Thoughts on Mike Tomlin, Lawrence Timmons and Steelers Head Coaches First Draft Picks

Lawrence Timmons decision to sign with the Miami Dolphins marked a sad day in Steelers Nation. For ten years Lawrence Timmons had been a mainstay of the Steelers defense, first giving Dick LeBeau and the Keith Butler a durable, reliable presence in the middle of the field.

  • Lawrence Timmons had also been Mike Tomlin’s first draft pick.

Commentators were quick to assert that a head coach losing his maiden draft selection to the free agent market means something, and it does, but just what does it actually mean?

Lawrence Timmons, James Farrior, Ryan Clark, Brett Swain, Super Bowl XLV

Lawrence Timmons goes for a loose ball in Super Bowl XLV. Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka, Getty Images via Zimbio

It sounds sexy to say that a new head coach defines his legacy with his first draft pick and sometimes it’s true. Jimmy Johnson certainly defined his legacy in Dallas for the better by picking Troy Aikman just as Norv Turner did the opposite by picking Heath Shuler.

  • But in other cases the analogy falls flat.

Does anyone really want to try to argue that Bill Walsh in any way defined his legacy in San Francisco by picking making James Owens his first pick in 1979?

Which brings us to the question – how, and to what extent does Lawrence Timmons define Mike Tomlin’s legacy in Pittsburgh?

Steelers Head Coaches & Their First Picks

Steelers history gives a mixed bag when it comes to head coaches and their first picks. And this is a lot more difficult discussion to have in Pittsburgh than say in Cleveland or Washington, as the Steelers have only had 3 head coaches since the end of the Lyndon Johnson administration.

Buddy Parker’s first picks was Len Dawson, which is painfully appropriate for his legacy. Dawson is one of various quarterbacks the Steelers brought into the league that won Super Bowls and/or NFL Championships for someone other than Pittsburgh.

Bill Austin’s first pick ever was a fullback by the name of Dick Leftridge who played all of one season and had a total of 8 yards rushing and got cut the next summer for show up overweight.

Some have suggested that Dick Leftridge could have been a victim of Bill Austin’s racism, while another source consulted to verify this argues that Leftride did in fact lack  the commitment to conditioning. Either way Austin’s pick of Leftridge was certainly indicative of the Steelers failure with the draft.

Joe Greene, Chuck Noll, Art Rooney Sr.

Chuck Noll and Joe Greene Shake hands in front of Art Rooney Sr. in 1982. Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

On the flip side, picking Joe Greene first most certainly defined Chuck Noll’s legacy as Joe Greene’s arrival in Pittsburgh was the fulcrum that turned a perennial loser on to the path to being the greatest football team in the history of the sport.

In contrast, assessing the impact of Bill Cowher’s decision to pick (along with Tom Donahoe) Leon Searcy on The Chin’s legacy is a little more nebulous. To a certain degree, picking Searcy signaled a full-throated embrace of physical, power football that characterized the Cowher years in Pittsburgh.

  • But would anyone ever argue that Leon Searcy was a legacy defining pick?

I daresay the answer is no.

2007 Tomlin Takes Charge, Picks Lawrence Timmons First

The Steelers turned heads in the 2007 NFL Draft when they picked two outside linebackers, Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley with picks number one and number two. (Yes, the Steelers originally picked Timmons as an outside linebacker.)

Unfortunately, Lawrence Timmons early career doesn’t give opponents of the “Tomlin’s only won with Cowher’s players” nonsense much ammunition. Timmons played very little as a rookie and, while he made impressive contributions in spot duty in 2008, most of those came at outside linebacker in relief of James Harrison. Timmons started in 2009, but the fact that he split time with Keyaron Fox had some fans labeling him a bust.

  • But if Timmons took a few years to find his NFL footing, he exploded in 2010.
Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison, Steelers vs Titans, Bo Scaife

Lawrence Timmons slams Titans Bo Scaife as James Harrison looks on in Pittsburgh’s 2010 win over Tennessee. Photo Credit: New Pittsburgh Courier

And from 2010 onwards, Lawrence Timmons clearly established himself as a Mike Tomlin talent acquisition success story, even if he had a subpar 2011 campaign. As Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell observed:

Timmons was explosive. And productive. And he played week in and week out. Timmons started the last 111 games (counting postseason) that the Steelers played. In his eight regular seasons as the starter, he averaged 95 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 passes defensed and 1.4 forced fumbles per season.

Mike Tomlin likes to draft his players, especially premium picks, young and the statistics that Jim Wexell cites show just how effective that strategy has been. The Steelers win 8-8 reloading seasons and the “4 seasons between playoff wins” chant were frustrating for sure.

In seminal 2014 article Déjà vu All Over Again , Jim Wexell compared the post-2011 Steelers to the 1998-2000 Steeler teams and argued that the presence of Ben Roethlisberger as opposed to Kordell Stewart under center is what explains Pittsburgh’s ability to keep the franchise’s head above water.

He’s right of course, but quarterbacks can’t carry a team on their own, and Lawrence Timmons steadfast playmaking presence on the Steelers defense during those years was arguably just as important as Roethlisberger’s was to the defense during that time span.

Lawrence Timmons, Thad Lewis, Lawrence Timmons sack Thad Lewis, Steelers vs Browns,

Lawrence Timmons downs Thad Lewis of the Browns in the penultimate play of 2012. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

Think back to the Pittsburgh’s 2012 finale. The Steelers limped into the game against the Browns with an 7-8 record and, with the Steelers defending a two touchdown lead late in the fourth quarter, Lawrence Timmons ended the game with dramatic back-to-back sacks.

It was almost as if Timmons was proclaiming to the rest of the league, “Yes, the Steelers are down, but we’re not out.”

Lawrence Timmons and Tomlin’s Legacy

Lawrence Timmons continued to be the Steelers best defender for the next several seasons. By 2014 one could argue that Cameron Heyward had taken over that role, and by 2016 with Cam Heyward out, Ryan Shazier had established himself as Pittsburgh’s Alpha Male on defense.

  • But Lawrence Timmons continued to dominate, as 2016 second half surge proved.

Despite losing its best player, and despite starting rookies Artie Burns, Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave the Steelers defense staged and impressive turn around during the second half of 2016, and Lawrence was a big part of it coming up with two sacks and two interceptions in the last 7 games, followed by his twin sacks to close the win over the Miami Dolphins in the playoffs.

It is just as unfortunate it the game marked Lawrence Timmons final game as a Pittsburgh Steeler. If Mike Tomlin is to reach the Mountain Top again, he’ll have to do it without the Law Dog.

  • In that sense, Lawrence Timmons’ impact on Mike Tomlin’s legacy falls somewhere between that of his predecessors.

Chuck Noll reached the Mountain Top with Joe Greene, and never sniffed it without him. Leon Searcy helped Bill Cowher broach the pinnacle in Super Bowl XXX, but the time The Chin summited in Super Bowl XL Searcy was a distant memory.

Mike Tomlin and Lawrence Timmons might have only reached the Mountain Top once together in Super Bowl XLIII, but Lawrence Timmons did so much to keep the Mountain Top in reach during the rest of his time in Pittsburgh.

And for that, Steelers Nation says, “Thank You Lawrence Timmons.”

Struggling to keep up with Steelers free agency? Click here for our Steelers 2017 Steelers Free Agent tracker and/or click here for all Steelers 2017 free agency focus articles.

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Chin Up Steelers Nation, There’s a Bright Side to the Ben Roethlisberger Retirement Talk. Seriously

As if the frustration of Pittsburgh’s 3rd AFC Championship loss to the Patriots wasn’t enough, Steelers signal caller Ben Roethlisberger dropped another bomb two days after the game. In speaking with 93.7 FM’s “The Fan” Roethlisberger responded this way to a question about how much time he has left to play:

I don’t know. It’s one of those things, I was talking to my wife about it last night and I’ve been talking to my agent about it and coach about it. I’m going to take this offseason to evaluate it, to consider all options, to consider health, family and things like that and just kind of take some time away to evaluate next season — if there’s going to be a next season — all those things. At that point and age of my career, I think that’s the prudent and smart thing to do every year.

Steeler head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed that he’s had these types of conversations with Ben Roethlisberger in the past, and Dale Lolley has gotten confirmation from one of his teammates as well.

  • It says here that the Ben Roethlisberger retirement talk remains a bit premature and that he’ll be back for in 2017.
Ben Roethlisberger, Ben Roethlisberger retirement, Ben Roethlisberger retirement rumors

Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement talk actually has a bright side (for him). Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

He’s too much of a competitor and the Steelers are too close to securing Super Bowl Number 7 for Number 7 to simply walk away. Players like Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell give the Steelers the fire power they need to win another Super Bowl. Ben knows that and he’s not going to walk away from it. Not just yet.

But its sobering, if not surprising, nonetheless to start the Steelers 2017 off season hearing your franchise quarterback admit that he’s reached the point where his playing days are in the “year-by-year” phase.

The Bright Side to Ben Roethlisberger’s Retirement Talk

And if the news is a downer for Steelers Nation, there’s a decided bright side to the Ben Roethlisberger retirement talk for Big Ben himself. Unless injuries accelerate his timetable, Roethlisberger’s statement affirms that he’ll leave both the game and the Steelers on his terms and at a time of his own choosing.

  • Who was the last Steelers quarterback that walked away at a time and on terms of his own? Bobby Layne?

Sure, Mike Tomczak and Kordell Stewart returned to Pittsburgh to “retire” as Steelers. In Iron Mike’s case the Steelers gave him access to their press room at Latrobe to make the announcement, but denied him a 1 dollar contract. Kordell Stewart’s “retirement” came in 2012, seven years after his final NFL game and 10 years after he left Pittsburgh.

  • Compared to their predecessors, those two men were relatively lucky.

Terry Bradshaw of course blew out his elbow and barely got more than a grunting acknowledgement from Chuck Noll. Cliff Stoudt bolted to the USFL, only to “Pittsburgh Maulers Fans” sellout Three Rivers Stadium to pelt him with ice balls when returned with the Birmingham Stallions.

Mark Malone started for four seasons in Pittsburgh, but performed so poorly in 1987 that the Steelers traded him for an 8th round draft pick to the San Diego Chargers. Bubby Brister spent his final year in Pittsburgh as a backup, then went on to play for the Eagles, Jets, Broncos and Vikings.

Neil O’Donnell famously boasted that he’d take less money to stay with the Steelers as opposed to going to a losing team. After Super Bowl XXX, O’Donnell went to the 3-13 New York Jets, who became the 1-15 Jets. O’Donnell faired a little better after Bill Parcells took over, but Tuna decided he wasn’t worth the money and cut him. He played for Cincinnati and Tennessee after that, but never started another playoff game.

Tommy Maddox reportedly got into shouting matches with Bill Cowher during his final year as a backup to Ben Roethlisberger, found himself demoted to third string behind Charlie Batch and burned his final bridge with the Steelers by no-showing at the team’s White House ceremony following Super Bowl XL.

Ben Roethlisberger Deserves to Leave on His Own Terms

Steelers fans have been blessed. Terry Bradshaw played for 14 seasons and, although he wasn’t an instant winner, he developed into one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play. Ben Roethlisberger will return for a 14th season and perhaps one or two more after that.

  • But the day when Roethlisberger hangs it up isn’t too far off on the horizon.

Hopefully Ben Roethlisberger will add a Lombardi Trophy (or two?) before he calls it a career. But even if he doesn’t, he’s earned the right to step down on his terms. Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement will mark a sad day in Steelers Nation, but it the fact that Big Ben will decide should make us appreciate the moment much more.

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Mike Tomlin Bill Cowher Photo Shows Just How Lucky Steelers Nation Is. Now Enjoy the Playoffs

The Mike Tomlin Billy Cowher photo against the backdrop of the Steelers six Lombardi Trophies interspersed with images of Mike Tomlin, Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll offered Steelers Nation a priceless portrait.

After Super Bowl XLIII, Steel Curtain Rising waged a mini-campaign pushing for the Steelers to snap an actual photo of Tomlin, Cowher and Noll with the six Lombardi’s back when that was still possible, but based on what we know now, Noll’s health probably wouldn’t have allowed it.

Alas, the picture of Pittsburgh’s 3 coaches with the Steelers Six 6 Lombardi trophies never got taken.

Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin, Chuck Noll, Steelers Six Lombardi Trophies, Mike Tomlin Bill Cowher photo

Bill Cowher interviews Mike Tomlin. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Yet this single, powerful image conveys the legacy of excellence that defines this franchise.

The Mike Tomlin Bill Cowher photo should also serves another purpose: It reminds Steelers Nation just how lucky we are.

Cowher-Tomlin Transition Resulted in a Decade of Excellence

History doesn’t always lend itself to symmetry, but when it does it makes an occasion a little extra special.

Exactly 10 years to the day after he resigned as Steelers head coach, Bill Cowher returned to Pittsburgh to interview Mike Tomlin ahead of the Steelers AFC Wild Card game vs. the Miami Dolphins. Here’s what has happened since The Chin stepped down:

  • The Steelers have never ended a season with the L’s outnumbering the W’s
  • 7 of those seasons have produced playoff teams
  • 4 of those seasons have resulted in AFC North Championships
  • 2 Lamar Hunt AFC Championship trophies have been added to the case
  • 1 Super Bowl Championship, a record 6th for the franchise, found its home in Pittsburgh

Some will write off this record by insisting “Tomlin has only won with Cowher’s players.” This site has already debunked Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock’s tired nonsense. In the pressure cooker that is the NFL, a medicore coach can only ride the coattails of a successful predecessor for a very short time.

  • Barry Switzer would serve as exhibit A, and Mike Martz (nod to Jim Wexell) gives us exhibit B

Point made. Let’s move on because the Bill Cowher Mike Tomlin photo transcends both of its individual subjects to tell us something about the Pittsburgh Steelers as an organization.

The “Other” Rooney Rule Works, and Works Well

Many saw and still see Mike Tomlin’s hire as a product of “Rooney Rule.” Named after Dan Rooney, the rule requires franchises to interview minorities for head coaching vacancies. Mike Tomlin did get hired because of a Rooney Rule, but one very different from Roger Goodell’s.

As Mike Silverstein, aka “Homer J” on Going Deep with the Steelers, has pointed out time and time again, Dan Rooney’s rule for hiring coaches is pretty straight forward:

  • Hire the best guy, and stick with him as long as you can.

Rooney followed that rule with Chuck Noll. Ten years later he’d added 4 Lombardi Trophies where they’d been none. Ten years removed from his hire date, Bill Cowher had yet to bring home “One for the Thumb” but he was closing in on his 4th AFC Championship game. Cowher lost that AFC Championship game as well as his next, but the Rooney’s stuck with Cowher, and he delivered in Super Bowl XL.

  • Too many Steelers fans don’t quite understand how lucky they are.
Super Bowl XL Lombardi Presentation, Bill Cowher Lombardi Trophy, Dan Rooney, Art Rooney II, Kay Cowher

Bill Cowher stands with Kaye Cowher, Art Rooney II and Dan Rooney on the dias after Super Bowl XL. Photo Credit: Mike Urban, Seattle P-I

In college, I roomed with a New York Jet’s fan, who endured Leon Hess’ firing of Pete Carroll after one season. Hess justified his knee-jerk decision by explaining he was 80 and wanted to win a Super Bowl before he died. Hess replaced Pete Carroll with Rich Kotite.

  • For the record, Rich Kotite went 3-13 and 1-15; Pete Carroll is 103-72 and wears a Super Bowl ring.

During the same time frame, the NFL saw Ted Marchibroda take an Indianapolis Colts team that had been 1-15 in 1991, to the 1995 AFC Championship game. If you’ll remember, quick action in the end zone by Randy Fuller on a Hail Mary was what sent Pittsburgh, and not Indianapolis to Super Bowl XXX.

  • Shortly afterwards, the Irsays thanked Ted Marchibroda for turning the team around by firing him and promoted his offensive coordinator Lindy Infante.

For the record, Infante took the Colts to the playoffs in the next season (where the Steelers clobbered them) and went 3-13 a year after. As my friend observed then, “Aren’t you glad you root for a team where that kind of stuff doesn’t happen?”

The answer then and now is “Yes.” And if you claim to be a Steelers fan yours should be the same.

The Playoffs are Here Steelers Nation, Enjoy Them

In just over 24 hours the Pittsburgh Steelers will host their 12 playoff game at Heinz Field.

While durability is becoming an issue, Ben Roethlisberger is still in his prime and he’s about to start a playoff game for the first time with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Players like Eli Rogers, Ladarius Green and Jesse James have stepped up during the 7 game winning streak.

  • Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers, two guys whose names you probably had to look up during training camp, have also delivered big plays when it has counted.
Pittsburgh Killer Bees, Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown

Pittsburgh’s Killer B’s, Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are set to play their first playoff game. Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar, AP NY Daily News

Ryan Shazier is about to play his third playoff game. Think back to how he stepped up when all hope was lost last year the playoffs against Cincinnati, and then consider how much he’s grown since then.

Shazier isn’t the only linebacker making impact plays – he’s joined by fellow rookie Bud Dupree, and Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison – two veterans who know how to win Super Bowls. Also keep in mind the growth of rookies like Sean Davis, Javon Hargrave and Artie Burns.

Honestly, after all of that, if you’re a Steelers fan focusing on the draft or free agency, then its time to throw in your Terrible Towel.

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team that is entering the playoffs on a hot streak not unlike 2005 or 2008.

Does this mean Steelers Nation should count Lombardi’s before they hatch? No! There’s a reason why ESPN’s Bill Barnwell (who never likes the Steelers) is only giving Pittsburgh a 4.2% chance to win the Super Bowl.

Take the measure of the 2016 Steelers position-by-position against any number of teams in the 2016 playoffs, and the Steelers probably come up short. But during their 7 game winning streak, players from across the Steelers depth chart have shown an uncanny ability to make plays at critical moments.

  • And that, my friends is a characteristic of champions.

As Chuck Noll always reminded us, it’s about the journey not the destination. But reaching the Mountain Top is a realistic possibility. Enjoy the ride Steelers Nation.

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OK, Steelers Nation, its Time to Put 100 Mike Tomlin Victories into Perspective

“It means I’ve been here for a while.” Those were the exact words of Mike Tomlin whose Pittsburgh Steelers had just beaten the Buffalo Bills 27-20, giving the Steelers their 4th win in a role, ensuring Mike Tomlin’s 10th non-losing season and his 100th victory.

Tomlin’s ho-hum attitude towards winning his 100th NFL game might seem surprising but his “I’ve only had one good season” declaration Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette adds a little clarity.

  • Of course, Tomlin is referring to the fact that his team has only won one Super Bowl (Super Bowl XLIII) during his 10 seasons in Pittsburgh.

His predecessor Chuck Noll would have defined that attitude as an example of “singleness of purpose.” Bill Cowher was unambiguous about the fact that the only goal for his teams was to win a Super Bowl, going so far as to ask the city of Pittsburgh not to hold a welcome home rally for the team following Super Bowl XXX.

mike tomlin, mike tomlin at st. vincent's in latrobe

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

But there’s a certain irony that comes with those two statements from Mike Tomlin, because they show that he shares a sentiment that is pretty much spot-on with regards to how so many Steelers fans feel about his coaching abilities over the years.

  • In other words, nobody seemed to be too impressed (or even notice) Tomlin’s milestone achievement on Sunday.

Nobody, except, well, his players quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who gave Tomlin  the game ball, after the win over Buffalo on Sunday.

“I gave him a game ball because there’s a lot of coaches in this league that have coached this game and probably wish they had 100 wins,” said Roethlisberger, in a quote courtesy of ESPN.com. “So for him to get it, it’s awesome.”

  • It is really awesome, but if you’re one of Tomlin’s detractors, you probably cite the franchise passer, himself, Roethlisberger, as one of the reasons you’re not very impressed with 100 victories.

If  that’s the case, you’re almost certainly a member of the crowd who thinks Mike Tomlin only won that aforementioned Super Bowl with Bill Cowher’s players. Cowher, of course, was the coach of the team from 1992-2006 and resigned (or, maybe,  retired–that CBS gig is a good one) with a career record of 149-90-1 (regular season).

Putting 100 Mike Tomlin Victories into Perspective

For years, people have been saying Mike Tomlin inherited a Super Bowl team, when he stepped in for Bill Cowher in January of 2007, even if, let’s be  real, he inherited an 8-8 team from the Steelers 2006 campaign.

Tomlin not only inherited an 8-8 team, it was a veteran squad, complete with a team leader in linebacker Joey Porter, who he had to waive for financial reasons, and a Pro Bowl and future Hall of Fame guard in Alan Faneca, who was all kinds of disgruntled over his contract status during the 2007 training camp.

But Mike Tomlin handled both matters in a professional manner and soon made the team his with two-a-day practices and by allowing his coaching  staff–including Dick LeBeau, the legendary and beloved defensive coordinator with a style and philosophy that differed from his–to do its thing.

Mike Tomlin won his Super Bowl in 2008, just two years after being hired, and made it to another one in 2010. But, again, a lot of his players were drafted by Bill Cowher (and Kevin Colbert),  so you weren’t impressed.

But what about his job since 2011, when he had to fire Bruce Arians as offensive coordinator, eventually allow Dick LeBeau to get on with his life’s work, surround his franchise quarterback with a premium offensive line and skill position players that are the envy of the NFL, and rebuild his defense from scratch?

Maybe you’re not impressed, but you should be. In securing his 100th victory in his 10th season, Tomlin joins a group of coaches that include Patriots head man Bill Belichick but not Bill Cowher. For the record, It took Mike Tomlin 157 games to reach 100 wins where as it took Bill Cowher 163 to break the 100 victory mark.

  • Not only has Mike Tomlin never finished with a losing record, he’s never lost his team.
  • We’re talking zero losing seasons and just one regular season finale in-which his team was already eliminated from playoff contention at kickoff.

You might want Mike Tomlin gone as head coach, but then again, there was a time when you wanted Terry Hanratty to start in place of Terry Bradshaw and Scott Campbell to start in place of just about anyone, so, really…it’s one thing to say “fire the coach,” but it’s quite another to replace him.

  • The better the coach, the harder that job becomes.

Fact is (and I’ve said this many times before), a lot of the criticisms levied against Tomlin over the years–always being out-coached in big games, his favoritism toward certain players, clock-management, etc., etc.) were the same that Cowher faced during the majority of his coaching career in Pittsburgh before he finally won Super Bowl XL in his next-to-last season.

  • You might not think that’s true, but if that’s the case, either you’re not from Pittsburgh or you’re simply choosing to ignore the truth.

You want to fire Tomlin?

Good luck finding a successor. Just because the Steelers have only had three head coaches over the past 47 years doesn’t mean they can’t screw up the next hire.

  • When you have someone great in place, you better do your best to make sure he sticks around.

Mike Tomlin is a great head coach, and if you don’t already know that, you never will…..and I have no time to argue with you.

 

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5 Times When Steelers Preseason Troubles Signaled Regular Season Stumbles

The lackluster loss to the Lions started the Steelers 2016 preseason campaign. Steelers Nation is already weighing poor performances from the likes of Alejandro Villanueva and Sammie Coates along with the poor tackling against solid play by the likes of Daryl Richardson, Landry Jones and Doran Grant.

  • Both sides of the discussion will punctuate their arguments with “Its only preseason.”

And rightly so. Steelers preseason results seldom indicate much about the coming regular season, and that’s even when stars like Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams are in the game.

But Steelers history also shows us that exceptions do exist. Click below for 5 times when preseason troubles signaled regular season Steelers stumbles.

Pittsburgh Steelers, steelers vs. lions preseason, Shamarko Thomas

Shamarko Thomas drops a should be interception in Steelers preseason loss to Lions; Photo Credit: Steelers.com

1. 1990 – Steelers Tread Treacherous Terrain of Walton’s Mountain

One surprise following the 1989 Steelers story book season was Chuck Noll’s decision, under pressure from the front office, to dismiss Tom Moore and hire Joe Walton as his offensive coordinator. On paper, the move looked smart. Walton’s offensive mind was well-regarded throughout the league.

  • The reality was something different.

In an August preseason game vs. the Washington Redskins, (yours truly’s first pro football game) the Steelers offense played dazed and confused, as Bubby Brister, Rick Strom and Randy Wright combined for 148 yards, most of which was gained during the game’s final two minutes. Afterwards, Chuck Noll opined that the only place the Steelers offense had to was up….

The 1990 Steelers opened the season without scoring an offensive touchdown during September.
Although the offense did find some rhythm in the middle of 1990, missed opportunities, misused personnel and miscommunication ultimately characterized Joe Walton’s tenure as Steelers offensive coordinator.

2. 1995 Bam is No Barry

Injuries, attitude and declining production prompted Pittsburgh to part ways with one-time franchise running back Barry Foster in the 1995 off season. The emergence of Bam Morris in 1994 made the Steelers decision much easier.

  • Steelers running back’s coach Dick Hoak raved about Morris during training camp.

But the truth is, Bam Morris’ preseason performances were forgettable.

Statistics are not easily available from those preseason contests. The record shows that Bam Morris did run well vs. the Bills in the Steelers first outing, going 4 for 24, but he went 7 of 16 in the next.

The latter performance telegraphed Bam Morris’ lack luster start to the 1995 season, where he just barely averaged over 3 yards a carry during the seasons first seven games, before Bill Cowher benched him in favor of Erric Pegram, who was an unsung hero of the 1995 AFC Championship season.

3. 1996 3 Headed Quarterback Derby Spins Its Wheels

When Neil O’Donnell departed after Super Bowl XXX the Steelers opted to promote from within as Bill Cowher held a three way quarterback competition in training camp between Mike Tomczak, Jim Miller and Kordell Stewart.

Mike Tomczak, Kordell Stewart, Pittsburgh Steelers, Steelers quarterbacks 1990's, steelers preseason quarterbacks, bill cowher quarterback competition

Mike Tomczak and Kordell Stewart quarterbacked the Steelers in the mid-late 1990’s. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

  • The Steelers meticulously split time between the three quarterbacks, down to ensure equal practice snaps.

Bill Cowher hopped that one man would establish himself.

Unfortunately none did. Bill Cowher declared Jim Miller the starter just before the regular season, but clarified he was making a gut decision. Cowher didn’t trust his gut that much, as Jim Miller’s time as the Steelers starting quarterback lasted all of one half, as Cowher benched him in favor of Mike Tomczak.

While Tomczak led the 1996 Steelers to a 10-6 record and an AFC Central Championship, by the time December arrived it was clear that Tomczak wasn’t going to take the Steelers on a deep playoff run as Bill Cowher began to give Kordell Stewart time, who also wasn’t ready to be a signal caller.

4. 1998 Steelers Lost without John Jackson

John Jackson got blown away in the final preseason game of the 1988 season, infuriating Chuck Noll so much that the Emperor had to be talked out of cutting him. Fortunately Noll listened to his assistants, as John Jackson would be a mainstay at left tackle for the Steelers for the next decade.

But when John Jackson reached free agency at age 32 in 1997 and the San Diego Chargers offered to make Jackson the highest paid offensive lineman in the league, the Steelers said so long.

  • It was a wise move, and the Steelers had invested heavily in drafting offensive lineman to replace him.

Unfortunately, none of them were up to the task. Bill Cowher tried various combinations at both tackle positions throughout the preseason as Jerome Bettis struggled to finding holes. Finally, Cowher moved Will Wolford to left tackle, slide Justin Strzelczyk to right tackle, and the offensive line was OK, until Strzelczyk got injured in a Monday night contest vs. the Kansas City Chiefs.

Jamain Stephens, 1996’s first round draft pick, finally got his chance to start, but the image of Bettis lighting into Stephens for not blocking well enough is the enduring memory of his tenure at right tackle.

It wouldn’t be until 2000 that the Steelers restored stability to left tackle, and their entire offensive line, but the troubles the Steelers experienced during their 1998 preseason campaign foreshadowed it all.

5. 2013 0-4 Preseason Foreshadows 0-4 Steelers Start

Look at the Steelers preseason results from 2007 to 2012 and there’s one constant X-1. The Steelers never lost more than a single game in preseason, irrespective if they finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs or playing in the Super Bowl.

  • Then came the Steelers 2013 preseason campaign.

For the first time in the Mike Tomlin era and the first time since Bill Cowher’s final season, the Steelers laid a goose egg in preseason. Commentator’s cautioned “Its only preseason” and Mike Tomlin explained the losses away, indicating that the men largely responsible for those losing efforts would find themselves on the waiver wire.

  • And they did. But those preseason losses also revealed the limits of the Steelers depth.

Depth that injuries to the starting running back, the two chief backup running backs, two starting tight ends, starting center, starting cornerback, and starting inside linebacker would test to the limit. The end result was the Steelers 0-4 start after an embarrassing loss in London to the Vikings.

In 2014 and 2015 the Steelers went 1-3 and 1-4 in the preseason, yet finished in the playoffs both times, so the “its only preseason” credo held true then. But 2013 was one year when piss-poor preseason performance signaled real trouble, at least at the start of the season.

 

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Steelers Hall of Famer Kevin Greene Brought “Blitzgurgh” to Pittsburgh

If you’re a Steelers fan and familiar with Pittsburgh’s  usual participation in the annual free agent frenzy that began in 1992, you’ve probably long-since resigned yourself to not expecting much in the way of splash-signings.

  • But, believe it or not, one of the Steelers first free agent signings was of the high-profile variety.

It came about following a high-profile defection, when Jerrol Williams, a fourth round pick out of Purdue in the 1989 NFL Draft who had just supplanted veteran Bryan Hinkle as the starter at left outside linebacker in 1992, signed a restricted free agent deal with the Chargers.

How would the Steelers, who were coming off one of their best seasons in years under first-year head coach Bill Cowher, respond and reload for the 1993 campaign?

Steelers Hall of Famer Kevin Green, Blitzburgh, Steelers, Steelers 1990s, Greg Lloyd

Steelers Hall of Famer Kevin Greene brought Blitzburgh to Pittsburgh; Photo Credit: USA Today Sports

  • By courting and then signing 31-year old veteran Kevin Greene, who racked up 72.5 career sacks in eight seasons with the Rams.

To say Kevin Greene, who will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend and has made it known his favorite years were spent in Pittsburgh, and that he wants to have his official ring ceremony take place at Heinz Field in 2016, was an upgrade over the younger Williams is an understatement.

Kevin Greene Brings Blitzburgh to Pittsburgh

In ’93, Greene led the Steelers with 12.5 sacks and doubled the total of defensive end Donald Evans, who finished second with 6.5.

Perhaps more importantly, Greene made right legendary outside linebacker Greg Lloyd even more dangerous by creating a “pick your poison” scenario for opposing offenses. While Greg Lloyd recorded “only” six sacks in ’93, he had 111 tackles and five forced fumbles. Following such a great all-around season of devastation, Lloyd, who had already played in two Pro Bowls by that point, was named a First-team All-Pro for the first time in his career.

Two more All-Pro seasons followed for Greg Lloyd in subsequent years, and he was named the team MVP and UPI AFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1994.

All the while, Greene was doing what he did best: Sack the quarterback. While Greg Lloyd had arguably his best season in ’94, totaling 10 sacks and five forced fumbles, Greene posted an incredible 14 sacks, a record that would stand until James Harrison broke it in 2008 (despite defenders holding Silverback on nearly EVERY play.)

That kind of production from your outside linebackers in a 3-4, zone-blitz scheme is a dream-come-true. And, in Pittsburgh, with creative Steelers fans in abundance, this is going to lead to a nickname–or two.

  • Quiver and Quake was a sign often seen hanging at old Three Rivers Stadium–Lloyd was the Quiver to Greene’s Quake.

Another nickname that became popular during the ’94 campaign was “Blitzburgh,” coined by Myron Cope after the defense recorded 55 sacks.

Blitzburgh may not be as enduring as “The Steel Curtain,” the nickname given to the legendary ’70s Steelers defenses, but when you hear it, it certainly reminds you of players like Greene and Lloyd, and the havoc they wreaked on opposing offenses in the mid-’90s.

Greene left as a free agent after the 1995 season, following the loss to the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX, and to tell you the truth, I didn’t think he considered his short three year stay in Pittsburgh to be that special.

But when you think about it, Greene got to play for an enthusiastic players’ coach in Cowher; the universally loved Dick LeBeau was the secondary coach and then the defensive coordinator during Greene’s stay in Pittsburgh; he played in-front of maybe the most passionate fans in all of sports and in one of the loudest places in Three Rivers Stadium; and he also made his only trip to the Super Bowl.

Kevin Greene Best Steelers Free Agent Signing Ever?

As fans, we sometimes reduce everything down to championships. The linebacker combo of Greene and Lloyd wasn’t as impressive as the duo of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, who teamed up for a combined 72 sacks from 2008-2010 and helped lead the Steelers to two Super Bowls and one Lombardi.

  • But those years in the mid-’90s, when Lloyd and Greene combined for 58 sacks and five Pro Bowls (Greene was also named a First-team All-Pro in ’94) weren’t so bad, either.

As far as free agents in Steelers history, other than James Farrior and Jeff Hartings, it’s hard to name a better one than Greene, who totaled 35.5 sacks during his three years in Pittsburgh.

The Rooneys sure got their money’s worth during Kevin Greene’s three years in Pittsburgh. Not only was he very productive, but the team was exciting, the fans were passionate, and it was fun to root for the Pittsburgh Steelers again.

Kevin Greene had a big role in making it fun to be a Pittsburgh Steeler again. It was also a time Kevin Greene has certainly never forgotten. Neither will Steelers Nation.

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6 Option Steelers 2016 Off Season Survival Guide

Take a deep breath Steelers Nation, we have now reached “The Void.” Player resignings, free agent departures and free agent pickups, pre draft visits, mock drafts, the draft itself, draft grades, rookie contract signings, OTAs and minicamp have run their course. Now we must survive six weeks wihout football.

  • For Steelers fans born in the 80’s or after, this is how the NFL offseason used to be from January to July.

Outside of a brief oasis provided by the draft, you’d be lucky to find a dozen Steelers stories published between the end of season and the beginning of training camp. Those days are long over, and even all of us have long become accustomed to round the clock Steelers coverage day in and day out.

So what is Steelers Nation to do now a serious news drought is about to set in? Here is our 6 Option Steelers 2016 Off Season Survival Guide.

pittsburgh steelers, heinz field, off season, training camp

Heinz Field Sits Empty as Steelers 2016 Training Camp is 6 weeks away… Photo Credit: Associated Press

1. Take a True Steelers Sabbatical

At the end of April, Ivan Cole of Going Deep: An Introspective Steelers Site shared how personal and professional commitments had kept him from following the draft and free agency on anything but a casual basis.

As Cole himself explained:

  • “But sometimes you (or at least I) have to get off the train. And you know what I learned? I really didn’t miss much if anything at all.”

Let’s state for the record. Yours truly remembers the days of spending February, March, April, May, and June scouring the Washington Post and/or listening intently to Ken Beatrice’s Sports Call for even a hint of NFL, let alone Steelers-related news. I don’t miss them.

But my friend Mr. Cole has hit on to something:

  • Coverage of the NFL has become a too oversaturated.

While the league certainly encourages this, some of this is a byproduct of the 24/7 news cycle paired with hundreds of millions of terabytes of webserver space that demand “content” to fill it.

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
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How do you plan to "survive" the true Steelers off season

As a proprietor of a Steelers website that has no plans on going dark until training camp, I do hope to see you here between now and July. But nonetheless, sometimes taking a break can be very healthy. Consider taking one. (We’ll be here when you get back.)

2. Focus on Quality Steelers Stories

There are dozens of writers who regularly turn out quality work eve in a Steelers news doldrum. At Steel City Insider Jim Wexell has promised to keep his readers, or at least his subscribes, engaged. The website Steel City Blitz favors original content over content aggregation. The aforementioned Going Deep: An Introspective Steelers Site is a site that makes a point of not chasing headlines – you can appreciate the sort of freedom that that editorial philosophy allows a times like this.

  • One should assume that over on Behind the Steel Curtain, Chris Carter will continue with his film breakdowns, which are absolute must reads.

And of course, there are over a dozen or so books on the Steelers out there that should more than keep you occupied between now and the end of July.

3. Embrace the Suck and Admit Your Powerlessness over the Disease

You admit it you’re powerless. You can’t get enough of the Steelers. You have an appetite that you must feed, quality be dammed. Perhaps you might want to see option 1 above, but barring that, you’ll continue to find plenty of “fast food type” Steelers stories from now until July.

To be fair, most of the items that make up Defeo’s list can either become quality pieces or “fast food” depending on the writer who is penning them. But the internet has taken us to a place where churning out the football equivalent of “pulp fiction” is easier than ever before.

Hence you get stories that purport to define “The worst losses in Steelers history” yet do not include a game played before 2001, save for Super Bowl XXX. Steelers.com is one site you can expect to continue to produce orginal work during this downturn, so look to their headlines, and then look to any number of sites to mimic them. Some will do it will, adding their own value, others, not so much….

4. Go All in on the Pirates

Yes, our beloved Bucos are 33-36, on losing streak and sit 15 games out of first place. But it’s only June. And, heck, at the beginning of this decade a Pirates team that was only 3 games below .500 probably would have been cause for a ticker-tape parade on Boulevard of the Allies.

Seriously, with the Stanley Cup in hand, Steelers and Penguins fans should rally around the Pirates in the hope that Pittsburgh can build some true, 3 sport momentum heading into the fall.

5. Bask in Television’s Second Golden Age

Critics like Alan Sepinwall have said that we’re in television’s second golden age. I was raised in a house with parents who didn’t watch much TV outside of the news and the 10:00 pm dramas and inherited much of their attitude.

  • But Sepinwall right.

If there’s still a lot of garbage being produced, there are also a lot of shows being made now that never would have even been pitched to studios in the 1980’s or 1990’s. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, your somewhat SOL was the there’s only one episode left following last night’s Bastard Bowl.

However, if you’re not, there’s now 6 complete seasons of 10 episodes a piece…. Sort of convenient for Steelers fans looking to fill six weeks between now and training camp. If fantasy and magic are not your cup of but you somehow missed Breaking Bad, well that’s another down to earth series that NEVER would have been made in yesteryear. Check it out.

6. Focus on the FAA

Ah this one surprised you, or at least piqued your interest enough to see what the heck it was about. The FAA is the Futbol Americano Argentino association, and they just kicked off their regular season!

FAA, futbol Americano Argentino

Scenes from the FAA, Futbol Americano Argentino league.

The league has is six teams strong and while it doesn’t exactly feature NFL caliber players, the truth is, you’ve got to admire any group of 20 and 30 something Argentines who grew up in a culture that worships futból, who strap on full pads and go at it for the love of the game….

OF course most of you live far, too far away to taken in their games, and the video section of their website doesn’t appear to be updated…. However, yours truly will most likely take in a game or two of there’s over the next month.
In a perfect world, Steel Curtain Rising would have a series of stories to roll out to fill the void. The fact is we’ve only been able to do that once, in the form of the Chuck Noll-Bill Walsh series back in 2008. Either way, Steel Curtain Rising will do its best to provide quality Steelers reading material between now and July.

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Larry Brown the Pittsburgh Steelers Former Tackle, Tight End & Should Be Hall of Famer

The Steelers 1971 draft class is perhaps a close second to the famed ’74 edition that produced four Hall of Famers. Jack Ham was the lone Hall of Fame player from ’71, but he was one of eight Super Bowl starters that came out of the class that also included Dwight White, Ernie Holmes, Mike Wagner, Gerry Mullins, Frank Lewis, and Larry Brown.

  • Perhaps it’s fitting that I put Brown last in the group, because of all the special contributors from that class, Larry Brown is the least discussed.

Even for citizens of Steelers Nation in who are 40 something,  the words “Steelers” “Larry Brown” and “Super Bowl” conjure up images of Neil O’Donnell connecting directly with Cowboys cornerback twice in Super Bowl XXX.

But the record must reflect that there is in fact another Larry Brown who actually HELPED  the Steelres win Super Bowls against the Cowboys. In-fact, of all the Steelers players who helped the team win four Super Bowls in six years in the 1970s, Chuck Noll‘s Larry Brown is probably the most unheralded and certainly the most  underrated.

  • It is time to correct that and we do that now.

The Steelers drafted Brown with the first of four fifth round picks in ’71 as a tight end out of Kansas and he played tight end for the first six years of his career.

steelers, super steelers, steelers of the 70's, larry brown

1970’s TE/OT Steelers Larry Brown; Photo Credit, Pittsburgh Steelers & Pittsburgh Business Journal

In Chuck Noll’s conservative and run-first offense of the early-to-mid ’70s, Brown’s main role was as a blocker. In-terms of receptions, he pulled in just 48 for 636 yards and five touchdowns. 

During his days as a tight end, Brown earned his place in Steelers lore when he pulled in a six-yard touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw with 3:38 remaining in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl IX to give Pittsburgh a 16-6 lead and all but clinch the franchise’s first NFL title.

But three seasons later, a knee injury would force Brown to turn in his No. 87 and switch to No. 79, as Noll wanted him to (at least temporarily) learn how to play tackle while he was still on the mend.

As Brown told Pittsburgh Sports Daily Bulletin in an interview from November of 2012, the move wasn’t so temporary, after all, but he credits it with extending his career:

In hindsight, it worked out well–it extended my career. The year I switched I had a knee injury I was still recovering from. I wasn’t able to do the running and cutting you needed to do to play tight end. That was anticipated by Chuck. We met in his office and he told me that because I couldn’t run due to the injury he was going to have me learn the tackle position. That once I got healthy he’d move me back to tight end. In the meantime, before that, they drafted Bennie Cunningham [in the first round of the 1976 NFL Draft] and signed Randy Grossman. They saw themselves as being in a good position at tight end and had great need at tackle at the same time, so they never moved me back. Then they traded away tackle Gordon Gravelle, so I stayed at the position for eight years and won two more Super Bowls!

Brown started 13 games at right  tackle in 1977 and a total of 85 over his final years in Pittsburgh–including 52 of a possible 57 from 1979-1982.

Brown’s peers finally rewarded him with his first and only Pro Bowl honor in 1982 and he played another two seasons before calling it a career following the 1984 campaign.

Nine Hall of Famers came out of those ’70s Steelers teams, and if the late, great Chuck Noll had a vote for number 10, Brown would have been his choice.

Here is a quote from an NFL.com article from three years ago that lists Brown as one of the Steelers’ all-time most underrated players:

Chuck Noll once was asked this question: Of all the great players who contributed to those four Super Bowl championships during the 1970s, who among those not enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame most deserves to be? Noll’s response was instant. Larry Brown.

That was quite the endorsement from a legendary coach who certainly knew great football players when he saw them.

As per his Pittsburgh Sports Daily Bulletin interview from 2012, Brown began a business partnership with former Steelers defensive back J.T. Thomas in the 1980s and the two have owned, among other things, multiple Applebees restaurants.

  • When Larry Brown makes appearances at his various restaurant franchises, I wonder if patrons know how much he meant to those Super Bowl teams of the 1970s?

Regardless of his notoriety, not many players can say their careers were even close to Hall of Fame-worthy.

Larry Brown can, and that’s certainly something to be proud of.

 

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Former Steelers Kevin Green and Tony Dungy Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame, Alan Faneca Must Wait

While it might not evoke cheers of “Here We Go Steelers Here We Go!” the way it did for Jerome Bettis last summer, the Pro Football Hall of Fame 2016 class has been announced and this year’s class as a Black and Gold tinge.

  • Former Steelers outside linebacker Kevin Greene was elected along side former Steelers defensive back and defensive coordinator, Tony Dungy.

Kevin Greene Shined in Black and Gold

In the spring of 1993 NFL teams literally tripped over themselves to land free agents such as Reggie White. Ticker tape parades were thrown, keys to cities were bestowed, and there was much pomp and circumstance. The Steelers took a low key approach, and one of the signings they made was that of Kevin Greene.

By the time the Steelers signed Greene, he was over 30 years old and had amassed 72.5 sacks. Yet he was little known outside of the NFC West, where he’d played for 8 years for the Los Angeles Rams. That changed in a hurry, as Bill Cowher pared him with Greg Lloyd, and together the tandem terrorized opposing quarterbacks for the next three seasons.

  • Greene played for the Steelers from 1993 to 1995, with his last game being Super Bowl XXX.

During that time Kevin Greene amassed 35.5 sacks, but the Steelers opted to let him depart via free agency, thinking his best days were behind him. That conclusion was very, very wrong, as Greene would go on to play for 4 more years and register another 52 sacks in the process.

As it was, Greg Lloyd’s next two season would be shortened by injury, the Steelers would lose Chad Brown in another year, Jason Gildon would show he was good but not great, and Carlos Emmons provided average play until the Steelers could draft and develop Joey Porter.

Dungy’s Roots Trace Back to Pittsburgh

The Steelers drafted Tony Dungy in 1977, and he played as a back up defensive back. His most notable feats were subbing as emergency quarterback as a rookie in 1977 when Terry Bradshaw and Mike Kruczek both got hurt. Dungy’s performance was a disaster, but he did complete passes to both Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. Dungy also become one of the few modern era players to both record and throw and interception in the same game.

[Editors note, the orginal version of this article had an error, which has been redacted and corrected below.]

  • Tony Dungy’s biggest play for the Steelers came in Super Bowl XIII, when he forced a fumble after the Dallas Cowboy’s final on-sides kick which Rocky Bleier recovered.
  • Tony Dungy’s biggest play for the Steelers came in Super Bowl XIII, when he forced Randy White fumble which Dennis Winston recovered. One play later, Bradshaw hooked up with Swann in the end zone

Despite that, the Steelers traded Dungy after the 1978 season, and he played another year in San Francisco.

tony dungy, steeles, defensive coordinator, african american, chuck noll

George Gojkovich, Getty Images – In 1984 Chuck Noll made Tony Dungy the NFL’s youngest defensive coordinator

Dungy spent 1980 coaching defensive backs for the University of Minnesota, but a year later Noll brought him back to Pittsburgh, first as a defensive assistant, then as a defensive backs coach. In 1984, Noll promoted Tony Dungy to defensive coordinator at age 29, making him one of the first, if not the first, African American defensive coordinators.

Dungy’s first two years as defensive coordinator were so successful that he was touted as possibly being the NFL’s first African American head coach. The Steelers defense declined in 1986 and 1987, as the full impact of the Steelers mediocre drafting of the early and mid 1980’s was felt. Nonetheless, in 1987 the Steelers defensive touchodowns, and were 5th in take aways.

  • The Steelers defense fell on hard times in 1988, finishing dead last.

Indeed, the 1988 Steelers finished 5-11, but saw 4th quarter leads evaporate in at least 3 games. Dan Rooney decided to order changes, and in the ensuring scuffle, Tony Dungy opted to resign rather than accept demotion.

  • In an ironic twist of fate, Chuck Noll replaced Dungy with Kanas City’s Rod Rust, while Dungy took a position under new Kansas City defensive coordinator Bill Cowher’s staff….

Dungy of course, never did succeed Chuck Noll as many once expected him to, but he did go on to become the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he hired and mentored Mike Tomlin has his defensive backs coach.

Tony Dungy rightly wins Hall of Fame induction for his work as Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach and for becoming the first African American to win a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts, but he made important contributions while a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers and, in many ways, his influence lives on in the organization.

Faneca Must Wait

The Hall of Fame candidate with the strongest ties to the Pittsburgh Steelers organization will have to wait another year. Former Steelers, Jets and Cardinals guard Alan Faneca was a candidate for induction into the Hall of Fame, but did not receive the necessary votes.

  • This was Faneca’s first year of eligibility, and it is not unusual for offensive lineman, who lack statistics and other high-profile measures of success, to wait several years to get induction.

Joining Greene on the Hall of Fame dias are Brett Favre, Marvin Harrison, Orlando Pace, Ken Stabler, Dick Stanfel and former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartlo Jr.

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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.

Lynn Swann, Mark Washington, Super Bowl X, 8 greatest Steelers Super Bowl plays

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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