Shoring Up Secondary, Steelers Sign Ross Cockrell to 1 Year Contract

Pittsburgh took its first step towards shoring up its secondary in a move that saw the Steelers sign Ross Cockrell to a one year contract. Cornerback Ross Cockrell was one of the Steelers exclusive rights free agents, meaning he couldn’t negotiate with any other team, but the Steelers still needed to make him an offer.

If the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers had one unquestionable weakness, it was in their secondary. For starters, the 2015 Steelers fielded an accidental secondary, as no one, save for Mike Mitchell, played in the role envisioned for him when he was acquired.

That might seem like a tautology but the Steelers secondaries from 2011-2013 were far from dominant, but played better without much of a pass rush to speak of. While Ross Cockrell might not be close to being a “shutdown corner,” bringing him back to Pittsburgh is a smart move.

Ross Cockrell 2015 Retrospective

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin turned a lot of heads when the Steelers claimed Ross Cockrell off of waivers after the first wave of mandatory cuts. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo saw the move as sufficiently puzzling enough to question whether the Steelers coaches and scouting teams were not on the same page, much as they had been over offensive line in general and Max Starks in particular in 2007 and 2008.

  • While not speaking directly to Ray Fittipaldo’s point, Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola boosted the level of debate on the subject.

Responding to a reader’s question, Labriola cited legendary Steelers scout Bill Nunn, who instructed younger scouts not to put too much faith into the performance of defensive backs on other teams, because you had no way of knowing what those DB’s had been instructed to do.

  • Enter Ross Cockrell, the 2014 4th rounder that Rex Ryan and company couldn’t wait to get rid of.

As a wavier wire pickups go, Ross Cockrell’s 2015 season alone makes him a success. Per the Steelers rendering, Cockrell started 7 games and suited up for 15, the only game he missed was the season opener at New England. While Ross Cockrell’s 2015 performance doesn’t project him as another Rod Woodson or Mel Blount, he did give the Steelers secondary something it sorely needed – turnovers.

The fumble recover shows some particularly good concentration and execution (available as of 1/23/16 — watch it now before Roger Goodell’s You Tube police have it taken down):

And without question, Cockrell’s most important play of the year came in the Steelers playoff win over the Bengals. It took Jarvis Jones to stop Jeremy Hill, Ryan Shazier to strip the ball and Ross Cockrell to recover it.

The Steelers secondary needs help. Ross Cockrell might not be “The Answer” to the Steelers defensive backfield woes, but he is certainly part of the equation.

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15 Key Dates that Defined the Steelers 2015 Calendar Year

Regardless of whether the Pittsburgh Steelers, with a little help from Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills, can salvage their 2015 Season, the year 2015 will always be bookended by twin losses to the arch rival Baltimore Ravens.

Here are 15 moments that defined the Steelers 2015 calendar year

1 – January 5th 2015 – Ravens Bounce Steelers from Playoffs

No this isn’t important because the Ravens got their Heinz Field monkey off their back, it is important in how they did it. Joe Flacco exposed the Steelers corners, and the Steelers were surprisingly unable to generate any pass rush – twin themes who would go hand-in-hand throughout 2015

2 – January 10, 2015 – Dick LeBeau “Resigns”

In a move that shocked both Steelers Nation and LeBeau himself, Mike Tomlin informs LeBeau that he will not be back in 2015. LeBeau is allowed to “resign.” Later, rumors that Keith Butler’s impending departure more or less forced Tomlin to make a decision are confirmed. Regardless of the wisdom of the move, LeBeau’s legacy of excellence remains intact.

3 – March 9th 2015 – Steelers release Brett Keisel

Although Brett Keisel played extremely well for the Steelers in 2014, his injury vs. New Orleans apparently sealed his fate. Brett Keisel’s release ends an era on defensive line for the Steelers, one that started in September 2000 when Aaron Smith broke the starting lineup.

4 – March 11th 2015 – Jason Worilds Retires

All season long, the question of whether the Steelers would or should resign Jason Worilds and whether they should resign him dominates the debate in Steelers Nation. Worilds takes the decision out of Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s hands, by announcing his retirement lieu of a contract with potentially 8 figures worth of guaranteed money.

5 – March 15th 2015 – Steelers Resign Ben Roethlisberger and Sign DeAngelo Williams

When the Steelers resign Ben Roethlisberger to a contract, they also sign a free agent backup running back . That’s the way it worked in 2008 (Mewelde Moore was the free agent in 2008, for those of you taking notes), and that’s the way it worked in 2015. The decision to extend Ben Roethlisberger’s contract was almost pro forma, but more ignorant parties in the press and Steelers Nation kept suggesting the deal would not get done.

At the same time it looks like the Steelers are simply taking out an insurance policy, and a risky one at that given DeAngelo Williams age, as Le’Veon Bell is slated to make a full recovery. As it turns out, suspensions and injuries ruin Bell’s 2015 season, and DeAngelo Williams performs above almost everyone’s wildest expectations.

6 – March 22nd 2015 – Steelers Resign James Harrison

Deciding the James Harrison most certainly has something left in the tank and not wanting to see him finish out his days as a Tennessee Titan, the Steelers bring back James Harrison, both for the value he will offer on and off the field.

7 – April 10th, 2015 – Troy Polamalu Retires

This move is not quite a surprise as all accounts indicate that Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert and Keith Butler want Polamalu to retire. Still, the Steelers do not want to cut him and see a repeat of Franco Harris in Seattle.

Moreover, the fact that they resign Will Allen the next day shows that either Art Rooney II or perhaps Dan Rooney left the door ajar for Polmalu’s return in 2015. Troy Polamlau takes umbrage to being pushed out, but the Steelers legend’s decision to retire allows him to go out quietly, on his own terms.

8 – July 23rd & 25th 2015 – Steelers Extend Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert Contracts

To the disappointment of many in Steelers Nation, Art Rooney II decides to extend the contracts of both head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert, quashing any speculation about whether the two men will enter 2015 on the hot seat.

9 – August 10th, 2015 – Jerome Bettis Enters Hall of Fame

After several years of frustration, legendary Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis takes his rightful place in Canton, Ohio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the face of the Steelers franchise. Bettis is the first Steeler of the second Super Bowl era to enter the Hall of Fame.

10 – September 10th 2015 – Missed Opportunities Cost Steelers vs. Patriots

Beyond headsetgate, the Steelers defensive struggles to stop Tom Brady, but the team is surprisingly competitive in a 28-21 loss to the Patriots. Although the Steelers last touchdown is of the garbage time variety, the Steelers did miss two field goals, which teases that the Steelers could have been competitive against the defending Super Bowl Champions.

11 – October 3rd 2015 – Steelers Lose in OT to Ravens

A shaky performance by Michael Vick (and that’s being generous) and two missed field goals by Josh Scobee cost the Steelers an overtime decision to the Baltimore Ravens. Not only do the Steelers lose their first AFC North game, but it also gives them another AFC loss. These twin realities will haunt the Steelers later.

12 – October 19th 2015 – Landry Jones Leads Steelers Over Cardinals

Never in the history of Steelers football has the third string quarterback position aroused so much passion in Steelers Nation has it has with the case of Landry Jones.

Even after a strong preseason in 2015, fans continued to question Landry Jones roster spot. The idea of “Landry Jones to the Rescue” was laughable to many. Yet Jones came off the bench to help the Steelers beat the Cardinals after an injury to Michael Vick.

13 – November 1st, 2015 – Steelers Lose to Bengals

The loss drops the Steelers to 4-4 and costs the Steelers the services of Le’Veon Bell to an MCL tear. It’s also the first game in which Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Bell play together. The Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 offense power quartet’s total time on the field together last just over 1 quarter….

14 – November 5th 2015 – Cortez Allen’s Goes on IR

Really, Cortez Allen going on IR this is a culmination of a series of disappointing events, from Senquez Golson’s season-ending surgery to Shamarko Thomas’ benching to the acquisitions of Ross Cockrell and Brandon Boykin showing that essentially nothing has gone according to plan in the Steelers secondary in 2015.

15 – December 27th 2015 – Steelers lose to Ravens

With a clear shot at the playoffs, against a 4-10 team playing its backup quarterback, another Mike Tomlin team gets tripped up by a trap game.

And that’s the way it was for the Pittsburgh Steelers year two thousand fifteen. What will 2016 bring? Mike Tomlin and the Steelers will begin answering that on Sunday vs. the Cleveland Browns on the shores of Lake Eire.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for Raiders Win @ Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who wonders how long his absentee list can grow before classroom performance takes a permanent hit, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the win over the Oakland Raiders at Heinz Field.

Quarterbacksteelers, report card, grades, Raiders
During the early portions of the game, Ben Roethlisberger looked to be misfiring almost as badly has he had done during the Bengals game, although he got little help from receivers not named “Brown.” He did however get a LOT of help from Brown, and when he left the field injured the Steelers were holding on to a 14 point lead in the 4th quarter. Landry Jones entered the game late and helped the Steelers regain the lead. Grade: B+

Running Back
32 year old running backs are not supposed to look this good. They’re not supposed to be threats to go the length of the field. They’re not supposed to get tough yards when the opponent knows a run is coming. Fortunately, no one told DeAngelo Williams that, as he ran for 170 yards against the NFL’s number 2 rushing defense. Jordan Todman ran for once for 3 yards. Grade: A

Wide Receivers
It was the best of times it was the worst of times. The Steelers wide receiving corps struggled early, with key drops from Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Bryant of course redeemed himself with a late touchdown run, but the other recievers were non-factors….

…Then there was Antonio Brown. Antonio Brown broke’ both Courtney Hawkins record of 14 receptions and Plaxico Burress’s 253 yards. For those of you keeping notes at home, Brown also ran for 22 yards. For as impressive as Brown was, his totals would have been higher had Roethilsberger been more on target early in the game.

The Pittsburgh Steelers report card grades on results and the Brown’s performance brings up the grade for the rest of the group considerably.  Grade: A-

Tight Ends
Heath Miller only caught 3 passes on 3 targets but helped in the run blocking game. As did Jesse James, who made his NFL debut with one touchdown catch and another block of not one, but two players to spring Martavis Bryant into the end zone. Grade: B

Offensive Line
The Steelers offensive line kept Ben Roethlisberger relatively upright, his injury not withstanding. And the managed to open up some pretty impressive holes for DeAngelo Williams against a defense that does not give up much against the run. Grade: B

Defensive Line
For the first game in recent memory the Steelers failed to pressure the passer AND gave up a lot of yardage on the ground. Although the Steelers did clamp down the Raiders rushing lanes, the Raiders had games of 12, 19, and 44 yards on the grounds. That’s way too many. Cameron Heyward led the unit with one tackle, while Stephon Tuitt was less effective with 3 tackles. Grade: D

The Raiders game was hardly a banner day for the Steelers linebackers, as the unit failed to get in David Carr’s face, and also must shoulder responsibility for Raiders early success rushing the ball. Ryan Shazier led the group with seven tackles, followed by Lawrence Timmons who had 5, with James Harrison, recording two, while Jarvis Jones and Vince Williams clocked in at 1 a piece. Grade: C-

Antown Blake led the team in tackles and has taken a lot of heat for his role in pass coverage, but he only gave up 74 yards in reception by one count. He also forced the first fumble, which he kicked out of bounds. argely because he was unable to cover Armani Cooper. Will Allen quietly defensed 3 passes in his return. Michael Mitchell forced the game’s first turnover with a devastating hit on Latavius Murray while Ross Cockrell made another end zone interception. The Steelers secondary gave up a lot of yards and a 4th quarter lead. However, their hard hitting helped set the tone for the day. Grade: C

Special Teams
Once the NFL’s trading deadline passed, the Steelers ended their Dri Archer experiment in favor of bringing in veteran Jacoby Jones. Jones fared worse than Archer as a kick returner, and was a non-factor as a punt returner. Which is better than Antonio Brown, who fumbled away a punt with the game on the line.

Chris Boswell missed a field goal, but made two more, including the game winner. Bud Dupree blocked a punt although the Steelers were not able to take advantage, the Steelers did however take advantage of the fumble that Roosevelt Nix forced.

Like it was for the rest of the team, it was an up and down day for the Steelers special teams. Grade: C+

Never let it be said that Todd Haley keeps Ben Roethlisberger from connecting with Antonio Brown. Credit Haley for devising a game plan that allowed the Steelers to rush for close to 200 yards against one of the NFL’s stingiest run defenses.

The Steelers are 9 games into the season and Keith Butler’s defense has generally exceeded expectations. However, they struggled at times first the Raiders and allowed a 14 point 4th quarter lead to evaporate. Credit Butler with make the necessary adjustment to shut down the Raiders running game, but he was never able to get pressure on David Carr and, as a consequence, the Raiders almost-comeback looked easy.

Since the day he arrived in Pittsburgh, Mike Tomlin has vowed that injuries will not be an excuse. After the game reporters gave him a chance to feel sorry for himself again. Tomlin minced no words:

Injuries are as much a part of the game of football as blocking and tackling. It’s unfortunate, we don’t like it, but we embrace the challenge that comes with it. We’re not looking for excuses.

The Steelers lost Ben Roethlisberger yet again, but didn’t bat and eye and closed out the game with a win. It’s very easy to say the words, but Mike Tomlin has his team living them. Grade: B-

Unsung Hero Award
It is often said that “Sometimes the ball just bounces your way.” And that’s true. But a loose ball is an opportunity and players who are both attentive and hustle can ensure that they bounce the way of the ball. The Steelers margin of victory over the Raiders was very narrow, and they needed all three of fumble recoveries they secured, and that’s why Jarvis Jones, Anthony Chickillo and Vince Williams are the Unsung Heroes for the Steelers win over the Raiders at Heinz Field.

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Resilient Steelers Defeat Raiders 38-35 at Heinz Field

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders boast the NFL’s best extra-divisional rivalry. The two teams set the Gold standard for competitive contests in the 70’s and any matchup between the two teams commands instant respect.

  • This time, however, things were a little different.

For the first time in recent memory, the Steelers and Raiders played a game in which something was at stake. The Steelers entered the game 4-4 trying to get above .500, while the Raiders looked to strengthen their 4-3 record.

For the second time in two weeks, the Steelers found themselves turning over the ball late in the game AND picking off would be touchdowns in the end zone. The fact that the days saw the Steelers defeat the Raiders 28-25 to prevail this week reveals something important about the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Steelers and Raiders Fight It Out at Heinz Field

This was a Steelers-Raiders contest worthy of the series lore. Both teams came to ready to rumble when the game hung in the balance, but both teams also found ways to stumble at critical times. Neither team yielded any quarter, just as neither team lacked for hard hits.

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin often says as little as possible in his post-game comments, but today he could not have been more accurate:

Great fight. We were able to finish one and get a hard-fought victory. Contributions in all three phases, but also lacked execution at times in all phases. We’re not perfect, but good enough to win today and that’s what’s important.

Extreme highs and almost as equally extreme lows characterized this edition of Steelers vs. the Raiders. On the positive side you had:

Those plays were all impressive, yet, they must be balanced by acknowledgement of some costly miscues.

  • Ben Roethlisberger, misfiring early and often
  • Martavis Bryant again looking like he toked up before the game
  • Antonio Brown fumbling a punt with the game on the line
  • A pass rush that touched Derek Carr just once

As Mike Tomlin is wont to say, the Steelers don’t add style points when they win, nor do they count moral victories when they lose. The big plays by the Steelers leaders were necessary for victory, but they were in effect canceled out by the slipups mentioned above.

Two key factors tipped the balance in the Steelers favor.

Praising the Steelers “Non-Highlight” Reel Plays vs. the Raiders

Football is the ultimate team game and the Steelers win over the Raiders offers a revealing example of why. The Williamses, the Browns, the Mitchells and the Cockrells will justly win accolades for coming up big when it counted.

  • But we must add other names alongside their names to give credit where credit is due.

We can start with Jarvis Jones, Vince Williams, and Anthony Chickillo. Each of these men were recovered fumbles and they succeeded in doing that because they played focused football until the whistle. Add Roosevelt Nix to the list for forcing one of those fumbles. Turnovers have been in short supply in Pittsburgh for the past several season, but this year the Steelers are reversing that trend and winning games because of it.

Antwon Blake also deserves credit. He, along with the rest of the secondary, began dishing out hard hits early in the game. By the second quarter it became clear that the Raiders were having ball security issues, and eventually the men in Silver and Black started putting it on the ground.

The offensive line played in relative anonymity vs. the Raiders, yet they kept Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones relatively clean, and more importantly opened up holes for DeAngelo Williams against a stingy Raiders defense.

The Steelers beat the Raiders because a lot of players made plays that will never see the light of an ESPN highlight reel, but Steel Curtain Rising enthusatically recognizes their contributions here. Nonetheless, their efforts would have all been for naught had it not been for one other characteristic.

Resiliency Fuels Steelers Over Raiders

Even the greatest athletes make mistakes. Runners trip. Divers miss their marks. Goalies misjudge penalty kicks. NFL wide receivers drop passes, star quarterbacks over throw their targets, and even the surest handed return men muff punts.

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers saw those kinds of mistakes from three of its biggest stars on offense.

But they prevailed vs. the Raiders because each man picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, buckled their chin straps and went back to work.

And so it was that:

  • Ben Roethlisberger misfired badly many times in the first half, but rebounded to throw two touchdown passes
  • Landry Jones played poorly in his first start vs. Kansas City, but came out to close the game with confidence
  • Martavis Bryant had several bone-headed drops, but caught one at the end, and willed himself into the end zone
  • Antonio Brown fumbled the ball away on a punt, but atoned on a spectacular 57 yard pass on third down

That resiliency is what fueled the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Oakland Raiders on this autumn day at Heinz Field. However else they finish the 2015 season, let it be said that if you knock this group of Pittsburgh Steelers down, they WILL pull themselves back up.

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Vote Steelers Game Ball Winners for Pittsburgh’s Victory over Oakland

The time has arrived. The Pittsburgh Steelers willed themselves to a 38-35 victory over the Oakland Raiders at Heinz Field in a back and forth game that saw many Steelers step up but, at the same time, saw Pittsburgh stumble badly at times.

As always, you, citizens of Steelers Nation, get to vote Steelers game ball winners for the Pittsburgh’s win over their historic rivals.

steelers, raiders, game balls, 2015

As in week’s past, there is no shortage of Steelers game ball winner candidates. Ben Roethlisberger earns a nod. Although it was hardly Ben Roethlisberger’s best game, he did throw for 2 touchdowns and three hundred yards.

Antonio Brown is a no brainer, even with his costly fumble that allowed Oakland back in the game, his 17 catch 284 yard performance was nothing short of phenomenal, and his 57 yard catch at the end of the game was critical in setting up Chris Boswell’s game tying field goal.

  • Likewise, DeAngelo Williams is also a no brainer for his 170 yard performance, including a critical 9 yard scamper late in the 4th quarter.

Martavis Bryant earns a ballot slot, although his performance was shaky, but played his touchdown catch perfect, and the Steelers needed those points. Does Martavis Bryant deserve a game ball? You decide Steelers Nation.

Landry Jones earns a slot, for his 4 completions in relief of Ben Roethlisberger. Heath Miller only caught 3 passes, but he made those count. Is that enough to earn Heath Miller a game ball? You decide.

  • The Steelers special teams, or more specifically, the Steelers coverage units get the nod.

On defense, Ross Cockrell would seem to be the only sure-fire game ball winner, but Antwon Blake and Cameron Heyward also get ballot slots. Rookie Bud Dupree earns a mention on the ballot thanks to his blocked punt, and while Jarvis Jones, Vince Williams, and Anthony Chickillo didn’t make the ballot, no one here would quibble if their names appeared as write in candidates, as their fumble recoveries helped tremendously.

Likewise, Lawrence Timmons and Mike Mitchell probably deserve some write-in love, but that’s for you to decide.

Vote now Steelers Nation, and decide the Steelers game ball winners for Pittsburgh’s last second victory over the Oakland Raiders.

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Roethlisberger Injury, Cam Newton Comments Highlight NFL Referee Favoritism of Elite Quarterbacks

The football stars have aligned again. And this time the issue at the forefront is NFL referee favoritism of elite quarterbacks. The stars in question are an injury Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers and an angry Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.

Early in the third quarter of the Steelers 12-6 win over the St. Louis Rams Mark Barron hit Ben Roethlisberger. It was immediately obvious that Roethlisberger was down and hurting badly. In fact, one could argue that Roethlisberger in fact fumbled the ball but everyone forgot about that as concern about his injury mounted.

Few people questioned the legality of the hit at the time either. However, retired NFL officiating director Mike Pereira was not one of them.

In Pereira’s view, Barron’s hit on Roethlisberger was probably illegal, although no one from Ben Roethlisberger to, Mike Tomlin, to Ed Bouchette thinks it is dirty. Jim Wexell compared the hit to Kimo von Oelhoffen’s hit on Carlson Palmer in the 2005 AFC Divisional playoff game.

  • Neither man hit with malice and neither man was flagged.

The critical difference is that following the von Oelhoffen-Palmer injury the NFL changed the rules regarding low hits to quarterbacks. And to be fair to both the officials on the field and at NFL headquarters, it is certainly plausible that no one got a good enough look at the hit to make a call, and the NFL could possibly be issuing a fine to Barron based on video tape review at this very moment.

Either way, the Roethlisberger injury and the Barron hit that caused it would have been a simple unfortunate happenstance in what is certainly the most brutal spectator sport outside of Ultimate Fighting.

  • The operative phrase above is “Would have” because of what happened on the same day in Carolina.

Carolina Panther’s quarterback Cam Newton took what he felt was a late hit, and was not happy about it:

Referee Ed Hochuli has denied making the “You’re not old enough” comment, and insists that he explained to Newton that he was running outside of the pocket. NFL Vice President of officiating Dean Blandino has backed up Houchli’s version of events, and amateur lip readers seem to indicate that Hochuli appears to be saying what he claimes said.

  • And without further evidence the story would die there.
  • But those blessed with good memories are fortunate enough to say “Not so fast.”

While the unflagged Barron hit on Roethlisberger might not have been dirty, it was hardly the first time Ben Roethlisberger has taken a questionable hit and not gotten a flag. Most Steelers fans would prefer to forget the Steelers trips to Oakland’s black hole, one play from their 2012 loss to the Raiders stands out:

Philip Wheeler hit from behind of Ben Roethlisberger was both illegal and dirty. Don’t remember it? You can watch the play here:

Philip Wheeler, illegal hit, Ben Roethlisberger

Illegal Philip Wheeler hit on Ben Roethlisberger, courtesy of SB Nation Assets

Wheeler of course escaped the wrath of Roger Goodell and then NFL-discipline czar Ray Anderson for taking out Ben Roethlisberger from below and behind.

  • Let’s agree that enforcement of rules is never going to be uniform.

Let’s also agree that even well-meaning officials, without realizing it, might hesitate to throw a flag on a hit no a Ben Roethlisberger, a Cam Newton or a Michael Vick simply because Newton and Vick are known as mobile quarterbacks and Ben is well known for being a quarterback whose passing actually becomes more accurate after he takes a hit.

  • Fair enough.

But does anyone honestly doubt that flags would have been thrown and fines would have been levied had Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and/or Drew Brees suffered the hits shown here?
Didn’t think so.

The NFL can deny it all they want, but NFL referees favor elite quarterbacks.

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15 Jerome Bettis Highlights that Prove The Bus Belongs in the HOF

15 Jerome Bettis highlights taken from throughout the legendary Steelers running back’s career show just why the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee was right to include the Bus in the 2015 Hall of Fame Class. That year 3 candidates with strong ties to the Pittsburgh Steelers were finalists and they are Kevin Greene, Tony Dungy and of course Jerome Bettis.

  • While most of Steelers Nation would be perfectly happy to see Dungy and Greene elected, Bettis is the one we cared about.

The committee gave Steelers Nation their wish, and these 15 Jerome Bettis highlights taken from throughout his career, that show just why Bettis is such a worthy Hall of Famer. Either click the links below or scroll down to relive 15 top highlights from Jerome Bettis’s career.

Jerome Bettis, Brian Urlacher, Steelers vs. Bears, Bettis vs. Urlacher,

Jerome Bettis shows Brian Urlacher who is boss

I. Bettis Best Game Ever

12/12/93, Los Angeles Rams 23, New Orleans Saints 20
Sometimes we easily forget Jerome Bettis wasn’t always a Pittsburgh Steeler after so long as “The face of the franchise.” But it is true. The Los Angeles Rams selected Jerome Bettis with the 10th overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft.

Bettis took the league by storm, rushing for 1,429 yards as a rookie, and his best game of the season came vs. New Orleans, when he banged out 212 yards on 28 carries, for one touchdown. That was his highest single game rushing total ever, and it included his longest run at 71.

Although Bettis would never have a better day statistically, he did have bigger games — all for the Black and Gold.

II. Bettis First 100 Yard Game for Steelers

9/8/96, Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Baltimore Ravens 17
Jerome Bettis’ first game for the Steelers didn’t go so well, as Pittsburgh suffered a disastrous defeat in Jacksonville at the hands of the Jaguars with injuries decimating the linebacking crops, with Bettis 57 yard effort an under story.

He made good in week 2 the first Steelers-Ravens match up ever. Bettis rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries – and he didn’t even start. Erric Pegram had that honor, who turned in a respectable 60 yard on 11 carry performance

III. Rams Rue Decision to Run Bettis Out of Town

11/3/96, Pittsburgh Steelers 42, St. Louis Rams 6
Jerome Bettis was the only positive for the 4-12 1993 Rams. Chuck Knox aka “ground Chuck” got the ax the team hired Rich Brooks and moved to St. Louis. For whatever reason Bettis and Brooks didn’t work well together. Bettis production dropped by 400 yards in 1994 and to 637 yards in 1995.

  • Dick Vermeil’s first decision was to pick Lawrence Philips in the 1996 draft.

That made Bettis expendable. St. Louis traded him to Pittsburgh for what was essentially a 2nd round pick.

By the time the Steelers played the Rams at mid-season, it was already clear that the trade might have been one of Tom Donahoe’s best ever personnel decisions. Bettis already had six 100 yard games and laid claim to the moniker, “The Bus.”

Bettis exploded vs. the Rams, scoring the first two touchdowns and racking up 100 yards before the half, as The Bus steamrolled the Rams to the tune of 129 yards rushing on 19 carries for a 6.8 yard average. For the record Lawrence Philips had six yards on 5 carries….

IV. Bettis Best Game with the Steelers

10/12/97, Pittsburgh Steelers 24, Indianapolis Colts 22
It was a strange night for the Steelers. Lindy Infante’s Colts arrived at Three Rivers Stadium nursing an 0-5 record and quickly took 10-0 lead before Norm Johnson got the Steelers on the board and then Bettis tied it up early in the second half.

Carnell Lake returned a fumble 83 yards for a touchdown, but the Colts would threaten the entire game, as the Steelers lost Kordell Stewart and Charles Johnson to injury. Things got so bad that reserve receiver Mike Adams had to play the entire second half on a torn ACL.

The Steelers did what they worked for them best in that day and age – they rode The Bus. Bettis racked up 164 yards, his highest total as a Steeler, on 30 carries including one touchdown.

V. Bettis Rides Over Broncos

12/7/97 Steelers 35, Denver Broncos 24
This late season show down would and should be remembered for many things.

But credit Jerome Bettis as the game’s unsung hero. The fireworks took place in the first half, which ended in a 21-21 tie. The second half started with the Broncos getting a field goal and the lead.

  • Then Bettis took over.

He pounded Denver into submission, including 24 yard run where he literally dragged defenders for a good 7 or 8 yards after contact. When all was said and done, The Bus had run for 24 yards on 125 carries.

VI. Bettis Leads By Example

12/28/98 Jacksonville Jaguars 21, Pittsburgh Steelers 3
The Pittsburgh Steelers started 1998 unevenly, played a few strong games in the middle, and then pathetically petered out down the stretch, losing their final five games as Kordell Stewart looked lost.

When the season finale vs. Jacksonville arrived, the Jaguars started their back up and the only thing at stake was Bill Cowher’s chance to avoid his first losing season. He didn’t.

  • The harsh reality is that many of Cowher’s players quit on him.

But one player shown out. He not only gave it his all, he played with power and he delivered results. That player was number 36, Jerome Bettis who ran for 139 yards and caught 4 balls for 24 yards – and he did it on a bum knee, having announced to ABC’s sideline reporter that he’d scheduled surgery for the following morning.

Stepping up in games like these were one reason why Bettis owned the Steelers locker room.

VII. The Bus Rides Well in the Snow

12/26/99 Pittsburgh Steelers 30, Carolina Panthers 20
The Steelers 1999 season ended much like the 1998 season did – with a season-ending melt down. With one exception.

George Seifert’s Carolina Panthers came to Three Rivers Stadium with a 7-7 record while the Pittsburgh Steelers were reeling on a six game losing streak.

  • The Steelers looked like easy pickings.

Early on the Steelers looked lackluster, but then it started to snow. Snow blanked the Astroturf at Three Rivers Stadium, and it left the Panthers flat footed. The Bus took off, rushing for 137 yards and inspiring the team to victory. The Panthers made a run late in the game as they fought to within 3 late in the third quarter. But Bettis did what he always did – iced the game away with a dominating 4th quarter that saw him barrel into the end zone with 3:47 remaining to put the game away.

VIII. Bettis Helps Set Steelers Tone for ‘00’s

10/1/00, Pittsburgh Steelers 24, Jaguars 13
The Steelers followed their 1999 meltdown by opening the 2000 season by going 0-3, including a heart breaker at the hand of Steve McNair, as the pundits pooled their money on predictions on when Dan Rooney would fire Bill Cowher.

Bill Cowher had other ideas. He didn’t care that he’d started 0-3. He didn’t care that the Jacksonville Jaguars were Super Bowl contenders. He didn’t care that Jacksonville had won 3 straight vs. Pittsburgh. He didn’t care that Kent Graham, his starting quarterback, had been injured late in practice on Friday.

  • He didn’t care because Bill Cowher preached that players should expect to win on Sunday.

In this game, names like Joey Porter, Aaron Smith and Desha Townsend announced their presence to Steelers Nation and as the Steelers defense dominated. But on a day where Kordell Stewart only managed 132 yards passing, Jerome Bettis carried the Steelers offense. He didn’t break 100 yards, but he did run for 97 and scored two touchdowns. The victory in Jacksonville set the tone for the Steelers for a decade and, once again, the Steelers rode the Bus.

IX. Bus Shines in Old Fashioned Steelers Raiders Showdown

12/3/00, Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Oakland Raiders 20
This probably gets left off of many other worthy Jerome Bettis Hall of Fame games lists, but it makes it here because this game simply doesn’t get its due. The twin Steelers-Cowboys Super Bowls defined pro football excellence in the 70’s, but had they not then the dozen epic matchups the Steelers and Raiders fought between 1970 to 1980 would have.

Due to scheduling irregularities, the Raiders would not play in Pittsburgh for 20 years. That changed in December 2000, and the matchup was worthy of the best of Steelers-Raiders lore. The Steelers had clawed their way out of an 0-3 start back to 6-6 while the Raiders boasted a 10-2 record.

Kordell Stewart, who’d reclaimed the starting quarterback role, was injured early in the game, and his replacement Kent Graham looked clueless, throwing a pick six and getting planted on the turf as the Raiders jumped to a 17-7 lead.

The Steelers comeback left Pittsburgh with some priceless memories:

  • Kordell Stewart’s miraculous recovery, including his 17 yard touchdown run
  • Mark Bruener marshaling pure will power to win a goal line dog fight to spark the Steelers rally
  • Jon Gruden pleading for a 5th down after the Steelers defense stopped him cold on 4th down with 7 seconds left.

But what many forget, is that amidst all the chaos Jerome Bettis “quietly” kept the offense moving for by rushing for 128 yards. That’s just what Hall of Famers do.

X. Bus Rolls Over Redskins in Three Rivers Stadium Finale

12/16/00, Pittsburgh Steelers 24, Redskins 3
In 2000 Daniel Snyder bought his first off season Lombardi. For many fans and press alike, Snyder’s signing of Deon Sanders in June made the delivery of the Redskins 4th Super Bowl trophy a mere formality. The schedule had been published by then, and few Redskins fans even gave a second thought to the fact that they’d have to play the Steelers in the final game a Three Rivers Stadium.

  • A far different off season narrative had been penned for Jerome Bettis.

Declining production in 1998 and 1999 led many, inside and outside Pittsburgh, to assume Bettis best days were behind him.

Jerome Bettis Highlights, Hall of Fame, Jerome Bettis, Franco Harris, Three Rivers Stadium, Steelers vs. Redskins, Steelers Super Bowl eras

Jerome Bettis & Franco Harris. Photo Credit: Matt Freed, Post-Gazette

Yet, when the Three Rivers Stadium finale arrived, it was Jerome Bettis, and not any of Daniel Snyder’s high-priced free agents, who dominated the game. Bettis charged up and down the middle of the Redskins defense for 104 yards on 25 carries, and added another grab for 25. Perhaps the biggest highlight came when Deon Sanders backed away rather than try to tackle Bettis.

Daniel Snyder grew so incensed that he tried to order Myron Cope to alter his color commentary, to which Cope retorted,

  • If that boy billionaire thinks he can shut me up, then he can take his head and stick it in a bucket of paint!

Suffice to say, all of Snyder’s money could neither silence the voice of Steelers Nation, nor change the fact that The Bus had plenty of tread left on his tires.

XI. Bettis Leads the Way as Steelers Inaugurate Heinz Field with a Win

10/7/01 Pittsburgh Steelers 16, Cincinnati Bengals 7
The Pittsburgh Steelers were supposed to open Heinz Field against the Cleveland Browns. But September 11th changed everything.

Jerome Bettis, Bengals, Heinz Field

Instead, the Steelers would open at home nearly a month later, and this time vs. the Cincinnati Bengals. Bettis again led the way for the Steelers offense, piling up 153 yards on 25 carries, and giving the Steelers their first win in their new home.

XII. Bus Comes Off Bench to Help Steelers Spoil Philly’s Perfect Record

11/7/04, Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Philadelphia Eagles 3
Thanks to their 6-10 2003 season, the Steelers entered 2004 as an after thought –which is exactly what made this generation of Pittsburgh Steelers dangerous. On the arm of a rookie quarterback named Ben Roethlisberger and the newly added Duce Staley, reached week 8 with a 6-1 record.

Staley had run well in the season’s first seven games, but got injured in the Steelers upset of the Patriots. Prior to the season, Jerome Bettis had accepted a pay cut and was seen by many as an insurance policy at best or a scholarship year at worst.

Bettis proved his critics wrong as he ran for 133 yards and helped the Steelers spoil the Eagles 7-0 record.

XIII. Bus, Staley Tag Team to Bludgeon Jets in Playoffs

1/15/05, Pittsburgh Steelers 20, New York Jets 20
Steel Curtain Rising has talked about this playoff victory vs. the Jets many times before and will again. If you’re looking for a “Three yards and a cloud of dust” example of post season Steelers smash mouth football then you’d be hard pressed to find one without looking to the 70’s.

Jerome Bettis started this game, but had to take himself out due to injury. Staley came in and continued to pound the Jets. Then he got hurt and Bettis had to return.

  • It was a sight to behold – two Steelers big backs alternating to pummel an opponent into submission.

The Steelers needed every bit of it, as Ben Roethlisberger began playing like a rookie, and the Jets mounted a stiff challenge. At the end of the day, Bettis the 32 year old war horse, ran for 101 yards and a touchdown.

XIV. Urlacher, Bears Get Hit by The Bus

12/11/05, Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Chicago Bears 9
Despite finishing the 2004 a hair under 1,000 yards, even veteran commentators such as Mike Prisuta declared that Bettis presence on the roster was more important to Bettis than the team itself.

  • Games like this one prove him wrong.

The Steelers were at 7-5 and coming off a 3 game losing streak. Bill Cowher took the unusual step of order a full pads practice. He told the team they were Christopher Columbus uncharted journey. And with the 9-3 Bears coming to town, he turned to his gamers.

The record will note that Willie Parker got 21 carries as opposed to Bettis 17, but the Bus carried the day for the Steelers rushing for 101 yards, including dominating Brian Urlacher in one incredible 1-1 open field confrontation.

The Chicago game marked Bettis final 100 yard effort. But The Bus made it count.

XV. Super Bowl XL – The Bus Stops Here

2/5/06, Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Seattle Seahawks 10
When the Steelers came up short in the 2004 AFC Championship vs. New England, Hine Ward was moved to tears because he thought it would deny Bettis his shot at a championship. Ben Roethlisberger promised him, “I’ll get you back next year.” Bettis returned in 2005 with a singular goal – parking The Bus in Super Bowl XL in a game played in his home town Detroit.

  • Bettis didn’t break 100 yards. He didn’t score a touchdown. He didn’t rip off a record breaking run.

Bettis finger print was all over the field, a fact made evident when Joey Porter pulled a surprise, and allowed Bettis to emerge as the lone Steeler during introductions.

Bettis leadership and inspiration is what drove the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers on their improbable 8 game season-closing winning streak and ultimately to One for the Thumb.

15 MORE Reasons for Jerome Bettis to be in the Hall of Fame

The tough thing about writing an article like this, aside from finding the time, is limiting this list to 15 worthy Jerome Bettis Hall of Fame Games. Many other candidates scream for inclusion.

  • Forget about the numbers and statistics.

Hall of Fame worthiness comes from defining what it means to be excellent at your position. When you look at a sampling of his work, who can argue that Jerome Bettis failed to accomplish that? In 13 years as an NFL running back, from his rookie season to his final season, Bettis dominated games.

Jerome Bettis belongs in the Hall of Fame. Period.

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Steelers Report Card for Loss @ Oakland’s Black Hole

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who watched his student take two steps forward and is now trying to calculate just how many backwards, here is the Steelers report card for the loss in Oakland’s Black Hole. As a caveat, no other report cards were consulted prior to this posting.


Ben Roethlisberger played under severe duress, and had to play from behind from the get go. And Roethlisberger deserves credit for getting this team back into the game. But he was far from flawless. His interception was poorly thrown, even if the defense got the ball back immediately. And there is the issue of a time out. Being alert enough to know officials might call a penalty amounts to veteran savvy; delaying the execution of your play and burning a time out is a rookie mistake. It did not cost him the game, but it was a below the line play. Grade:  D+

Running Backs
This group may have started the game behind the eight ball, but 35 yards on 19 rushes does not cut it in the NFL, not by a long shot, even if Le’Veon Bell, Jonathan Dwyer, and Felix Jones looked good on individual runs. Grade:  D

Wide Receivers
Stat sheets can mislead. Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown had decent games looking soley at the box score. But both players had drops, and in Brown’s case they were critical. Play calling is certainly at issue in the Red Zone, but the wide outs need to make more plays down there. Sanders solid showing aside, the Steelers needed more form this unit. Grade:  C-

Tight Ends
Heath Miller dropped a sure touchdown pass. Two weeks, two major errors from one of the most consistent members of this team. Moreover Miller did little with his other opportunities. Grade:  D

Offensive Line
The Steelers dressed 8 offensive lineman, and ended up using all of them. First Ramon Foster fell. Then it was Guy Whimper. Then Finally David DeCastro, forcing Kelvin Beachum back to guard , Mike Adams to tackle, and Cody Wallace at guard. How did they do? 5 Sacks and 1.8 yards rushing. “The Standard is the Standard.” Injuries will not be an excuse. And this unit’s play was below the line.  Grade:  F

Defensive Line
Cameron Heyward had another passed defensed and six tackles. Brett Keisel had a sack, recovered a fumble, another tackle for a loss, and he got to Terrelle Pyror on one other occasion. But Oakland’s offense ran the ball with relative ease in the first half including two rushing touchdowns. Grade:  C-

Lawrence Timmons lead the group, and was the only player to have any notable play, at least on the stat sheet. LaMarr Woodley was invisible. Jarvis Jones’ play earned himself a spot on the bench. Vince Williams continues to play like a rookie.  During the first half the Raiders completed a lot of check down passes to convert key downs, and the linebackers must bear some responsibility for that. Grade:  D

Troy Polamalu lead the group with a sack and an interception, and was all over the field. IT was a wasted effort. Ryan Clark bit on the run fake although he did come back to lead the defense in tackles. Cortez Allen had an interception. The secondary’s play was above the line, particularly in the second half. But they too share responsibility for an awful first half. Grade:  C+

Special Teams
Two missed field goals. Two punt returns for negative yards. A blocked punt. An 18 yard return by the Raiders. An on-sides kick that had zero chances of being recovered. Yes, Brown did have a nice punt return that helped provide a mini-spark, but this until was terrible. Grade:  F

Like the rest of the team, the Steelers defense looked listless in the first half. But to Dick LeBeau’s credit, he made halftime adjustments that completely shut down the Raiders offense in the second half, and his unit produced 3 turnovers which have been in short supply this year. But it was too little, too late. This is true in part to the special teams failures, as well as the offense coming up again woefully short on third down and in the Red Zone.

After starting 0-4, Mike Tomlin managed to get his team to stop doing things that were costing his team the game. But by his own admission, his team started slowly, and at least his offense and special teams continued with very slopping, if at times spirited play. Everyone in Steelers Nation knew what the stakes were going into this game. But the intensity and focus required of the situation was absent all afternoon. If the Steelers took two steps forward vs. the Jets and Ravens, they took at least three back vs. the Raiders. For that the coaching staff must be held accountable.  Grade:  F

Unsung Hero Award
He didn’t and hasn’t been making game-changing plays this season like he has before. Perhaps that is a thing of the past. But Troy Polamalu was all over the field, and he played a huge role in a defensive effort that completely shut down and shut out the Oakland Raiders in the second half and for that he gets the Unsung Hero Award.

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Steelers Shallowed by Raiders in Black Hole, 21-18

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders defined the concept of “rivalry” in the 1970’s. From the Immaculate Reception to the “Criminal Element” their games are the stuff of legend. In the 21st century their match ups have been far less dramatic but equally significant for the Steelers.

If the Steelers-Radiers games of the current millennium haven’t carried the weight in the standings of their ‘70’s predecessors, they have served as an important bell weather for the direction of the franchise….

…And as Steelers Nation knows too well, the latest trip to Oakland’s Black Hole confirms that the Pittsburgh Steelers are a team headed in the wrong direction.

From Varsity in Jeanette to J.V. in Pittsburgh

Exactly 364 days ago the Steelers were faced with the task of stopping Robert Griffin III, one of the NFL’s most dangerous quarterbacks. The stat sheet shows that the Steelers were up to the task. The Steelers traveled to Oakland faced with a similar task, stopping double threat Jeanette native Terrelle Pryor.

They couldn’t.

  • On the first play from scrimmage Darren McFadden executed a perfect play fake while Pryor burned through the entire Steelers defense for 93 yards.

It went down hill from that point on for the Steelers. The Steelers went three and out and then David Paulson missed a block allowing Junior Varsity punter Zoltan Mesko to suffer a partially blocked punt.

5 plays later, McFadden was waltzing into the end zone, and the Steelers were down 14-0, and there were still 12 minutes left to play in the first quarter.

Credit the Oakland Radiers staff for devising and excellent game plan and credit the men on the field for executing it. The Steelers were completely unprepared to defend Pryor during the first half.

  • When they covered well down field Pryor took off and ran
  • When the Steelers attempted to pressure him, Pryor either broke out ran or found men down field

Aside from being out executed and out coached during the first half, the Steelers also couldn’t cut a break.

  • The Steelers looked to get a break with a special teams fumble recovery, but the ruling went against them.
  • Ramon Foster suffered a concussion and had to be replaced by Guy Whimper
  • Guy Whimper got injured and had to be replaced by Cody Wallace
  • David DeCastro got injured and had to be replaced by Kelvin Beachum who was replaced by Mike Adams

Clearly the injury gods have it in for the Steelers offensive line.

An inability to create turnovers has bedeviled the Steelers all year long. The Steelers defense created three vs. the Raiders. It didn’t matter. The first turnover resulted in a field goal. The next a missed field goal.

The Steelers did manage cause and recover a fumble, yet that only brought the score to 21-10 with 12:11 left to play. Like the loss in London, the Steelers offense would put it together just enough to give Steelers Nation a tease.

  • When the Steelers did things right, things still went wrong. 

The Steelers defense forced a 3 and out with about 7 minutes left to play, and Antonio Brown answered with an electrifying 44 yard punt return.  The Steelers had the ball at Oakland’s 31 yard line, only to see Brown fumble the ball on a pass that would have converted a 3rd and 3.

  • Yet even then, the Steelers still wouldn’t go quietly into the night.

The Steelers defense forced a three and out, and the Steelers got the ball back at the 17. Ben Roethlisberger went to work. He completed passes to Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Le’Veon Bell, Jerricho Cotchery.

Yet, at 2nd and 3 at the 12, Roethlisberger burned a time out, later explaining the officials had wasted too much of the game clock deciding not to call a horse collar tackle on Bell.

Roethlisberger’s next pass was intercepted… but wait, no, the play was over turned. Le’Veon Bell scored on the next play. Emmanuel Sanders attempted to set up for a pass on the two point conversion failed, but ran it in anyway.

Sticking to the script, the Steelers failed to get the on-sides kick, yet Oakland couldn’t run out the clock. The Steelers got the ball back but again, true to form, Roethlisberger threw to Emmanuel Sanders in the middle of the field, and time expired.

More Than Just Black Hole Bad Luck

The Steelers had their share of bad luck vs. Oakland. While they did get a few calls, several more questionable ones went against them. And by game’s end they had played all eight offensive lineman dressed.

But the Steelers had their chances.

  • Heath Miller’s end zone drop wasn’t a stroke of bad luck
  • Shaun Suisham’s two missed field goals can’t be blamed on the officials
  • The failure to adjust to Pryor’s unique skill set for an entire half didn’t come down to someone else’s judgment call 
  • No one pushed poor clock management at the end both halves on the Steelers

The Oakland Raiders tried with all of their might to give the game to the Steelers in the second half. Yet through the dropped passes, sacks, and bad decisions the Steelers refused to accept the offer.

And in doing so they looked every bit like an 0-4 team that’s found a way to make it 2-5.

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Steelers Nation: “Generation Immaculate Reception” Celebrates 40 Years

Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris connected through the Immaculate Reception on December, 23rd 1972, combining to make the most spectacular play in football history.

  • The play happened precisely a week before my 4 month birthday, making me a member of Steelers Nation’s post Immaculate Reception generation.

Comprehending 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.

The Post Immaculate Reception Steelers
The Pre-Immaculate Reception Pittsburgh Steelers
The Immaculate Reception – A Franchises’s Fortunes Change

immaculate reception, franco harris, jimmy warren, steelers vs. raiders

Franco Harris making the Immaculate Reception. Photo Credit: Harry Cabluck, AP.

The Post Immaculate Reception Steelers

While the Steelers lost in the following week to Don Shula’s perfect 1972 Dolphins team, the Immaculate Reception ushered in an unheralded era of pro football prosperity. Since that fateful the Pittsburgh Steelers have:

  • Won 6 Super Bowls, more than any other team
  • Played in 8 Super Bowls, tying the mark for championship appearances
  • Achieved a winning record in 32 of those 40 years, again, more than anyone else
  • Posted an overall winning percentage that is better than any other NFL team
  • Sent 64 players on the NFL’s All Pro Teams, more than any other franchise
  • Never once did they win fewer than 5 games something that no one else in the NFL can say

These stats come 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 (full disclosure – I also writer for BTSC.)

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 most recent 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 is about 10 miles from the DC border.

steelers fans, maryland, dinos, aspen hill

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 allowing Johnny 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.

Dan Rooney began to take over control of the Steelers in the 1960’s while Art Rooney Jr. began building the scouting department. Rooney in fact influenced his father’s decision to fire the mercurial Buddy Parker, yet could not persuade The Chief to ignore Vince Lombardi’s advice to hire Bill Austin.

Austin failed after just two seasons, and Art Rooney Sr. finally relented in allowing Dan to conduct a thorough coaching search. Then, things began to change for the Pittsburgh Steelers:

  • Rooney hired Chuck Noll, the first and as yet only NFL coach to win four Super Bowls
  • The city of Pittsburgh agreed to build Three Rivers Stadium, giving the Steelers a modern home
  • Noll selected future NFL Hall of Famer Joe Greene with his first pick in 1969 NFL Draft
  • 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? 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.”

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.

  • 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.

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