillo considering his status as a 6th round pick but he’s reached his ceiling and it is time to move on.
Curtain’s Call on the Steelers and Anthony Chickillo
Well, unlike Jesse James, there are no reports of other teams rushing to sign Anthony Chickillo away from the Steelers. And that’s not a surprise.
Last year when Anthony Chickillo was a restricted free agent, staff writer Tony Defeo was of the opinion that Anthony Chickillo was perhaps worth tendering, but nothing more. Yours truly labeled him as someone who was “starter capable.”
A year later, it seems like the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Anthony Chickillo perhaps isn’t “starter capable” but he’s hardly a roster bubble baby. No, Anthony Chickillo has proven he’s ready to be a number 3 outside linebacker in the NFL, and that makes him valuable to Pittsburgh.
The Steelers should see that in him and they most likely do, and will keep in in Pittsburgh.
Judging by the title of this article, you probably think I’m going to recount all of the previous times the Steelers entered the final week or weeks of the regular season needing help from teams playing other teams in stadiums not occupied by the Steelers in-order to make the playoffs.
Sort of, but not really.
It is true that the 1989, 1993, 2005 and 2015 Steelers teams all needed help heading into the final regular season weekend, and they all got that help. But, then again, the 2000, 2009 and 2013 editions also needed other teams to be charitable, but the good will sadly wasn’t forthcoming (thank you, Ryan Succop).
Terry Bradshaw behind Mike Webster in Super Bowl XIII. Photo Credit: Al Messerschmidt
Yeah, so while many are bullish on the new Cleveland Browns and their chances of going to Baltimore this Sunday and taking out the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium (let’s not forget the Steelers have some business of their own against the Bengals at Heinz Field to take care of), Pittsburgh’s playoff chances are clearly hanging by the proverbial thread–and that is a precarious spot to be in.
Although, I will say this about the Browns: if any team is equipped mentally to perform this task, it’s them.
They’re not just some team that is used to barely finishing out of the playoffs–believe it or not, at 7-7-1, this is actually true for them. They’re likely not just another team looking forward to a tropical destination this January. They’re probably not even playing for pride–this is what veteran teams do. They’re a team full of youngsters who may actually be drunk on winning.
The Browns won a grand total of one game over the previous two seasons. These Browns are new to this whole winning thing, and I’m sure they’d like nothing more than to hold onto the feeling–even for just one more week. This is Cleveland’s Super Bowl. This is Cleveland’s chance to prove to the whole world that they’re a force to be reckoned with, both this Sunday and many future Sundays to come.
OK, that’s enough rationalizing for one article. Let’s get back to the task at hand: the 2018 Steelers need help this Sunday in-order to make the playoffs. How pathetic, right? Honest to God, this is the third time in the past six seasons Pittsburgh, despite the presences of studs like Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Cam Heyward, has AGAIN found itself in this position. How can this keep happening?
I’ll tell you how: life in the NFL. This is nothing unique to the Steelers.
In fact, most teams and most fan bases need a hand up and a handout from time to time…even the Steelers of the 1970’s, arguably the greatest football dynasty of all time.
In the middle of their run of four Super Bowl titles in a six year span, the Steelers actually needed the help of others in-order to keep their playoff streak that would eventually reach eight years straight between 1972-1979 from being interrupted.
While the nine-game winning streak to close out the 1976 regular season was legendary–the defense yielded a grand total of 28 points over that span as the team rebounded from a 1-4 start to begin the year–Pittsburgh wouldn’t have made the postseason and wouldn’t have had a chance to win a third-straight Super Bowl if the Raiders, the team’s biggest rival of the 1970’s, wouldn’t have defeated the Bengals in the penultimate game.
The Steelers were Oakland’s biggest obstacle to championship success at that time, and with an 11-1 record and nothing much to play for, it would have been easy to roll over and allow Cincinnati to seize the old AFC Central Division title. But to the Raiders credit, they took care of business, paving the way for a postseason rematch with Pittsburgh–a rematch in-which the Silver and Black came out victorious on the way to their first Lombardi trophy.
A year later, Pittsburgh entered its final regular season game needing a victory and, again, a Cincinnati loss in-order to make the playoffs. The Bengals were playing fellow AFC Central rivals, the Oilers. Unlike the Raiders a year earlier, Houston had absolutely nothing at stake and nothing to play for. A victory by the Bengals would improve their record to 9-5 and earn them a division title over Pittsburgh based on a tiebreaker.
To their credit, the Oilers took care of Cincinnati, and the Steelers were once again AFC Central Division champions and playoff bound.
You might not think it’s that big a deal that Pittsburgh almost missed the playoffs a couple of times back in the ’70’s. But, remember, the “Same Old Steelers” days of the 1960’s weren’t that far in the rear-view mirror.
Even though Dan Rooney was now running the team and not his father, owner Art Rooney Sr., the legendary lovable loser who took care of things for the better part of 40 miserable seasons, it may have been easy to panic and revert back to the old ways of doing business–for example, firing head coach Chuck Noll, who had just been sued by the Raiders George Atkinson for his “criminal element” comment, a comment that eventually led to Noll, under oath, admitting that Mel Blount and some other Steeler players were also part of that element.
You may also think I’m being a bit disingenuous with this article.
After all, only four teams made the playoffs from each conference in those days, and it was easier to miss out from time to time. True, but teams didn’t have to deal with free agency or a salary cap, either.
Point is, parity has been a part of the NFL since the days of Pete Rozelle, the legendary commissioner, and not even the Steelers of the 1970’s were immune to it.
It’s just plain hard to make the playoffs in the NFL, and even a dynasty needs some help from time to time.
Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris connected through the Immaculate Reception on December, 23rd 1972, combining to make the most spectacular play in football history.
That fateful day came precisely one week before my 4 month birthday, making me a member of Steelers Nation’s post Immaculate Reception generation.
Understanding just what that means requires knowing what came before, experiencing what followed, and appreciating the almost super natural aspect of what occurred on that day. Scroll down or click on the links below to reach each thread of the story behind the Big Bang the created Steelers Nation.
Franco Harris making the Immaculate Reception. Photo Credit: Harry Cabluck, AP
Won 6 Super Bowls, a record the Steelers set in Super Bowl XLIII and that has only been tied since
Played in 8 Super Bowls, tying for 2nd in most championship appearances
Achieved a winning record in 35 of those 46 years, again, more than anyone else
Posted an .621 winning percentage in that time – better than any other NFL team
Sent 78 players on the NFL’s All Pro Teams,
Never once did they win fewer than 5 games something that no one else in the NFL can say
These stats have been updated, but originally they came courtesy of Tim Gleason, author of From Black to Gold, whose article on the Immaculate Reception on Behind the Steel Curtain is simply one of the best articles on the Pittsburgh Steelers I have ever read.
Pittsburgh measures success in Super Bowls. Few other NFL cities can make that claim. Its often said that Steelers fans are spoiled, and to a large extent that’s true.
No other NFL franchise can match the Steelers record of success, stability and sustained since that day in December 1972.
The Pre-Immaculate Reception Steelers
The Immaculate Reception was also the Steelers first playoff victory.
That’s hard for many fans to fathom, just as it was hard for me to grasp as a child.
The morning after the Penguins ’09 Stanley Cup victory, I declared that Pittsburgh was once again the City of Champions.
In doing so, I shared memories of seeing framed copies of the Sports Illustrated cover featuring Terry Bradshaw and Willie Stargell adorning walls that overlooked barbershop counters where Iron City Steelers Championship cans were proudly displayed.
An unremarkable memory, until you consider the fact that Dino’s barbershop lay in Aspen Hill, Maryland, which sits about 10 miles from the DC border.
But to a 7 year old all of this was “normal.” Neither of my parents followed sports closely, but as a child I naturally asked them if they’d similarly been Steelers fans growing up.
“You don’t understand, the Steelers and Pirates were terrible when we were growing up,” was the response.
The Pirates did have their moments in the sun, but the Pittsburgh Steelers were a paragon to futility for 40 years. Aside from failing to win a playoff game, the pre-Immaculate Reception Steelers could “boast” of:
A single playoff appearance (a 1962 loss to Detroit)
A mere 8 winning seasons and 5 more seasons at .500
Not even allowingJohnny Unitas, perhaps the best quarterback ever to play, to throw a pass in practice before giving him his walking papers
Cutting Len Dawson, future Super Bowl Champion and NFL Hall of Famer
Trading Bill Neilson away for nothing to the arch-rival Cleveland Browns where he’d appear in two NFL Championships
Passing on future Hall of Famers Bill Schmidt and Lenny Moore opting to pick dud Gerry Glick in the later case
Stubbornly sticking to the obsolete Single Wing formatting deep into the 50’s
The pre-Immaculate Reception Pittsburgh Steelers also suffered their share of bad luck.
Legendary Pitt coach Jock Sutherland coached the Steelers two winning seasons following World War II, but unfortunately died after the 1947 season on a scouting trip. Joe Bach was also making progress towards building a winner, until health problems forced him form the game.
Then there was Gene Lipscomb aka “Big Daddy” tragic death to heroin in 1963. Former Colorado stand out Byron White led the NFL in scoring, rushing, and total offense in 1938, but decided to study for a year at Oxford and played for Detroit in 1940. (White later went on to the US Supreme Court.)
The Steelers just couldn’t seem to get a break.
The Immaculate Reception — A Franchise’s Fortunes Change
The root of many if not all of the Steelers ills for those 40 years was the simple fact that Art Rooney Sr., for as decent and honorable of a man he was, was as bad at picking coaches as he was good at handicapping horses.
Terry Bradshaw, a future Hall of Famer, came to Steelers in the next year as the number one overall pick in the 1970s NFL Draft
Jack Ham, another future NFL Hall of Famer followed in the second round of the 1971 NFL Draft
Chuck Noll entered the 1972 NFL Draft actually wanting to draft Robert Newhouse. But Art Rooney Jr. and Dan Radakvoich and prevailed on him to ignore Newhouse and instead take Penn State fullback Franco Harris.
Finally, reason intervened in the draft room and tipped the scales in the Steelers favor to another Hall of Famer.
Still, when Harris first joined the Steelers, team capital Andy Russell feared he wouldn’t make it, as Harris seemed to shy from hitting holes.
Yet, in his first exhibition game start off tackle to the left, found nothing, planted his foot, and cut back to the right, exploding for a 75 yard touchdown. After the play Noll offered his running backs coach, Dick Hoak a simple instruction:
“Dick, don’t over coach him.”
At 6’2” 220 lbs., Franco Harris was a big back for his day. Yet he was fast. He was also cerebral.
According to The Ones Who Hit the Hardest Harris once confided to NFL Films that “The art of running is being able to change and do things because what you thought would be there is not there.”
That ability served Franco Harris, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Steelers Nation extremely well on December 23rd 1972.
The Raiders and Steelers staged the first of many hard-fought battles those two teams would fight throughout the 1970’s. The score stood at 0-0 at the half, and the fourth quarter found the Steelers clinging to a 3 point lead.
John Madden benched starter Daryl Lamonica for of “The Snake” Ken Stabler. With just over a minute to play, Stabler exploited the weakness of a the Steeler Curtain without Dwight White, and ran 30 yards for a touchdown.
Art Rooney Sr. had waited 40 years to taste playoff victory, and the Chief concluded he’d have to wait one more, heading to the locker room to console his team.
The Steelers got the ball back, but only advanced to their 40 by the time 22 seconds remained. The call was “66 Circle Option Play” to Barry Pearson.
Terry Bradshaw faded back. The Raiders laid in the blitz. Bradshaw evaded. Bradshaw stepped up. Bradshaw fired a missile downfield to Frenchy Fuqua. The ball soared downfield carrying with the momentum of 40 years of losing.
As the ball reached about the 30 it slammed into a wall created by a hellacious collision between Jack Tatum and Frency Fuqua ricocheting it backwards.
And in that instant, the fortunes of the Pittsburgh Steelers changed (available as of 12/23/16):
Certainly no one diagrammed “66 Circle Option Play” to end that way.
Was it luck or did a divine hand intervene to push the ball in Franco’s direction? I’ll lean towards the later, but you decide that question for yourself.
But there was nothing super natural about Franco being in the right place at the right time.
Franco Harris role in “66 Circle Option Play” was to block the outside linebacker. He wasn’t even supposed to be downfield. But when the linebacker didn’t appear, Franco took off feeling he might contribute elsewhere.
As Chuck Noll explained, “Franco hustled on every play.”
The Immaculate Reception – The Big Bang the Created Steelers Nation
Fortune’s hand, in one form or fashion, opened the door between winning and losing for Pittsburgh, but it was Franco’s dedication and determination that drove the Steelers through it.
That confluence of forces on the banks of the Allegheny, Monongahela and the Ohio formed the Big Bang that created Steelers Nation.
And for 40 plus years the franchise has continued moving forward.
Since then more Steelers seasons have ended at the Super Bowl than have ended as losing efforts.
Since that fateful day, “Steelers” has been synonymous with success, winning, and championships for an entire generation within Steelers Nation. You can simply call us Generation Immaculate Reception.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are not splash players in free agency. Sure, the franchise used free agency to secure the services of future Hall of Famers such as Kevin Greene and fixture starters like Ryan Clark, but the Pittsburgh has never put itself into contention for the off season Lombardi.
But most Steelers free agent signing headlines are more likely to elicit a “Who?” opposed to an, “Yes! We got him!” from fans. So, from that perspective, Arthur Moats in many ways has been a typical Steelers free agent signing, which speaks well of both him and the team. And as Moats reaches free agency again, it will be interesting to see if the Steelers offer him a third contract.
Arthur Moats strip sacks Andy Dalton. Photo Credit: Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
Capsule Profile of Arthur Moats Steelers Career
Arthur Moats joined the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013 during a time of turmoil at outside linebacker.
After ending 3 straight seasons on injured reserve, the Steelers had parted ways with LaMarr Woodley. Jason Worilds had finally seemed to hit his stride, posting a good although not great year, prompting Pittsburgh to transition tag him. While Jarvis Jones rookie year had provided a mixed bag, the latest done jersey number 95 still had legitimate “upside.”
So it came as a bit of a surprise, when at the end of March, the Steelers signed Arthur Moats from the Buffalo Bills. The move to bring in Arthur Moats delivered almost immediate dividends, as Moats recorded a sack in relief of Jarvis Jones in the Steelers win over Carolina. Moats forced a critical fumble in the Steelers November win over the Ravens, and also downed Joe Flacco.
In 2015 the Steelers drafted Bud Dupree, but Bud Dupree’s arrival didn’t stop Moats from making splash plays, as he recovered a fumble on Cleveland’s first play of the game, setting up a Steelers score. For the season, Moats recorded 4 sacks and recovered two fumbles.
In 2016, Arthur Moats recorded 3.5 sacks and defensed 3 passes while splitting time with Bud Dupree, and finished the season with two sacks against the Browns in the finale. In 2107, Moats saw his playing time drop, as the rotation at outside linebacker ended. Still, he saw action n 14 games, including work at inside linebacker due to injuries to Ryan Shazier and Tyler Matakevich.
Arthur Moats name’s never going to make that least, nor should it.
But that wasn’t what Arthur Moats was brought to Pittsburgh to do. He was brought to in to be a backup, and the first role of a good backup is to provide stability when the starter is unavailable. Arthur Moats has started 24 of his 62 games in Pittsburgh, and he’s provided solid stability with splash play making ability.
Arthur Moats is just the kind of player you want in the mix behind T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo. He’s only just turning 30, and he’s not going to cost a lot of money. What’s the wait?
The Case Against the Steelers Resigning Against Arthur Moats
For better (see keeping T.J. Watt in the game) and for worse (see the James Harrison situation), the Steelers ended their outside linebacker rotation in 2017 and there’s been no indication that will change in 2018.
The Steelers have salary cap issues, and while Arthur Moats isn’t going to command serious money from any NFL team, he is someone who deserves to get paid more than the veteran minimum. Depth is nice, but the Steelers have Kion Adams coming off of injured reserve, who could grow into a Moats type role and would do so for a lot less money.
Resigning Arthur Moats would make for a quality feel-good story, but is it a luxry the Steelers can afford?
Curtain’s Call on the Steelers and Arthur Moats
We started by saying that in a lot of ways Arthur Moats is your typical Steelers free agent. His arrival was unheralded, he provided stability and depth in an understudy role and delivered convincingly when called upon.
In fact, Arthur Moats is kind of a defensive equivalent to Mewelde Moore.
When you say “Championship caliber player” you probably don’t think someone like Mewelde Moore, yet Moore was the unsung hero of the 2008 Steelers season that culminated in Super Bowl XLIII.
When it comes to winning Lombardi Number 7, Arthur Moats’ impact will never equal that of, say, Cam Heyward, but he’s shown the ability to be the “Next man up” when his number is called, and championship rosters require players who fit that role.
If the Steelers are smart, they’ll find a way to bring back Arthur Moats.
The Pittsburgh Steelers inaugural Hall of Honor Class became official last week and the selection committee chose to dive head first launching the Steelers Hall of Honor by naming 27 members to be inducted this week:
Going forward, the plan is to induct 2-4 new members to the Steelers Hall of Honor every year. The Steelers Hall of Honor 2017 Class will take their place Alumni Weekend (Nov. 25-26), and they be recognized during halftime of that weekend’s game between the Steelers and Packers.
Fair enough. It will be a spectacle to celebrate in Black and Gold. But there’s a problem with the Steelers inaugural Hall of Honor class: It is too big.
Stan Starvan, Art Rooney II, Bob Labriola & Mel Blount announce the Steelers Inaugural Hall of Honor Class. Photo credit: Steelers.com
Steelers Inaugural Hall of Honor Class Simply Too Large
As a life-long Steelers fan and armature Steelers historian, yours truly can’t quibble with any of the selections, save for Walter Kesiling, the coach who cut Johnny Unitas without some much as given him a practice snap.
But perhaps Wiesling does deserve induction, and the rest of the members certainly do.
In this light, the selection committee consisting of Art Rooney II, Joe Gordon, Bob Labriola, Stan Savran and Tony Quatrini chose to operate on the philosophy of “They’re going ot make it eventually, so why not induct them now?” Bob Labriola more or less seem to be speaking to that point, when he said the Steelers Inaugural Hall of Honor Class was more about recognition, then about competition.
Steelers linebacking legend Andy Russell. Photo Credit: Andy Russell.org
To that end, you can see the Steelers MO in selecting members from the Chuck Noll era: All of the Hall of Famers earned induction, as well as Donnie Shell,Andy Russell and L.C. Greenwood – three players whom the franchise also think are Hall of Fame worthy, but denied recognition because of the “Already too many Steelers in Canton” mentality.
But if the Steelers are going to take that approach to the Hall of Honor, then what about Larry Brown?
Larry Brown is the one player that Chuck Noll adamantly argued deserves Pro Football Hall of Fame honors, and will certainly find his way in to the Steelers Hall of Honor but was left out of the inaugural class. Ditto Rocky Bleier. Dan Rooney argued that Bleier deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and he will certainly make it to the Hall of Honor, but he will have to wait. For that matter, no one would argue that Art Rooney Sr., Dan Rooney and Chuck Noll deserve recognition in the Steelers Hall of Honor as contributors.
But why induct several of his players, while keeping Bill Cowher on the outside looking in?
By the same token, Bill Nunn Jr.Myron Cope, and Art Rooney Jr. certainly belong and will find their way into the Steelers Hall of Honor as contributors. So why not put them in now?
While this “debate” is little more than background noise for most citizens of Steelers Nation, the arguments stand on their own merits. And by taking a “recognition over competition” approach, the selection committee unwittingly opened themselves to the competition argument.
Steelers Inaugural Hall of Honor Class Should Have Taken a Rushmore Approach
So what would the alternative be? Truthfully, when you have a franchise that is as stories as the Pittsburgh Steelers and you try to launch a Hall of Honor 85 years into your existence, you’re never going to make anyone happy.
A better way to from the Steelers Inaugural Hall of Honor Class would have been to take the “Rushmore Approach.”
We know the Rushmore approach thanks to the rise of the internet, which demands you fill web pages with “content” 365 days a year, every year. (Hence, you see sites that not only debate “Steelers Rushmore” but “Steelers Assistant Coaches Rushmore” “Steelers coaches Rushmore” and probably for that matter, “Steelers backup tight ends Rushmore.”)
Here’s how Steel Curtain Rising’s Steelers Rushmore would shape up:
Ernie Stautner, to represent the Steelers pre-Chuck Noll era
Joe Greene, whose arrival effected the franchise’s pivot from perennial loser to perennial contender and frequent champion
Hines Ward, because he forms the bridge between the Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin Eras
It is far to argue that a player like Troy Polamalu, who had once in a generation talent, would be more deserving than Ward, but players need to be retired for at least 3 years before they can enter the Hall of Honor, and Polamalu doesn’t make that cut.
But Hines Ward is a franchise great by any measure, likely won’t make it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and would give the class balance between offense and defense as well as representation of all franchise eras.
And as a contributor, Art Rooney Sr. would enter as well, because there’s no way you launch a Steelers Hall of Honor without The Chief.
The selection committee, however, didn’t ask this sites opinion. They made their own choices. These men who form the Inaugural Steelers Hall of Honor class have done far more than yours truly ever would or could to build the Pittsburgh Steelers legacy, and we celebrate in their recognition for those accomplishments. But nonetheless, we suggest that the process should have been more gradual.
Like most PittsburghSteelers fans who were teenagers in the mid-to-late 80’s, I wanted my very own jersey.
Of course, the problem with that time in Steelers history, is they were pretty awful. Less than a decade after guys like Mean Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris were doing things on the turf of old Three Rivers Stadium that would forever make them immortals, Pittsburgh’s professional football roster was full of mere mortals, especially during a stretch from 1985-1988, when the Steelers went a combined 26-37 and didn’t make the playoffs once.
Still, though, I wanted my own jersey, which, as a 15-year old back in ’87, became my big Christmas present.
So, who did I pick?
Receiver Louis Lipps, the 1984 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and two-time Pro Bowler, was the obvious choice. Believe it or not, kicker Gary Anderson, by that point, also a two-time Pro Bowl player, would have been a pretty decent choice (told you the roster was filled with mere mortals in those days).
Mike Merriweather and Edmund Nelson close in on John Elway. Photo Credit: Pin Interest
But while Louis Lipps and Gary Anderson were certainly some of the very few stars for the Steelers of that era, perhaps the most shining one was outside linebacker Mike Merriweather.
A third round pick out of the University of Pacific in the 1982 NFL Draft, Mike Merriweather ascended to the top of the depth chart of Pittsburgh’s transitioning defense in 1983, starting 16 games, but only recording a half a sack.
The following season, however, Mike Merriweather would burst onto the NFL scene in a big way, as he totaled 15 sacks (a team record that stood for 24 years until fellow outside linebackerJames Harrison broke it by one in 2008 – although Kevin Greene did briefly tie the record in 1994 only to see the sack negated on a penalty) and made his first Pro Bowl.
Mike Merriweather couldn’t duplicate his ’84 sack barrage in subsequent years, recording a combined 15.5 between ’85-’87, but he still performed at a high enough level to make two more Pro Bowls. And in 1987, his first-team All Pro honor matched the ones he received in 1984 and 1985.
With those years as a backdrop, it was easy to see why I decided to go with MIke Merriweather’s No. 57 jersey for my Christmas present for the 1987 holiday season.
I enjoyed my jersey, wearing it to school once a week throughout the remainder of my freshman year.
Tenth grade was a different story. I still wore the jersey to school, but I received mocking comments such as, “Where’s your boy, Merriweather?”
Sadly, while the Steelers were enduring a 5-11 season in 1988 (their worst record since 1969), Mike Merriweather wasn’t around to help, as a contract dispute with the team led to a season-long holdout.
Since true free-agency didn’t exist in those days, Mike Merriweather didn’t have much leverage. It also didn’t help that Merriweather had a signed contract. The Steelers didn’t contract hold outs. Dan Rooney didn’t do it for Franco Harris in 1983, he didn’t do it for Hines Ward in 2005 and he wasn’t going to do it for Merriweather in 1988.
Like his counterparts of the 80’s, No. 57 Mike Merriweather’s chief sin was to merely good instead of great. Photo via: Ciudaddeacero.com
Unfortunately for players of that era like Merriweather, who was clearly capable of performing at an elite level, their only choice was to suck it up and play for whatever compensation their teams thought they deserved.
With neither side willing to budge from their position, the Steelers shipped Merriweather to the Vikings in the even of the 1989 NFL Draft in-exchange for their first round pick (24th, overall).
That pick became Tom Ricketts, an offensive tackle from the University of Pittsburgh, who only lasted three seasons with the Steelers.
Mike Merriweather never matched his prolific years in Pittsburgh, as he played a few seasons with the Vikings before finishing his career with both the Packers and Jets in 1993.Who knows what may have happened if Merriweather and the Steelers would have reached a financial agreement in ’88?
Maybe he would have stuck around long enough to be a part of Bill Cowher‘s early playoff teams of the 1990’s.
That’s a tantalizing possibility, but Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola once chided a fan who complained about the Steelers unwilingness to pay Merriweather by reminding them that his absence in 1988 allowed Chuck Noll and Tony Dungy to get Greg Lloyd on the field. And for as good as Merriweather was, Lloyd was beter.
It seems every time the Penguins experience a run of success, as they are right now–a run that includes back-to-back Stanley Cup victories, following a 2-0 victory in Nashville over the Predators Sunday night–people like to entertain the topic.
What topic am I talking about, you ask?
The idea that the Pittsburgh Penguins are about to overtake the PittsburghSteelers as the number one team in the City of Pittsburgh in terms of popularity.
On talk radio last week, Dejan Kovacevic, filling in for the popular and controversial Mark Madden, threw that thought out there and basically agreed with it.
Perhaps that’s no surprise, considering 105.9 the X is the Penguins flagship station.
At this very moment, the Penguins are the number one team in town; how could they not be?
Pittsburgh Penguin Nick Bonino hosts the Stanley Cup at the Steelers South Sid facility as Cam Heyward and others look on. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Tribune-Review
They boast some of the NHL’s and hockey’s greatest players–including Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin–and, as previously mentioned, Lord Stanley will be paraded around Pittsburgh for a second consecutive summer.
Also, with the drafting of the legendary Mario Lemieux in 1984, the Penguins forever changed the fortunes of their previously downtrodden franchise and have won a total of five Stanley Cups since the summer of 1991.
Meanwhile, the Steelers have won just two Super Bowls since 1979, the same year the Pirates claimed their last World Series title.
Over the past three-plus decades, the Penguins have gone from a laughingstock of an organization, to hockey royalty.
If you’re a Steelers fan, you obviously know the legacy that was forged in the 1970’s that was jump-started by the hiring of head coach Chuck Noll in 1969 and the drafting of defensive stalwart Mean Joe Greene almost immediately afterward.
Lynn Swann and John Stallworth sport Terrible Towels in Three Rivers Stadium during 70’s Super Bowl.
But all one needs to do is examine the TV ratings–both locally and nationally–to see that the Penguins have a ways to go before they supplant the Steelers for local sports supremacy.
As USA Today pointed out on Tuesday, NBC, the network with the rights to the NHL regular season and Stanley Cup playoffs, is doing cartwheels for the ratings the six-game final between Pittsburgh and Nashville drew.
Pittsburgh Penguins’ Ron Hainsey shoots puck past Nashville Predators goalie Juuse. Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar, AP via FanRag.com
By contrast, the most recent Super Bowl–SBLI between the Patriots and Falcons–drew a 48.8 share for Fox. That’s almost a difference of almost ten times in case you’re wondering.
OK, yes, I just pointed out that football is still king in America, and that its signature event is watched by almost half the country, while hockey’s marquee series is watched by the same amount of people who would tune in to watch a middling TV show on Friday night.
What about the local ratings for the finals?
According to NBC Sports, Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final–the clincher–drew a 40.0 rating in Pittsburgh, while the entire series drew a 32.0.
Great for Pittsburgh and great for NBC.
But when you examine some of the Steelers’ recent local regular season TV ratings, you may start to get a sense for just how popular they still are.
According to a TribLive article from January of 2014, that came on the heels of a playoff-less and 8-8 2013 season that included starts of 0-4 and 2-6, the Steelers averaged a 38.2 local rating, which was pretty much on par with what the Penguins generated in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final this past Sunday.
Le’Veon Bell breaks the Steelers playoff rushing record for a 2nd consecutive week in Steelers playoff win over Chiefs. Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat, Getty Images via Newsday
And when you examine the Steelers most-recent playoff win–an 18-16 victory over the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in the divisional round on January 15–you may wonder if NBC, the network that broadcast the game, has already contacted head coach Mike Tomlin about starring in his very own sitcom: First Down Family…Obviously.
The game averaged 37.1 viewers and was the most watched non-conference championship game playoff matchup in NFL history.
Sure, the game was moved into primetime due to weather concerns in Kansas City, but it doesn’t lessen the impact the Steelers and the NFL have on the country and the City of Pittsburgh.
So, what am I saying?
Yes, the Penguins are the hot team in town right now, and probably will be for quite some time.
The organization did a great job years ago by marketing the team to young fans–don’t know how many young millennials are huge Penguins fans.
However, while Pittsburgh started to develop a bit of a hockey culture after the Penguins drafted Mario Lemieux 33 years ago, it was almost as if the Pittsburgh of pre-1970, with its blue-collar work-ethic, was a football town waiting for a team to embrace.
The Pittsburgh Steelers became that team in the early-1970’s, and it appears as if no one–not even the five-time Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins–will knock them off the top perch anytime soon.
he end of the 2017 NFL Draft in Pittsburgh saw the Steelers draft Keion Adams, outside linebacker from Western Michigan in a pick that saw immediate comparisons to Arthur Moats.
For the record, the Steelers 2017 7th round pick stands at 6’2” and weighs in at 245 and led the MAC conference with 17 tackles for a loss and posted 13 sacks over two seasons as a starter.
Steelers 7th round pick Keion Adams closes in on Central Michigan’s Cooper Rush. Photo Credit: Bryan Bennett, Kalamazoo Gazette
If you were to play a quick game of word association with a citizen of Steelers Nation and said “Keion Adams” the likely response would be “practice squad.” And landing on the Steelers practice squad wouldn’t be a bad outcome for a 7th round pick.
But Steelers history suggests that Keion Adams quest to make the final 53 man roster is far from hopeless.
Suffice to say, Keion Adams certainly shouldn’t commit himself to a long-term lease anywhere in greater Pittsburgh.
And like seemingly every NFL draft hopful, Keion Adams has a YouTube highlight clip:
Ok… That highlight clip doesn’t exactly conjure memories of Lambert and Lloyd. Fair enough. But Carlos Emmons was in Keion Adam’s shoes once before, and his story gives the Steelers 2017 7th round pick every reason to chin up.
Carlos Emmons and the Steelers 1996 Draft Class
Future Hall of Famer Kevin Greene departed Pittsburgh following the Steelers loss in Super Bowl XXX. But one of the reasons why the Steelers were ready to let Greene go was because Jason Gildon was ready to start.
20/20 hindsight tells us that Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe made a mistake in letting the great Greene go in favor of the merely good Gildon.
But that fact wasn’t apparent on the fields of St. Vincents in the summer of 1996 and even if it had been, it would have meant nothing to Carlos Emmons, the outside linebacker that the Steelers had drafted in the 7th round of the 1996 NFL Draft.
Steelers 1996 7th Round Pick Carlos Emmons’s story offers 2017 7th rounder hope Keion Adams. Photo Credit: Getty Images, via Rantsports.com
Mind you, as Super Bowl losers the Steelers were drafting 2nd to last in each round. That made Carlos Emmons the 242nd player drafted out of 254 names called during the 1996 NFL Draft. As if those odds weren’t daunting enough, in addition to Gildon, the Steelers had just resigned Greg Lloyd and had drafted Steve Conley in the third round.
They also had Eric Ravotti who could play on both the inside and outside and, while Chad Brown was a fixture at inside linebacker, the team knew he should shift to the outside should the need arise (as it did, when injuries felled Greg Lloyd in the season opener.)
Clearly, 1996 did not figure to be a good year to be a linebacker drafted by the Steelers in the 7th round.
As you’d expect, Carlos Emmons wasn’t a player most fans were eager to get a look at once preseason started. But during the Steelers America Bowl game in Tokyo, Emmons made the most of his time and recorded a sack late in the 4th quarter.
Carlos Emmons tackles a Kansas City Chief. Photo Credit: Post-Gazette, Peter Diana
Dick LeBeau and Bill Cowher continued to give Emmons opportunities in preseason and, if memory serves, he led the team in sacks during that five exhibition game series. When cut down day came the Steelers had a quandary. Their linebackers all looked good.
So the Steelers did the unconventional thing, and kept 10 linebackers on their 1996 opening day active roster.
Seven of those linebacker dressed for the Steelers 1996 home opener at Jacksonville, and by the end of the game only 4 of them were in uniform. Greg Lloyd tore his patella tendon, Jason Gildon suffered a knee injury, and so did Steven Conley.
Carlos Emmons had been in street clothes for the season opener, but he played in all 15 of the Steelers other games, and by the end of 1997 he was starting in after Greg Lloyd’s season ended injury. Emmons would go on to start during 1998 and 1999 before leaving for Philadelphia as a free agent, where he played for four years and then went on to play 3 more in for the Giants.
To be clear, when you talk about the Steelers lineage at outside linebacker you typically start by rattling off the name of Jack Ham, and perhaps you throw in Bryan Hinkle before getting to Lloyd, Greene, Gildon, Joey Porter, Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.
You neverstop to mention the name “Carlos Emmons.”
But that’s beside the point. In the spring and summer of 1996, Carlos Emmons looked like a throwaway pick 7th round picks, just as many pundits have already written Keion Adams as a throwaway 7th round picks.
But Emmons never looked at himself that way, nor did the Steelers. He never blossomed into a star, but had a decent run in Pittsburgh, and overall had a decent NFL career. Fortunately for Kion Adams, Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler and Joey Porter will have him a chance to do the same.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers welcome the Miami Dolphins to Heinz Field for the AFC Wild Card game Mike Tomlin’s team will be looking to even the Steelers playoff history vs the Miami Dolphins.
The Steelers and the Dolphins have clashed in the playoffs on three prior occasions, with the Steelers holding a 1-3 record.
The first time came at Three Rivers Stadium on New Year’s Eve 1972, in the AFC Championship game a week after the Immaculate Reception. The Super Steelers would clash in the post-season with Don Shula’s Dolphins again before they ended their run in the 1979 AFC Divisional Playoff game. And the final time Chuck Noll would face his mentor Don Shula in the playoffs came at the Orange Bowl in January 1985 in another AFC Championship match up.
Neither Steelers-Dolphins AFC Championship game resulted in a trip to the Super Bowl for Pittsburgh, but the Black and Gold’s luck in the AFC Divisional round was markedly better. Now we’ll take a look at all three, plus a peek at Mike Tomlin’s record vs. the Dolphins.
Given that I was only a few months old when during the first Steelers-Dolphins 1972 AFC Championship gameFrom Black to Gold author Tim Gleason surprised me when he listed this game as the biggest playoff disappointment in Steelers history.
After all, isn’t the Steelers 1994 AFC Championship loss to the Chargers Steelers Nation’s biggest post-season heartbreak?
While the Alfred Pupunu game certainly ranks, Gleason makes a compelling case for the Steelers 1972 New Year’s eve loss to the Dolphins. But Gleason argues that Don Shula’s famous 1972 undefeated Dolphins squad was in fact rather beatable, benefiting from the third easiest regular season schedule in NFL history that only had them play one winning team.
Dolphins punter Larry Seiple caught the Steelers flat footed on a 37-yard fake punt scramble
Bob Griese came off the bench to hit Paul Warfield at Andy Russell’s expense to gouge the Steelers for 52 yards
A blocked 4th quarter field goal prevented the Steelers from narrowing the score early in the 4th quarter
Terry Bradshaw had left the game in the first half with a concussion, but Terry Hanratty was unable to move the offense. Bradshaw returned, pulled the Steelers to within a touchdown with a 12 yard pass to Al Young. However, Bradshaw would throw interceptions on the next two drives ending Pittsburgh’s comeback hopes.
Not only did this game blunt the euphoria the Immaculate Reception had created a week earlier, but it also coincided with the tragic death of Roberto Clemente, who was probably the best baseball player in Pittsburgh’s history.
Legendary Pittsburgh Post-Gazette scribe Vito Stellino likened this one to Michaelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel. And why not? The Pittsburgh Steelers ran up a 20-0 score before Miami had even run its 8th play from scrimmage. As the first quarter reached its end, Miami had 2 yards of total offense; Pittsburgh had amassed 180.
Even a bad call couldn’t disrupt the Steelers on that day.
In the third quarter the officials ruled that Dwayne Woodruff had touched a punt, when in fact replays showed he had not. The Dolphins recovered at the Steelers 11-yard line and scored their first touchdown of the day.
Dwayne Woodruff and Mel Blount close in on Tony Nathan in the 1979 AFC Divisional Playoff. Photo Credit: miamidolphins.com
Not that it mattered. Terry Bradshaw immediately led them on a 69 yard drive that ended in a Rocky Bleier touchdown. Franco Harris opened the 4th quarter by scoring another touchdown. Miami answered with a touchdown of its own, but it was too little too late.
Jack Lambert, Joe Greene and Gary Dunn combined for 3 sacks on Bob Grisie while Woodruff and Dirt Winston intercepted him twice. After Super Bowl XIII Chuck Noll boldly proclaimed that “this team hasn’t peeked yet.”
The Steelers 1979 Divisional playoff win over the Dolphins proved that the Emperor had been right.
As EVERYONE knows Chuck Noll decided to draft Gabe Rivera instead of Dan Marino in the 1983 NFL Draft and his decision forced Pittsburgh to wait 20 years until it drafted its next Franchise Quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.
But when the Steelers took to the field against the Dolphins in the 1984 AFC Championship, it seemed like that decision might not matter…. Seriously.
A year earlier, the 1983 Steelers had limped into the playoffs on the final throws remaining in Terry Bradshaw’s arm only to have the Los Angeles Raiders man handle them 38-10. Logic dictated that “Decline” would define the 1984 Steelers. Chuck Noll had other ideas.
The 1984 Steelers might have only earned a 9-7 record, but they upset Bill Walsh’s 49ers and the defending Super Bowl Champion Raiders along the way.
Dan Marino shreds Steelers in the 1984 AFC Championship game. Photo Credit: miamiolphins.com
The Steelers intended to use the same game plan that had seen them through to wins over the 49ers and Broncos – dominate at the line of scrimmage, control the clock and blitz the living daylights out of the quarterback.
To make matters worse, the Steelers couldn’t protect the ball, and the Dolphins capitalized.
Dan Marino had time to torch the Steelers defense for touchdown passes of 40, 41 and 26 yards. For much of the first half however, the Steelers feigned that they could match the Dolphins score for score. But Malone had opened the first half giving up an interception that allowed Miami to score first, and he closed the first half with another allowing Marino to stitch together a 3-play drive that gave them a 24-14 halftime lead.
The Dolphins scored 3 more touchdowns during the second half as the Steelers defense was powerless to slow, let alone stop the Miami juggernaut. In his final playoff game, John Stallworth had 4 catches for 111 yards including a 65 yard touchdown catch giving him league records for post season touchdown receptions and hundred yard games.
Although it has been a long time since the Steelers and Dolphins have faced off in the playoffs, Mike Tomlin is no stranger to Miami, holding a 3-2 record against the Dolphins.
In 2007, the Steelers and Dolphins met on a soggy, rainy Heinz Field during Mike Tomlin’s first year as coach where the Steelers eked out a 0-3 win. The 2009 Steelers closed out their disappointing season with a 30-24 win over Miami that was pleasant, but insufficient to get them into the playoffs. In 2010, the Steelers won a 23-22 contest with controversial swirling over whether a fumble had been a fumble.
Mike Tomlin has had a tougher time against Miami during the rebuild following Super Bowl XLV.