Jerome Bettis, Kevin Greene, and Bill Cowher Headline NFL Hall of Fame Ballot

Its only September, but the Pro Football Hall of Fame has already announced its list of eligible candidates for its 2013 class. Could this be another Black and Gold strewn summer in Canton?

It certainly is possible as several high-profile Steelers lead the lists. The Steelers best shot is Jerome Bettis, who played in the NFL for 13 years and retired after Super Bowl XL. Currently Bettis remains 6th on the list of All Time NFL rushers.

The Steelers next shot is likely former Head Coach Bill Cowher, who coached in Pittsburgh from 1992 to 2006, a span where the franchise won more games than any other NFL franchise. During that time Cowher only had 3 losing seasons, earned 8 AFC Central/AFC North division championships, 10 playoff appearances, two AFC Championships, and of course Super Bowl XL.

Gary Anderson is likewise eligible. Anderson of course played for six different NFL teams, but kicked in Pittsburgh from 1982 to 1994.

Kevin Greene only played 3 of his 15 NFL seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it was in the Black and Gold that Greene first won national acclaim. The Steelers also give Greene his only Super Bowl appearances, which came in their losing effort in Super Bowl XXX. Greene, a member of the Dick LeBeau coaching tree, did get a return trip to the Super Bowl, serving as the linebackers coach for the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV.

Art Rooney Jr.’s name once again is appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot. Often overlooked, Art Rooney Jr. is Dan Rooney’s younger brother, and directed the Steelers scouting department and had a HUGE hand in drafting the players that would from the Super Steelers, who went to the mountain top in Super Bowl IX, Super Bowl X, Super Bowl XIII, and Super Bowl XIV.

Rooney Jr. probably will not make it in — but that is a crime. He deserves induction into Canton, alongside his brother and father.

The HOF list also includes one strong Pittsburgh connection. Buddy Parker, who coached the Steelers from 1967 to 1954, appears on the list.  Parker was below .500 with the Steelers, barely, but did win two NFL Championships while coaching the Detroit Lions.

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Noll, Cowher, Tomlin Lombardi Photo Redux

The time has come once again to push for the Steelers to do something they should have done back in 2008.

If this idea sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Yours truly suggested this back in 2008 and I am doing so again.
But this time, thanks to Michael Bean, I am putting out this call to action on Behind the Steel Curtain. The article ran yesterday, and undoubtedly by now more people have read it there than read the original post, the shout out from Blog and Gold not withstanding (thanks again Dan!)
So if you have not see it, click here to check out the 2011 version of the article on BTSC — and more importantly, do your part to make the Steelers hear our voice!

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The Steelers 2008 and 1979 Super Bowl Champions Compared

ESPN.com is running a division-by-division “best ever series” at the moment, and their take on the AFC North provided some interesting food for thought.

James Walker, who covers the AFC North for ESPN, selects the Steelers 1975 team as the best ever.

Personally I would lean toward the 1978 team because it was the most complete – Rocky and Franco could still dominate on the ground and Bradshaw struck deep to Lynn Swann and John Stallworth downfield. On the defensive side of the ball, the 1975 version of the Steel Curtain was stronger, but the 1978 Steelers defense was still the best in the game.

But Walker makes strong arguments for the 1975 teams, and I have no reason to quibble.

The bigger issue is the honorable mentions that get tacked on at the end. Each team in the series gets one “Best” plus three honorable mentions. Walker awards honorable mentions (in order) to the Steelers XIII, XIV, and IX, and Super Bowl Squads.

But he mentions nary a word about the Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII.

And that is a mistake.

Ranking the Steelers Super Bowls

Any ranking of the Steelers Super Bowl squads has got to list either Super Bowl X or Super Bowl XIII as one and two. It really is that simple.

And there’s a strong argument for ranking the Super Bowl IX squad number three, if for no other reason that this was a group with a dominate defense, a crushing running game, and this group of Steelers was only broaching the heights of its greatness.

But who comes in fourth is a more difficult question.

Walker ranks the XIV squad 3rd, and while winning the fourth Super Bowl was impressive, why does it get automatic preference over the two more recent Super Bowls?

Most in Steelers Nation will probably rank the 2005 Super Bowl XL team last in the group. If forced to rate them, that is probably the rating I would give them. And perhaps that is a mistake, as that team had a championship caliber defense matched by a balanced offense. It also won 4 straight road playoff games to get its Lombardi.

Rightly or wrongly, even if you ignore all of Mike Holmgren’s sour graping about the officiating, the Steelers Super Bowl XL squad will suffer from the fact that they neither put on a dominate nor dramatic performance in the big game itself.

I invite any reader who wishes to advocate on behalf of the Steelers Super Bowl XL squad to leave a comment stating their arguments.

I’ll concentrate on making the case for the 2008 Steelers.

The 2008 Steelers vs. the 1979 Steelers

First, why rank the 1979 team below the 1974 team?

In addition to the reason cited above, the 1974 Steelers vanquished the Oakland Radiers, a fellow Super Bowl Champion from that era, en route to the title game and then defeated the perennial Super Bowl contender Vikings, and their Purple People Eater defense, in the Super Bowl itself.

The 1979 Steelers squad has no similar victories notching its belt. Certainly, Bum Philips and Earl Campbell were formidable opponents, and the Rams were a good team from that era, but neither could be considered as great.

It is impossible to compare teams from different eras with 100% objectivity, but any analysis must begin with a look at the players.

The 1979 team had nine Hall of Famers. How many potential Hall of Famers did the 2008 team have? Troy Polamalu, hopefully Hines Ward, and perhaps Ben Roethlisberger assuming he keeps his pants on. And on the surface, that should settle the argument right there.

But many of the Steelers future Hall of Famers were already in decline in 1979. Like the 2008 team they finished their regular season with a 12-4 record, and like the 2008 Steelers, they followed up their Super Bowl victory finishing 9-7.

But the 2008 Steelers played one of the toughest schedules in league history. They did so after weathering a blistering series of injuries that ravaged their offensive line and forced them to start their fourth string running back in the season defining week 5 contest against Jacksonville.

And if the 2008 Steelers lacked the dynastic quality of their 1979 forbearers, that is a simple function of the era in which they play. The 2008 Steelers had their backs pressed to the wall so many times during the year, and each and every time they responded.

Vince Ferragamo came off the bench to play a phenomenal game for the LA Rams that day in Pasadena, but no one will ever confuse him with Kurt Warner, and Ferragamo had nothing on the order of a Larry Fitzgerald at his disposal.

The 1979 Steelers were a great team. But the 2008 Steelers deserve to be considered a notch higher when establishing a pecking order among the Steelers Super Bowl Champions.

But this is just the opinion of one voice in Steelers Nation. All who have a different take are welcome to leave a comment and voice their views. Let the debate begin.

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Lynn Swann or John Stallworth – Who Was Better?

As regular readers will note, Steel Curtain Rising is taking advantage of the bye week to collect more votes on our Swann-Stallworth poll, which was originally posted along side the article on John Stallworth’s Improbable Journey.

The question has fascinated two, going on three, generations of Steelers fans. Who was better, number 88 or number 82? Of the two greatest wide receivers in Steelers history (no disrespect to Hines Ward intended) who do you rank first?

After all:

  • Swann and Stallworth are both Hall of Famers
  • Both Stallworth and Swann stretched the field
  • Swann and Stallworth made the tough catches
  • Stallworth and Swann excelled on the game’s largest stage, the Super Bowl
  • Both Swann and Stallworth had that uncanny knack of getting open and finding the endzone with the game on the line

The arguments that one can make in favor of each man are endless. Steel Curtain Rising makes no pretension of exhausting them here, nor do we offer a definitive answer – that’s up to you.

The Case for Lynn Swann

While Lynn Swann is certainly not the best wide receiver in NFL history, you can argue that no other wideout captured the imagination of football fans like number 88.

Football is as a rough and tumble sport as they come, and few appreciate the fundamentals of smash mouth football more than Steelers fans.

Yet Swann transcended that. He brought an elegance and grace to the wide receiver position few would have thought possible, making dazzling, acrobatic, seemingly impossible catches.

The only “knock” on Swann is that he played for such a short time, nine years, including the strike-shortened 1982 season. His career numbers, 336 catches for 5,462 yards look pedestrian by the standards of today’s NFL.

And that is what kept Swann out of the Hall of Fame for so long. But quality trumps quantity in Swann’s case. A friend of mine, who we’ll simply call “BBD” who is not a Steelers fan, once commented that Swann deserved induction into Canton solely on his Super Bowl X performance.

If any of you are unfamiliar with that, take a look at the video, and you’ll understand BBD’s argument:

Perhaps whoever said in the mid-1990’s, I believe it was Dan Rooney, put it best when he said that the true mark of Swann’s greatness was that more than 15 years after he retired, people reacted to odds-defying catches by saying “that was a Lynn Swann catch.”

The Case for John Stallworth

John Stallworth may have never been able to match Lynn Swann’s style, but he certainly stood right alongside his teammate when it came to substance.

Since the day he took the field opposite Swann, Stallworth many saw him as a “possession receiver.” But the record tells a different tale.

Stallworth actually had a better yards per-catch average in the 1975, 1977, 1978, 1980, and 1981 seasons. A quick look at Steelers 100 yard receiving efforts shows that John Stallworth had 50% more 100 yard passing games than Swann did – if you limit the count to seasons when both men were playing.

That latter point is probably the greatest argument in Stallworth’s favor. Not only did John Stallworth play five more seasons than Lynn Swann, he excelled during that time.

A small sample of a few games during that span reveals just how much damage John Stallworth did with just a few touches of the ball:

  • 4-109 and 3 TD’s against Houston in 1984
  • 7-116 and 3 TD’s against San Diego in 1985
  • 4-111 and 2 TD’s against Miami in the 1984 playoffs
  • 7-126 and 1 TD against Kansas City in 1985

These numbers might seem less impressive by the standard’s of today’s NFL, but they are perhaps even more impressive when you consider that these passes no longer originated with Terry Bradshaw, but rather David Woodley and Mark Malone.

Who Decides – You Do

The arguments, the number crunching, the highlights drawn from great games, could go on, and on. So be it. Right now, in this little corner of Steelers Nation, you’ve got the chance to make your voice heard. So do it. Vote in our poll above and/or leaving a comment below.

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2008 Death of Dwight White, Steelers Legend, Dropped Steel Curtain to Half Strength

2008 was not a kind year to the Steel Curtain. In January, Ernie Holmes died in a car accident, and then Myron Cope passed away, silencing Steelers Nation’s definitive voice. Sadly, in June of 2008 Dwight White joined them.

  • Nature sometimes has a way with working its ironies.

In his 2002 autobiography, Double Yoi, Myron Cope dedicated an entire chapter, “Half of the Steel Curtain,” to Holmes and White. He argued that while Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood received their just accolades, Holmes and White were too often overlooked. Whether it be because of Divine will or a random act, all three were called away from Steelers Nation in a span of less than six months.

  • This author offers living proof of Cope’s contention.

Growing up in 70’s suburban Maryland in a household where sports held a low priority, I knew very little of Dwight White and Ernie Holmes.

Dwight White, Roger Staubach, Super Bowl X, Steelers vs Cowboys

Dwight White closes in on Roger Staubach in Super Bowl X. Photo Credit: Joe Caneva, AP via NFL.com

I of course knew about “Mean Joe Greene.” While the Steelers were busy winning their third and fourth Super Bowls, some of the other kids on Wendy Lane and I used to play “Super Steelers” pretending that the Steelers had super powers. If memory serves, Joe Greene could turn himself into a giant at will. (Lynn Swann had super speed. Franco could bust through walls. Terry Bradshaw threw exploding footballs and could hit anything he aimed for. Although I was yet to be acquainted with The X-Men at age six, Chuck Noll played a professor Xavier-like role.)

While L.C. Greenwood held no place in our Parthenon of Steelers Super Heroes, I distinctly remember a friend preparing to go into his Five Mississippi rush in a game of Nerf football saying, “I’m L.C., I’m L.C.” and knowing immediately he was talking about L.C. Greenwood of the Steelers.

Like Ernie Holmes, “D. White” was just a name and a face that I knew from Steelers 50 Seasons poster that hung on my wall for so many years. I didn’t learn just how distinguished a member of the Steel Curtain that Dwight White was until I was in college.

  • Dwight White was one of the top story tellers of the Super Steelers.

His comments on the NFL Flims tribute to Chuck Noll that appeared on the back end of the Steelers 1992 season in review are priceless.

Ray Mansfield sets the stage, recounting how John Madden capped the Raiders victory over the Miami Dolphins by proclaiming “the best two teams in football played to day, and it’s a shame that one of them had to lose….” Continuing, Mansfield explains that Noll came in the locker room the next day, with a determined look on his face, saying “They think the just won the God Damm Super Bowl… But let me tell you something, the best God-Dammed football team is sitting right here.”

White picks up the thread, remembering “At the time, that was pretty strong language for Chuck. Later on he developed the ability to rattle it off pretty well, but at the time that was pretty uncharacteristic.” White recounts how Noll’s words set the locker room on fire, reassuring that, “From that point on, we knew we were going to win…. I mean, it was like getting a blessing to go out and beat up on somebody.”

The Steelers of course went on to upset the Oakland Raiders 24-13 in the AFC Championship, but the game that followed was perhaps White’s finest hour. As Myron Cope tells the story, White was stricken with phenomena the week of the Super Bowl IX. He’d lost 18 pounds and was so sick he was unable to lift his leg on the one day he tried to practice.

On the morning of Super Bowl Sunday, White left the hospital, insisting that he be taken to the Sugar Bowl. Team Dr.’s let him warm up, figuring he would pass out. White didn’t, and insisted on starting the game.

The Vikings tested White immediately. They ran directly at White on their first three runs, and White stopped them each time, tackling Dave Osborn for a loss, no gain, and a one yard gain. Topping it all off, White scored the game’s first points, sacking Fran Tarkenton for a safety. White played the entire game, save for a few plays in the first quarter. Minnesota finished the day with 21 yards rushing on 17 attempts.

When asked about it years later by Cope, White told him’’ “‘You know what? It was kind of a blur’” He also offered “‘What I remember, though, was that our players kept asking me in the huddle, “How you feeling?” It was annoying’”

White followed up this effort by sacking Roger Starbauch three times in Super Bowl X, and registered 33.5 sacks between 1972 and 1975. Dwight White retired in 1980, and 27 years later he is still 7th on their all-time sack list.

Like many of the Super Steelers, Dwight White settled in Pittsburgh, excelling at what Chuck Noll calls “life’s work.” He worked as a stock broker, ultimately becoming the Senior Managing Director in Public Finance for Mesirow Financial. White was also active in numerous Pittsburgh charities.

Ray Mansfield was the first Super Steeler to pass away, followed by Steve Furness, Mike Webster, and Ernie Holmes. As haunting as that is, the numbers paint an even grimmer picture: According to ESPN, 38 former Steelers have died since 2000, and 17 of those were 59 or younger.

But nothing is quite is poignant as the realization that, with Dwight White’s passing, the Steel Curtain now permanently stands at half strength.

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