Living up to the Steelers’ rich history of outside linebackers is not easy.
Just ask Jason Gildon. When he left Pittsburgh following the 2003 season, he did so as the organization’s all-time leader in sacks with 77. Yet, when fans talk about Steelers’ legends at the position, Gildon’s name is rarely mentioned.
- Sure, Gildon’s name might eventually come up when it comes to retired greats.
Still, it would almost surely be an afterthought after fans rattle off names like Jack Ham, Andy Russell, Mike Merriweather, Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Joey Porter, LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison, the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year who eclipsed Gildon’s mark during his storied Steelers career.
- If you thought being Jason Gildon was tough, try being the guy who replaced him.
I’m talking about Clark Haggans, a fifth-round pick out of Colorado State in the 2000 NFL Draft.
Not only was Haggans a mid-round pick from Colorado’s second-most famous college football team, but he wasn’t even the most well-known alumni from that team — at least among Steelers players. For that matter, Haggans wasn’t even the most famous Steelers outside linebacker from Colorado State. Porter, a third-round pick in 1999, would quickly earn that distinction after becoming a full-time starter during the Steelers 2000 season and recording 10.5 quarterback sacks.
It’s a pity, too, because if you do a little digging into Colorado State’s history, you’ll learn that Haggans, not Peezy, is the school’s all-time leader in sacks with 33.
Back to Haggans’s Steelers career.
While Porter was quickly establishing himself as one of the best young outside linebackers in the NFL in the early-2000s, Haggans had to bide his time as a backup and special teams player.
- It was as a reserve in 2002 when Clark Haggans had a bit of a breakout year and recorded 6.5 sacks.
This was Gildon’s penultimate season in Pittsburgh and perhaps paved the way for Haggans to ultimately succeed him as the starter on the strong side.
- Haggans finally became the man on the left side in 2004. He would go on to start 13 games and tally six sacks.
Haggans’s best season came in 2005 when he posted nine quarterback sacks for the Super Bowl-bound Steelers. Haggans notched another 1.5 sacks in the postseason, including a takedown of Matt Hasselbeck forcing the Seahawks to punt on the first possession of Super Bowl XL.
But while that sack was huge, the holding penalty Haggans drew on tackle Sean Locklear early in the fourth quarter was bigger. Pittsburgh led, 14-10, but the Seahawks were driving and looked to have a first and goal after a pass from Hasselback to tight end Jerramy Stevens. Unfortunately for Seattle, Locklear, who was beaten badly by Haggans, was called for the controversial infraction. While that penalty will always be controversial in the eyes of Seahawks fans (Haggans may have also been offsides on the play — others will differ), there is no doubt it altered the course of the game.
- Ike Taylor intercepted Hasselbeck moments later, and the rest is history.
Haggans started 61 games during his Steelers career and recorded 32.5 sacks. He departed following the 2007 campaign, as the Steelers made room for LaMarr Woodley, the next to carve his name into the Steelers’ history book of notable-to-great outside linebackers.
After playing four years in Arizona where he recorded 14 more sacks, Haggans finished his career with the NFC Champion 49ers in 2012 — his final game was a loss to the Ravens in Super Bowl LVII.
Clark Haggans, who tragically passed away on Tuesday, June 20th at the age of 46, will likely rarely be mentioned when fans talk about the Steelers’ rich history at outside linebacker.
But it’s certainly not an easy history to live up to, and it’s much easier to be an afterthought than someone who sticks around and carves out a nice little niche for himself at the position.
- Clark Haggans may not have been a Steelers’ legend at outside linebacker, but he was far from an afterthought.
RIP to a man who did the position proud for the Steelers organization.