Steelers Release Greg Warren, Highlighting Difference Between 2 Super Bowl Eras

And then there were two. “Real” football news can be quite rare in late May of any year, but the number of Super Bowl veterans on the South Side dwindled to two as the Steelers released Greg Warren, who handled the long snapping duties for the team since 2005, earning him rings in Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII.

Although the Steelers kicked off their 2017 season by signing Greg Warren to their customary 1 year deal in February, Warren’s release is hardly a shock. The Steelers turned heads in the 2017 NFL Draft when they used their sixth round pick to draft long snapper Colin Holba of Louisville.

Greg Warren, Steelers Greg Warren Super Bowl Eras

Greg Warren tackles Solomon Patton early in the first quarter of the Steelers 2014 loss to Tampa @ Heinz Field. Photo Credit: Joe Sargent, Getty Images

The move was instantly panned by both professional journalists as well as bloggers (this site included), but Jim Wexell and other reporters informed that the Steelers had legitimate concerns about Greg Warrens durability. It would seem like those concerns were well founded, as Greg Warren himself related:

I would first like to thank the Steelers organization, coaches and training staff for their help and advice over the last few weeks. I had full intentions of playing this upcoming season, but in light of new information I’ve recently received from my doctors relating to a past injury, it has been determined that trying to compete in the 2017 season may be a risk to my long-term health. After discussing this with the Steelers, we have decided it would be in everyone’s best interest to release me at this point.

Signed in 2005, Greg Warren played in 181 regular season games, more than any other Steeler at that time, for coaches Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin. With Warren’s release, only Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison remain as veterans from the Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII championship squads.

Greg Warren’s Release Highlights Differences Between Steelers 2 Super Bowl Eras

Let’s admit it, when you think of “Steelers Super Bowl Eras” the name of Greg Warren doesn’t jump out at you. If you’ve got a long view of things, the names Terry Bradshaw, Joe Greene, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann and Jack Lambert spring to mind.

And you probably associate the Steelers second Super Bowl era with players like Jerome Bettis, Troy Polamalu, Hines Ward, Joey Porter, and perhaps Willie Parker. But Greg Warren has provided vital stability during his era, and highlights how different the Steelers second Super Bowl Era has been from the first.

  • Chuck Noll’s Super Bowl teams were drafted together, matured together, won Super Bowls together, and then got old together.

Unfortunately, for reasons that go well beyond the scope of this blog post, Chuck Noll, Art Rooney Jr., Dick Haley and Bill Nunn struggled to restock the Steelers roster, even after mediocre records improved their drafting position.

Steel Curtain, 1974 AFC Championship, Steelers vs Raiders, Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Dwight White, Ernie Holmes, L.C. Greenwood, LC Greenwood

Dwight White, Joe Greene, Ernie Holmes, Jack Lambert and L.C. Greenwood in the 1974 AFC Championship Game. Photo Credit: SI

This second era has been different, largely thanks to Dan Rooney’s wisdom, the Steelers were able to draft a franchise quarterback and add him to a team that was already Super Bowl ready.

Although only two seasons separated the Steelers last two Lombardi Trophy presentations, Mike Tomlin’s ’08 squad featured a number of new faces in important places compared to Bill Cowher’s ’05 squad. Thanks to Heath Miller’s retirement and Lawrence Timmons defection to the Dolphins, William Gay is the only other veteran from Super Bowl XLIII.

  • On a more personal level, Greg Warren’s retirement also underscores just how much perception of time evolves with age.

Born mere months before the Immaculate Reception provided the Big Bang that created Steelers Nation, I have no memories of Super Bowls IX or X. I do remember watching Super Bowl XIII but recall few details beyond my older sister asking “Who is that guy in the hat they keep showing” every time the camera focused on Tom Landry. I remember Super Bowl XIV better, and particularly John Stallworth’s game changing 60-Prevent-Slot-Hook-And-Go touchdown.

After that with my age not yet breaking double digits, I had difficulty understanding why the Steelers struggled in the early 1980’s, not wanting to accept my older brother’s explanation that “All the Steelers have are old guys and rookies.”

It was difficult to follow the Steelers growing up in suburban DC in the pre-internet age. And by the time I started following the Steelers seriously again during the 1987 season I was in high school, and I was shocked to see that Super Bowl veterans such as Stallworth, Mike Webster and Donnie Shell were still playing.

  • At time it seemed like several generations of football has passed since the last Super Bowl, when in fact less time separated the Steelers from their last Lombardi than does now.

Time most certainly does move faster as you age.

Bit contributor or not, Steel Curtain Rising Thanks Greg Warren for helping bring home One for The Thumb and then completing the Super Bowl Six Pack, and wishes him the best as he begins his “Life’s Work.”

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…On Becoming a Pittsburgh Steelers Fan – Finding My Inner Black & Gold

It seems most Pittsburgh Steelers fans tell stories of that one definable moment when they fell in-love with their favorite football team.

For most who have been fans since childhood, that moment is usually tied-in with a parental figure, such as their father. Every year around Father’s Day, the Internet is filled with stories from writers, each recalling a time in their youth when their dad took them to their first game, and how this created a life-long love for a specific sports team and an everlasting bond with their father.

  • Alas, I have no such stories to share from my youth about becoming a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
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Steelers fans take over Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego last fall; Photo credit: K.C. Alfred, San Diego Union Tribune

My father was never around, so I couldn’t develop any sort of bond with him–through sports or anything else.

My mom may have been a fan, but I don’t remember her donning Black and Gold or mentioning the Steelers in any way during the first six or seven years of my life.

Steelers Super Bowls of the 70’s a Formative Experience

I attended my first game back in 1988, at the age of 16, but by then, I was already a die-hard fan for almost a decade. And the person I attended the game with was my uncle, who is my age and more like a brother than any sort of parental figure.

  • Yet, despite a lack of direct family influence during my toddler and kindergarten years, I somehow became a huge Steelers.

One year, January of 1979, I  was six and watching an old rerun of Tarzan in the living room of my house in Bellevue (a suburb of Pittsburgh), while my mom watched Super Bowl XIII on the little black-and-white TV in the kitchen as she washed dishes, (video available as of 6/30/16):

I remember seeing Lynn Swann celebrate after Terry Bradshaw threw him the Steelers final touchdown in the fourth quarter of their 35-31 victory over the Cowboys, but at that very moment, I could have cared less.

But by the following year, January of 1980, I was seven and fully-invested, as I watched the Steelers take on the Rams in Super Bowl XIV. And, ironically enough, while my mom took in the action in the living room of our new residence in the Bloomfield section of Pittsburgh, I sat in the kitchen and watched Pittsburgh outlast Los Angeles, 31-19, on that same black-and-white TV that was tuned into Super Bowl XIII one year earlier.

  • But how did I go from one extreme to the other in just one year of my life?

Obviously, there had to be something there. I do recall watching football games when I was no more than two or three years old, so maybe I was cheering for the Steelers all along and just don’t remember.

At the end of the day, however, it doesn’t really matter how I got from point A to point B. I may not have developed parental bonds through sports as a youngster, but I certainly fostered many bonds in my teenage years and early-20s, when I took in many games with my grandparents, my uncles, and my siblings.

And, believe it or not, in my 30s and 40s, I developed a bit of a Steelers-bond with my mother, who started to become a bigger fan right around the time Ben Roethlisberger came on-board and the franchise was about to add another Super Bowl chapter to its already storied history.

Back to my youth, and those many years I watched games all by myself without anyone else around. I guess when they say that Pittsburgh ingrains allegiance to the Steelers into a person, I’m the perfect example of that.

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Steelers Nation Salutes the Pittsburgh Penguins on their Stanley Cup Victory

Pittsburgh is once again the City of Champions!

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Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup; Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Tribune Review

If you feel like you’ve read those words before here on Steel Curtain Rising, it is because you have, precisely 7 years ago, when the Penguins last won the Stanley Cup.

Yours truly cannot really claim to be a Penguins fan. Heck, its impossible to watch Penguins games, even the Stanley Cup finals here in Buenos Aires without resorting to an illegal stream on the internet. But if a team hails from Pittsburgh, this site supports it. Period.

  • So Steelers Nation Salutes Pittsburgh Penguins!

Now, the key question is, can history repeat itself?

The last Penguins Stanley Cup Championship came four months after the James Harrison, Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to victory in Super Bowl XLIII. There’s of course no guarantee that the stars will line up like that, after all the Penguins 1991 and 1992 acted as a championship bridge for the city of Pittsburgh in between Super Bowl XIV and Super Bowl XL.

But it sure would be nice if the planets would align again.

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Celebrating the 8 Greatest Steelers Super Bowl Plays

Super Bowl 50 is almost here. Unfortunately the Pittsburgh Steelers are not playing Super Bowl 50, but as the great game reaches the half-century mark, Steelers Nation can take pride that regardless of whether Carolina or Denver triumphs, the Black and Gold own more Lombardi Trophies than any other franchise.

With that in mind, Steel Curtain Rising gives you the 8 Greatest Steelers Super Bowl Plays.

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Lynn Swann makes and belief-defying catch in Super Bowl X over Dalllas’ Mark Washington. Photo Credit: AP, via NY Daily New

Super Bowl IX – Dwight White Spearheads Defensive Dominance

Sometimes plays symbolize an era, other times it is a player. When the two converge , something special happens. It is fitting then that the Pittsburgh Steelers defense would author the first score in their first Super Bowl.

  • That only tells half the story.

Steel Curtain lineman Dwight White got pneumonia the week before Super Bowl IX. He’d lost 18 pounds in the hospital. Chuck Noll and George Perless told Steve Furness to get ready to play. The morning of the Super Bowl, White called Ralph Berlin, the Steelers head trainer, and begged him to pick him up, as White was determined to be introduced.

After talking with Steelers Dr. John Best, they relented, and when they saw White struggling to even put on his jersey, they figured he’d pass out in warm ups and let him play.

White started, and the Minnesota Vikings attacked him immediately. They handed off to Dave Osborn on three straight plays, and Osborn ran directly to White. The results:

  • A loss, no gain, and a one-yard gain.

The game remained scoreless in the second quarter when the Vikings found themselves backed up against their own end zone. A bad snap left Fran Tarkenton scrambling for the ball. It rolled in the end zone. Tarkenton fell on it. Dwight White landed on him.

A safety might only be 2 points, but scoring one sends a message that a defense is imposing its will. The message of Dwight White’s safety in Super Bowl IX was loud and clear: The Steel Curtain had risen.

Super Bowl X – Lynn Swann Shines

Super Bowl X provides the perfect example of how numbers might not lie, but they often fail to paint an accurate picture. Compared to some of the receiving feats of the 1980’s, let alone to the numbers NFL wide receivers put up today, Lynn Swann’s receiving numbers appear rather pedestrian.

  • Lynn Swann never caught more than 60 passes in a season and retired with 336 catches to his name

For years, naysayers like Peter King used those statics to block his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Super Bowl X reveals why the likes of King were so sorely mistaken. Lynn Swann’s stat line from Super Bowl X reads 4-161 and one TD. Not bad, but it suggests nothing spectacular. (Tweet w/ embedded video available as of 2/6/16):

But it was the quality of the catches that Swann made that earned him the Super Bowl MVP Award. His acrobatic catches were works of sheer beauty and displayed such grace that decades after he retired fans who weren’t even born when Swann was playing were still saying, “That was a Lynn Swann Catch.”

Super Bowl XIII – Rocky Bleier Overcomes the Odds

Wounded while serving his country, in Vietnam Rocky Bleier wasn’t even supposed to walk again, let alone play football. Yet Bleier defied the odds, not only making the game, but earning a starting spot.
Even then, Rocky was low man on the totem pole of a Super Bowl offense that featured no fewer than 5 Hall of Famers.

26 seconds remained in the first half with the score tied at 14. Franco Harris had given the Steelers a 3rd and 1 at the Dallas Cowboys 7. Terry Bradshaw dropped back to pass and this is what happened (available as of 2/5/16 – watch it now before Roger Goodell’s YouTube police have it taken down):

Rocky Bleier would not be denied the touchdown, and added 7 points to the Steelers tally in a game they would ultimately win by 4….

Super Bowl XIV – Bradshaw, Stallworth & 60-Prevent-Slot-Hook-And-Go

History tends to paint the Super Steelers as an unstoppable juggernaut that authored an unbroken string of super-human plays en route to four Super Bowls in six years. The Steelers of the 70’s were good, but what made them great wasn’t their ability to blow everyone out of the water, but rather their ability to make plays when the game was on the line.

  • No Super Bowl showcases that ability better than Super Bowl XIV vs. the LA Rams

The 4th quarter had begun, and the Steelers trailed the Los Angeles Rams 19-17. Lynn Swann was out of the game, as was Theo Bell, the Steelers 3rd receiver. Everyone on the Rams staff, most of all former Steelers defensive coordinator Bud Carson, knew Terry Bradshaw would try to get the ball to John Stallworth. And on third and 8 at the Pittsburgh 27, Chuck Noll ordered Bradshaw to do that.

The play was “60-Prevent-Slot-Hook-And-Go” and the Steelers had failed miserably executing the play in practice, and neither Bradshaw nor Stallworth thought the play would work. Chuck Noll knew better. (Available as of 2/4/16):

As Art Rooney Jr. observed in his book Ruanadh, this is the result when you when you pair a Hall of Fame quarterback, with a Hall of Fame Wide Receiver and a Hall of Fame Coach.

Super Bowl XXX – Steelers Surprise Onsides Kick

The Steelers opened the 4th quarter of Super Bowl XXX down 7-10. Nine plays into the game’s final period, a Norm Johnson field goal narrowed the Steelers deficit to 10. On the side lines, special teams coach Bobby April came up to Bill Cowher, next NFL Films captured Bill Cowher into his head set, “Chan? Chan, I’m going with the surprise on sides. I’m not leaving anything in the bag.”

  • Norm Johnson executed the surprise on-sides kick perfectly, and Deon Figures recovered.

Neil O’Donnell led the Steelers down the field, and a Bam Morris touchdown made it 17-20 with the momentum decidedly in the Steelers favor… Of course, Steelers Nation would like to forget what happened after the Steelers defense forced a punt, but alas that too is part of history.

But so is Bill Cowher’s decision to call the surprise on sides. In terms of X’s and O’s, it may not have been the best play call in Steelers Super Bowl history, but it was certainly the boldest.

Super Bowl XL – Ike Taylor’s Interception

If Steelers Nation rightly remembers Bill Cowher’s first Super Bowl for its missed opportunities, it also must honor his final Super Bowl as the occasion where Cowher’s Steelers seized their own opportunities. The two scoring plays – Willie Parker’s 75 yard run and Antwaan Randle El to Hines Ward stand out.

  • But those touchdowns bookended an even bigger play that ensured their relevance.

The Steelers were leading 14-3 in the middle of the third quarter when a Ben Roethlisberger interception gave the Seattle Seahawks new life. The Seahawks scored a touchdown. Seattle began the fourth quarter by marching down to the Steelers 19 where they threatened to take the lead. On 3rd and 18 Matt Hasselbeck got greedy and tried to hit Darrell Jackson deep.

The knock on Ike Taylor was that he couldn’t hold on to the interceptions. In his entire career, he picked off NFL quarterbacks 17 times. But three of those came in the post season, and none was more important than his interception of Matt Hasselbeck.

The play grounded the Seahawks rally, and set up the Steelers insurance touchdown that secured One for the Thumb with the Steelers win in Super Bowl XL.

Super Bowl XLIII – James Harrison’s Pick Six

Super Bowl XLIII will forever be remember for Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes, the drive that preceded it, and Larry Fitzgerald’s touchdown that made such heroics necessary. Fair enough. Both Fitzgerald and Holmes touchdowns could easily make “Top 10 Super Bowl Touchdown lists.”

But it says here that James Harrison authored an even bigger touchdown (available as of 2/4/16):

Why does Steel Curtain Rising rank James Harrison’s touchdown higher than Holmes?

  • Simply math settles the question.

Aside from James Harrison running the length of the field, the Cardinals were at least going to score 3 points on that drive. Looked at in that light, Harrison’s touchdown amounted to a 10 point swing in the Steelers favor in a game the Steelers won by four.

The play also revealed Silverback’s incredible discipline, instincts and sheer will power.

Super Bowl XLV – Alejandra’s Return to Health

Steel Curtain Rising missed Super Bowl XLV because it wasn’t shown in Porto Galinhas, Brazil. But by game time that was a secondary consideration. You can read the full story of the tremendous generosity of the staff at the Tabapitanga here, but in a nutshell, my wife suffered a herniated disc, experienced intense pain, and could barely walk. The trip back to Buenos Aires was a harrowing affair, and was followed by three trips to the ER and two hospitalizations.

  • Fortunately, Alejandra made a complete recovery – or at least as close to a complete recovery as one can make from back injuries, and is doing extremely well.

I even forgot to record the game, and never saw Super Bowl XLV. Some things are not meant to be.

Sure, the Steelers loss disappointed, but my wife’s injury and recovery serves as a reminder that the outcome of a football game pales in comparison to what is really important in life, which is why it makes this list of the greatest Steelers Super Bowl plays.

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8 Steelers on Super Bowl 50 Golden Team Confirms Steelers of 70’s Best Ever Status

Sometimes even the most scrupulous Steelers fan gets greedy. “8 Steelers Make Super Bowl 50 Golden Team” read the headline. A short while latter, Ed Bouchette’s tweet followed:

The initial reaction was that seeing Lynn Swann, Franco Harris, Mike Webster, Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Mel Blount and Chuck Noll honored was nice, but it begged the question: “What about Steelers from Pittsburgh’s second Super Bowl era?”

Less = More for Steelers on Super Bowl 50 Golden Team

After all, Ben Roethlisberger would be too much to hope for, but Troy Polamalu, Alan Faneca and perhaps James Harrison would have strong cases for their inclusion in any all-time Super Bowl team. For Steelers fans to “Go there” would be incredibly greedy for one simple reason:

  • The NFL Hall of Fame selection committee didn’t make “any” all time Super Bowl team, it assembled one definitive Super Bowl 50 Golden Team.

Let’s tip our caps to the NFL Hall of Fame selection committee for what they achieved in constructing the Super Bowl 50 Golden Team – this is a bare bones team that limits itself to the best of the Super Bowl’s best. This cuts against the grain. These “All Time teams” such as the NFL’s 75th Anniversary team generally cast as wide a net possible both to spur fan interest and to drive Google clicks.

  • The Super Bowl 50 Golden Team moves in the opposite direction

Here’s the NFL’s description the Super Bowl 50 Golden Team’s composition:

The Super Bowl 50 Golden Team roster consists of one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, two offensive tackles, two guards, one center, two interior defensive linemen, two defensive ends, two inside linebackers, two outside linebackers, two cornerbacks, two safeties, one kicker, one punter, and one return specialist. One head coach has also been chosen.

The only concession to the change of the game is including 4 down lineman and 4 linebackers. Other than this, the Hall of Fame selection committee in Canton plays this one strictly by the book. Here’s a complete look at the depth chart of the Super Bowl 50 Golden Team.

Super Bowl 50 Golden Team Depth Chart: Offense

Quarterback: Joe Montana; San Francisco 49ers (1)
Halfback: Emmitt Smith; Dallas Cowboys (1)
Fullback: Franco Harris; Pittsburgh Steelers (1)
Tight End: Jay Novacek; Dallas Cowboys (2)
Offensive Tackle: Larry Allen; Dallas Cowboys (4)
Guard: Forrest Gregg; Green Bay Packers (1)
Center: Mike Webster: Pittsburgh Steelers (2)
Guard: Art Shell; Oakland Raiders (1)
Offensive Tackle: Gene Upshaw; Oakland Raiders (2)
Wide Receiver:  Jerry Rice; San Francisco 49ers (2)
Wide Receiver:  Lynn Swann; Pittsburgh Steelers (3)

Super Bowl 50 Golden Team Depth Chart: Defense

Defensive End: Reggie White; Green Bay Packers (2)
Defensive Tackle: Mean Joe Greene; Pittsburgh Steelers (4)
Defensive Tackle: Randy White; Dallas Cowboys (5)
Defensive End: Charles Haley; San Francisco 49ers (3), Dallas Cowboys (6)
Outside Linebacker: Lawrence Taylor; New York Giants (1)
Inside Linebacker: Jack Lambert; Pittsburgh Steelers (5)
Inside Linebacker: Ray Lewis; Baltimore Ravens (1)
Outside Linebacker: Jack Ham; Pittsburgh Steelers (6)
Cornerback: Deion Sanders; San Francisco 49ers (4), Dallas Cowboys (7)
Cornerback: Mel Blount; Pittsburgh Steelers (7)
Strong Safety: Ronnie Lott; San Francisco 49ers (5)
Free Safety: Jake Scott; Miami Dolphins (1)

Super Bowl 50 Golden Team Depth Chart: Specialist and Head Coach

Place Kicker: Adam Vinatieri; New England Patriots (1), Indianapolis Colts (1)
Punter: Ray Guy; Oakland Raiders (3)
Kick Returner: Desmond Howard; Green Bay Packers (3)
Head Coach of the Super Bowl 50 Golden Team: Chuck Noll, Pittsburgh Steelers (8)

Super Bowl 50 Golden Team Reveals Special Super Steelers Were

Some Steelers fans have groused about the absence of Terry Bradshaw and John Stallworth, the only two Hall of Famers from the Super Steelers not on the roster. To that, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had the perfect response:

Yes, like Montana, Terry Bradshaw is the only other 4-0 Super Bowl quarterback, and he and John Stallworth authored one of the greatest plays Super Bowl history with Super Bowl XIV’s “60-Prevent-Slot-Hook-And-Go,” but their absence is what make the Super Bowl 50 Golden Team so special – it focuses on the best of the best.

  • In the process, it is also reveals just how special the Super Steelers were.

Lynn Swann had to beat out Michael Irvin to earn his spot. The committee chose Franco Harris over Walter Payton. Jack Lambert got the nod over Ray Nitschke. Mel Blount made it in over Darrelle Revis and Rod Woodson. Joe Greene never won a Super Bowl MVP award but passed over Richard Dent who did.

  • And of course Chuck Noll beat out media darlings like Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs, Bill Walsh and Bill Belichick

In looking at the depth charts above, one can also not help but notice that the Super Steelers stand alongside several of the men they beat to either get to win those Super Bowls. Super Bowl 50 Golden Team marks a truly elite team of Super Bowl greats, and it confirms that, with 8 members of the team, the Pittsburgh Steelers of the ‘70’s were truly the greatest of all time.

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Immaculate Reception Untouchable as Steelers Greatest Play; Harrison’s Pick Six Strong Second

This year ESPN is filling the void before training camp by polling fan bases on the greatest play in their respective franchise history. As Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain points out, for Steelers Nation there is no debate.

  • The Immaculate Reception simultaneously ended 40 years of losing and was the Big Bang that created Steelers Nation.

Everything else takes second place – including games that end in presentation of the Lombardi.

But that leaves a lot of doubt about choices 2-4. The truth is, ESPN’s poll is a little too slanted towards the contemporary period. Unlike the Patriots, Ravens, and Seahawks, the Steelers have won Super Bowls in years that begin with “19.” For the record, the three choices on ESPN and BTSC’s poll are ‘Tone’s Toe Tap in Super Bowl XLIII, James Harrison’s 100 yard pick six in the same game, and Ben Roethlisberger’s shoe string tackle in the ’05 AFC Division playoff game.

  • All worthy plays certainly.

But there are other plays that merit consideration, even if one limits selection to Super Bowls. Here are only a few:

If you expand the list to the playoff games, Troy Polamalu’s pick six in the 2008 AFC Championship Game must be included, not only for how it incredible it was, not because it came at a crucial moment in the game, but because it slammed the door shut on another AFC Championship home loss.

A similar, sentimental nod, can be given to Randy Fulller’s pass defense at the end of the 1995 AFC Championship game.

All of these are worthy candidates. Each involved players putting them into position to harness their talents in exactly the moments their team needed them to.

  • But in the final analysis, the Steelers second greatest play must go to James Harrison.

Harrison gets his pick six brought the total package –

  • It was an unscripted play born out of tireless preparation
  • It involved tremendous athleticism
  • It came at a critical time

Thanks to end game drama on the part of Larry Fitzgerald, Big Ben and ‘Tone, the impact of Harrion’s interception is largely forgotten. It shouldn’t. Arizona was about to score. Sliverback’s pick prevented 3 if not 7 points from going on the board, and added 7 more amounting to a 10 or 14 point swing in a game decided by 4.

Franco Harris’ place in Steelers lore will forever be safe – men who hustle on every play enjoy such privileges – but James Harrison will be equally difficult to dislodge from his perch at number two.

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Chuck Noll Biography – Understanding The Unassuming Steelers Legend

How do you summarize a legend’s life in a single article? Steelers Nation’s scribes faced just such a dilemma with the passing of Chuck Noll.

How to tell the story of someone so accomplished, yet so humble; at once intelligent but unassuming; demanding while soft spoken; so devoted to singleness of purpose yet dedicated to a variety of pursuits.

How else to explain a an who sits among the greatest NFL coaches yet is frequently forgotten when “The Greatest” conversation starts because he actively deflected credit for himself? Preparedness was Pittsburgh’s calling card under Noll. So how do you explain how he was home for dinner every night while his contemporaries slept on couches in their offices?

It is a daunting task. To perhaps the key to decrypting the cryptic Chuck Noll it is best to start with the “exceptions,” or moments where he departed from the script. Click on the links below to see how those “off script moments” formed the foundations of Noll’s defining moments with the Steelers.

1. “Losing has nothing to do with geography.”
2. “They think the just won the God damn Super Bowl.”
3. “Go for the big one.”
4. “Sidney Thornton’s problems are great, and they are many.” – The Emperor in Winter
5. “Potentially, we have a good team.” – The Emperor’s Lash Hurrah
6. “Time to smell the flowers….”But first….
7. The Emperor Is Dead – Long Live Steelers Nation

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Chuck Noll was one of the most enigmatic figures to don the NFL head coach headset. Photo credit: Walter Iooss Jr., Sports Illustrated via MMQB

“Losing has nothing to do with geography.”

When you think of “Attitude” and “Steelers” you usually think of a young Joe Greene tossing the ball into the stands in frustration, or Greg Lloyd’s “Just plain nasty,” or perhaps Joey Porter calling out Ray Lewis.

  • The mild mannered Noll, it would seem, was the antithesis of attitude.

Except he wasn’t. Of Chuck Noll’s many contributions to the Steelers, perhaps his most important was attitude. And he made it on his very first day as Pittsburgh Steelers head coach. When asked about taking over a Pittsburgh team that had excelled at losing  40 years, Noll’s response was a concise as it was penetrating.

“Losing has nothing to do with geography.”

With a single statement, Noll erased four decades of mindset. The team’s bad habit of trading away draft picks had ended. Noll pledged to Dan Rooney to build the team up from the ground, to replace those players not good enough, and even dared to remake Pro Bowlers such as Andy Russell in his own image.

  • Likewise, losing would neither be accepted as normal, nor incite outrage, but rather serve as a tool for teaching players to improve.

Make no mistake about it, a lot of things changed in Pittsburgh when Noll arrived, but it all began with a change in attitude.
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“They think the just won the God damn Super Bowl.”

Noll didn’t do pep talks, ala Vince Lombardi or Bill Cowher. He didn’t go out for emotional hand holding the way Joe Gibbs would. Nor did he attempt to belittle his player’s with barrages of criticism like Bill Parcells.

  • No, Noll wanted players who were self-starters.

You were playing professional football, and that should serve as motivation enough. Yet perhaps his best off script moment came before the 1974 AFC Championship game. This story made it into almost every Chuck Noll obituary.

The Oakland Raiders had defeated the Dolphins, and afterwards John Madden exclaimed that, it was a great day in football when the two best teams played and it was a shame one of them had to lose.

As Ray Mansfield recounted, Noll walked into the Steelers locker room the next morning fuming, “They think the just won the God Damn Super Bowl. But let me tell you something, the best football team is sitting here right in front of me.”

Dwight White remarked, “It was like getting a blessing to go out and beat up on someone.” Andy Russell later recalled, Joe Greene stood up and proclaimed, “I am ready to play right now.” For his own part, Joe Greene said that was the one game that he entered where he knew he was going to win.

  • As it turned out, Noll’s bit of bravado worked.

The Steelers ended the half tied, after the referee had disallowed a John Stallworth touchdown. Nonplussed, the team filed off into the locker room, with no frustrations evident. Nor did panic set in when Oakland took a 10-3 lead into the fourth quarter. Lynn Swann scored one touchdown while Franco Harris rumbled for 2 more.

Noll’s stoicism was no act, yet The Emperor was savvy enough to know when to press buttons.
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“Go for the big one.”

Football, Noll repeat time and time again, was about blocking and tackling. While his contemporary Chuck Knox was known as “Ground Chuck,” Noll could have just as easily earned that nickname.

  • When in doubt, Chuck Noll ran.

But the Steelers became victims of their own success on the other side of the ball, and that prompted another off script move by The Emperor.

Mel Blount simply covered receivers too well. The NFL never has nor never will see another more physically intimidating cornerback. The NFL took notice, and took notice of the fact that TV Ratings and passing go hand in hand, and enacted the “Mel Blount Rule” making it harder to cover receivers downfield.

  • This put an already aging Steelers defense at a disadvantage.

Noll however, transformed advantage into disadvantage, by unleashing Terry Bradshaw’s arm and making full use of the talents of Swann, Stallworth, and Bennie Cunningham. Yes, the Steelers still ran. Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier and Sidney Thornton rushed for a combined 4184 yards in 1978 and 1979.

  • But it was Noll’s decision (and ability) to attack through the air that kept the Steelers ahead of Landry’s Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII.

A year later, with the Steelers trailing in the 4th quarter of Super Bowl XIV, on third down at their own 27 Noll ordered Bradshaw to “Go for the big one” calling “60-Prevent-Slot-Hook-And-Go.

The play hadn’t worked all week in practice, and Noll had relentlessly preached that if you couldn’t perform in practice, you’d fail on Sundays. Again, Noll knew when to make exceptions to his own rules – and 73 yards later John Stallworth put the Steelers ahead with a touchdown.

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“Sidney Thornton’s problems are great, and they are many.” – The Emperor in Winter

Had Noll retired after Super Bowl XIV the national press would have had no choice to accept Chuck Noll as the greatest coach of the modern era. But he didn’t retire, and instead coached the Steelers through a decade were they barely topped .500.

  • Here again, the root cause can be found in Noll’s decision to go off script.

In 1969, Noll had no only committed the Steelers to building through the draft, but committed them ed to taking the best player available, regardless of race, school, position, or who was currently on the roster.

Bucking the rest of the NFL, Noll insisted on colorblind drafting, and with Bill Nunn’s guidance aggressively scouted the Historic Black Colleges. Terry Hanratty had been high second round pick in 1969, yet Noll didn’t hesitate at taking Bradshaw at number one in 1970. Frank Lewis and Ron Shanklin were good receivers for the Steelers in 1973, but Noll drafted to great ones in 1974. And so on.

  • But as Lombardi trophies started stacking up, the team got away from that philosophy.

Instead of taking the best player on the board, the Steelers would try to project guys who fell for one reason or another and who they thought would better fill roster holes. The decision was a disaster. As the 80’s arrived the oldest of Noll’s players reached retirement, and their replacements were lacking.

Sidney Thornton, a second round draft pick in 1977 who could have been Franco Harris’ heir apparent, once so frustrated Noll with his off the field antics, which included treating cuts with urine, that he remarked “Sidney Thornton’s problems are great, and they are many.”

Other factors contributed to the Steelers poor drafting and subsequent struggles in the 80’s, but getting away from their bread and butter was the most prominent.

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“Potentially, we have a good team.” – The Emperor’s Lash Hurrah

Telling and retelling the 1989 Steelers story is a labor of love at Steel Curtain Rising and need not be repeated in detail here. Yet, for those unfamiliar, it may have been Noll’s finest coaching job.

In 1988 the Steelers had finished 5-11, their worst since 1971, and for the first time ever, Noll had been forced to fire assistants. Nonetheless, Noll convened training camp by saying, “Potentially, we have a good team.”

  • The Steelers then promptly went out and lost their first two games, divisional ones at that, to the combined score of 92-10.

Afterwards, Noll quipped “Either we just played the best two teams in football, or we’re in for a long year.” As, I believe it was Gene Collier recalled on the day of Noll’s retirement, “The once unthinkable question was on everyone’s lips. And it wasn’t ‘Will Dan Rooney fire Chuck Noll’ but ‘How long will he wait?’”

  • Again, time had done nothing to mellow Noll’s attitude to pep talks.

Yet, he did something better, as Behind the Steel Curtain’s Michael Bean documented with Merril Hoge back in 2010:

He revisited the things that were going on in the media about us. And if I remember right, he kind of wrote some things up on the board, showed us some clips. Then he stood in front of us, paused for a second and said, ‘I believe in you.’

Hoge says that the hair still stands up on his arm when he remembers that statement. As well it should, the team rebounded to make the playoffs, upset the Oilers in the Astrodome, and came within a bad snap of doing it again vs. Denver.

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“Time to smell the flowers….”But first….

When the ’89 Steelers  season ended, Noll commented “This team is on the way up. He doubled down during the off season, talking about the “Championship caliber” talent his team had.

Yet a playoffless 9-7 season in 1990 and a mediocre 7-9 season in 1991 led even the Steelers Digest to question Noll’s assessment of the Steelers talent.

History vindicated Noll on the talent question, as Dermontti Dawson, Jerry Olsavsky, Neil O’Donnell, John Jackson, Greg Lloyd, Carnell Lake and Rod Woodson formed the backbone of Bill Cowher’s 1995 team the fell just short in Super Bowl XXX.

However, history also vindicated Noll when he decided it was time to “smell the flowers,” as he declared the day he retired.

  • But in hanging it up Noll added a punctuation mark on his greatness in his own understated way, and one that was in no way apparent at the time.

Noll’s final game took place at Three Rivers Stadium on December 22, 1991 vs. the Cleveland Browns, and the Steelers won 17-10 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. Not only did Noll win his final game, but in doing so he defeated Bill Belichick the man who 23 years later is still trying to tie his record of our Super Bowls….

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Thanks Chuck

When NFL Films asked him to reflect on his time with the Steelers of the ‘70’s, Chuck Noll simply said, “It was fun. It really was fun.”

  • Yes it was fun, even for those just barely old enough to remember.

The Emperor is Dead, but Long Live the Steelers Nation he founded!

Thanks Chuck!

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Chuck Noll, Former Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach, Passes Away at 82

Former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach, Chuck Noll has passed away at the age of 82 in his home in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. According to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Ed Bouchette, Chuck Noll has suffered from poor health for a number of years, battling Alzheimer’s, a heart condition, and severe back pain.

Chuck Noll was known as “The Emperor.” While he may not have negotiated contracts or dabbled in the business side of the sport the way coach/GM’s such as Bill Parcells did, Noll had total control over the football operation, from coaching decisions, draft picks, to final roster choices.

  • Noll’s record speaks for itself.

When Noll arrived in Pittsburgh, the Steelers had appeared in post-season only once, and they had never won a game. By the time he retired in 1991, the Steelers and won 209 games, 16 post-season contests, 9 AFC Central Division Championships, and were the first NFL team to win 3 and then 4 Super Bowls.

  • 23 years later, Chuck Noll is still the only NFL head coach to have won four Super Bowls. 

As a coach, Noll never fathered a cadre of assistants as Paul Brown did, nor is he credited with establishing any innovations such as Tom Landry’s “Flex Defense” or Bill Walsh’s “West Coast offense.” Unlike Vince Lombardi, he left no legacy for his fire and brimstone motivational tactics.

  • No, Noll wasn’t about that because he was a fundamentalist through and through.

Noll wasn’t interested in flashy performers or super stars, although he coached plenty of the later, he wanted good athletes to execute their role in a system, and to do it predictably. And Noll did innovate – the famous “Tampa Cover 2” defense that Tony Dungy popularized was the same defense the Steelers developed and used under Noll, Bud Carson and George Perles.

  • Noll was also a master talent evaluator, arguably the best of all time.  

Drawing on the work of the Steelers scouting department headed by Art Rooney Jr., Dick Haley, and Bill Nunn, Chuck Noll selected 11 NFL Hall of Famers, in the form of Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Mel Blount, Terry BradshawFranco Harris, Mike WebsterLynn Swann, John Stallworth, Rod Woodson, and Dermontti Dawson.

  • But if Chuck Noll struck gold with these high profile players, he was also the champion of the little guy.

Noll saw himself as a teacher, first and foremost. During his time as coach, the Steelers practice without numbers – this was because Noll wanted all of his players to be treated equally – if an All Pro ran a bad route, he didn’t want anyone to hesitate to correct him. Under Noll, late round picks and undrafted rookie free agents got a fair shake and an honest shot at the time, as players like careers of L.C. Greenwood and Donnie Shell

Upon his retirement from the Steelers in 1991, Chuck Noll maintained the title of Administration Adviser, but in truth he served in no official capacity with the Steelers. Noll had pointedly stayed out of the limelight as head coach, and thought that all of the credit that Bill Cowher enjoyed following his tenure, should belong to him.

Noll could occasionally be seen in the press box during the occasional game at Three Rivers Stadium, but split his time between Pittsburgh and Florida, but was seldom seen and even more rarely heard.

Chuck Noll is survived by his wife Marianne and his son Chris.

Steelers Nation has lost its greatest champion and the City of Pittsburgh the man who made it the City of Champions. He will be missed. Steel Curtain Rising asks you join us in offering your thoughts and prayers to Noll’s family.

Note: Steel Curtain Rising will have a more complete obituary on Chuck Noll over the weekend. Please check back soon.

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Whether Its Podlesh or Wing, Should Pittsburgh Pray for Its Punting to Stink?

Steelers Nation’s reaction to news that the Pittsburgh Steelers had signed punter Adam Podlesh ranged from ho-hum to derision as documented by Behind the Steel Curtain.* Some of this is logical, as Adam Podlesh’s punting averages were actually worse than both Mat McBriar and Zoltan Mesko.

  • But the more refined response is: Who cares?

Seriously. Assuming he can avoid blocked kicks, how much impact does a punter have anyway?

Sure, I am sure Pro Football Focus has some saber metric that reads like this:

  • “Analysis shows that pass defenses on teams with a favorable gross/net punting ratio enjoy a statistically significant “passing yards per attempt allowed” advantage.

Or something.

Maybe Pro Football Focus has no such stat. Even if they do, it says here that the Steelers have won more Super Bowls than anyone else, and it further says that in that respect, good punting doesn’t count for squat. Read on:

Steelers punting super bowl miller colquitt walden
Does good punting = grim harbinger for the Steelers? Hum…

Number don’t lie fellow citizen of Steelers Nation. Let’s take a closer look for those who remain unconvinced.

Bobby Walden handled the punting duties for the Steelers in Super Bowl IX and Super Bowl X. The Steelers ranked just above the middle of the pack and in fact were right about average in terms of punting.

  • Very little was average about those 1974 and 1975 teams laden with NFL Hall of Famers.

No offense, but the presence of players like Joe Greene, Franco Harris, and Jack Lambert explain a lot more about the 1st two Lombardi’s than does Walden.

Craig Colquitt took over the chores for Super Bowl XIII and Super Bowl XIV and the Steelers punting performance perked up just a tad. Now Pittsburgh’s defense was in decline by that point, and perhaps better punting put them over the edge.

The Steelers 6-10 ’86 season stands as an aberration. Harry Newsome had arrived, but the Steelers still ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in terms of punting. Newsome picked his performance by 1988, and the Steelers led the NFL in punting.

  • They also had their worst post-1971 finish.

Legend has it the Bubby Brister scrawled “Playoffs 1989” on the chalk board to open training camp that summer, but it’s doubtful that Pittsburgh’s punting advantage in Newsome inspired him to do so.

In 1995 Rohn Stark filled the gap between Mark Royals and Josh Miller and the Steelers were the third worst punting team in the league. Nonetheless, the Steelers came heart breakingly close to “One for the Thumb” vs. Dallas in Super Bowl XXX.

Josh Miller was a fine punter, and during the “My buddy’s the cop” phase of Kordell Stewart’s starting tenure he became somewhat of a cult hero and Baltimore’s legendary Purple Goose Saloon and yours truly was one of his prime promoters. Yet in 2003, Miller had the Steelers punting ranked above average, but they still had a 6-10 record.

  • The Steelers replaced Miller with Chris Gardocki, who punted on in Super Bowl XL, but One for the Thumb Came in spite of a 22nd ranking punting game.

And of course the Steelers attained further glory in Super Bowl XLIII despite the having the second worst punting game thanks to Mitch Berger and Paul  Ernster.

Rounding it out you have 2010 and the loss to Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV, a season in which the Steelers broached the top 25% in punting.  Could getting on the other side of that 25% mark have negated Ben Roethlisberger’s interceptions, Mike Wallace’s ghosting, or Mendy’s fumble? Count me a skeptic.

Prayer’s and Shout Outs

Of course this analysis only looks at punting average, and not inside 20 numbers or anything like that. And of course crappy punting can hurt you, just remember the Oakland game. But let’s repeat it:

  • Number don’t lie

In the “Post Immaculate Reception Era” there is no correlation between good punting and winning Super Bowls. In fact, if anything the data suggests something quite the opposite.

So whether Brad Wing or Adam Podlesh wins out, perhaps its best to pray for Pittsburgh’s punter to stink.

*Full disclosure. I also write for BTSC. And by complete happenstance (on my honor as a Life scout), it I saw that their Tony Defeo, a good friend and soul mate, had the same idea and beat me to the punch. Check his out here.

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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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