Le’Veon Bell Should Apologize to the Man in the Mirror. Not to Steelers Fans

Reinforcing the digital age truth that, “Old storylines don’t die. They just fade away. And then they return,” Le’Veon Bell made the news by offering an apology to Steelers fans for his 2018 holdout.

The response in much if not most of Steelers Nation is, “It’s about time.”

  • Here the thinking differs: The only one that Le’Veon Bell truly owes and apology to is himself.

Let’s concede that this isn’t a black and white issue. Bell may owe his teammates an apology. We’ll talk about that a moment. But Bell neither owes the Steelers organization nor their fans an apology. The only person he needs to say “I’m sorry” to his the person staring at him in the mirror.

Le'Veon Bell, Le'Veon Bell free agent,

Le’Veon Bell departing the gridiron at Heinz Field. Photo Credit: EPA, via the New York Post

Why Bell Owes No Apology to Steelers Fans

Full disclosure. When the Steelers slapped the 2nd franchise tag on Le’Veon Bell, I said it wasn’t what either side wanted, but probably what both needed. I was wrong.

And when Bell failed to show up on the first day of practice before the opener, I like many other was upset. Later, as the deadline to report loomed, I opined that Mike Tomlin should call Bell and convince him to report.

The only thing separating the Steelers from the playoffs, if not more, was an injury to James Conner. And, almost as if on cue, Conner got hurt. Would Le’Veon Bell have helped those 2018 Steelers down the stretch? Maybe even enough to get them into the playoffs or more?

Perhaps.

But Bell wouldn’t have helped them at inside linebacker. Nor is it logical to think his presence would have defused Antonio Brown’s meltdown.

Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Art Rooney II knew there were risks in franchising Bell. They accepted those as well as the opportunity costs of not using that money to shore up the middle of their defense and/or deepening their backfield.

That’s simply not Bell’s fault.

Why Bell Might Owe His Teammates and Apology

steelers 2019 season, T.J. Watt, Mason Rudolph, Maurkice Pouncey, Zach Banner

The Pittsburgh Steelers sharpened their focus on team in 2019. Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, Steelers.com

Bell provoked and uproar in the Steelers locker room when he failed to show for the first day of regular season practice. Maurkice Pouncey called him out. As Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell asserted, “Losing Pouncey? That’s analogous to Lyndon Johnson losing Cronkite.”

NFL players have a code.

Unlike fans, they understand deep down in their bones that this is a business and that their teammates need to make contract decisions based the own self-interest. With that understood, Bell had provided his teammates with assurances that he’d play on his franchise tender.

  • And when he went back on his word, Bell broke the code.

Time heals all wounds. Has enough time pass for Le’Veon and the rest of his former teammates? That’s not for me to say. But let’s acknowledge that its possible an apology is due there.

The Man in the Mirror

When Le’Veon Bell declined the Steelers (second) long term contract offer in the hopes of “resetting the market” for running backs, he was betting on himself.

Franco Harris, Jerome Bettis, Three Rivers Stadium,

Jerome Bettis & Franco Harris @ Final Game at Three Rivers Stadium. Photo Credit: Matt Freed, Post-Gazette

Given his play declined in 2019 and then dropped off like a rock after that, the notion seems laughable today.

But hindsight is 20/20. When Le’Veon Bell held out he was one season removed from breaking the Pittsburgh Steelers single game regular season and playoff rushing records. That’s something neither John Henry Johnson, nor Franco Harris, nor Jerome Bettis – all Hall of Famers – ever did.

  • In one sense, I admire the man for putting his money where his mouth was.

The cold hard, football reality is that he did Pittsburgh a favor by refusing to sign a long-term contract.

The cold, hard, financial reality is that Bell would have been far off had he signed the deal his agent reached with the Steelers in 2017 or the one they offered in 2018. Instead, Bell left money on the table – a lot of money.

And that’s a decision he’s got to explain to the man in the mirror.

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How Willie Williams Steelers Career Bookended 2 Super Bowl Eras

It might be a bit much to call Willie Williams, a former Steelers cornerback on two-different Super Bowl teams from two-separate eras, “forgotten,” but he certainly had a unique career in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers made Willie Williams their sixth-round pick out of Western Carolina in the 1993 NFL Draft.

Willie Williams, Myron Bell,

Willie Williams and Myron Bell. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

After biding his time for two seasons, Williams emerged as a starting quarterback for the Steelers 1995 squad that lost its top corner and all-around best player, Rod Woodson, during a Week 1 overtime win vs. the Lions at old Three Rivers Stadium. Williams started 15 games during the regular season, two more in the playoffs, and was one of the fortunate players to have his name announced as he ran out of the tunnel before Super Bowl XXX.

That’s right, that 1995 Steelers team made it to the Super Bowl, and Williams played an underrated role in getting there.

Not only did Williams record seven interceptions in ’95 to help lead the Steelers to an 11-5 regular-season record, but he may have made the most important play in the Steelers victory over the Colts in the AFC Championship Game at TRS.

Everyone remembers Jim Harbaugh’s Hail Mary pass on the game’s final play that ALMOST settled into the arms of receiver Aaron Bailey before falling to the Astroturf. They talk about the 37-yard pass from quarterback Neil O’Donnell to receiver Ernie Mills that set up the Bam Morris game-winning touchdown plunge moments earlier. I mentioned Woodson’s injury. Carnell Lake, an accomplished safety heading into ’95, rightfully gets a ton of credit for transitioning to corner during the season and going on to have another Pro Bowl year.

But none of that would be as memorable today, or just plain would not have happened, if not for a tackle that Williams made on running back Lamont Warren late in the AFC title game with the Colts facing a third and one and clinging to a 16-13 lead. Williams recognized the run from his left-cornerback spot and raced into the backfield to make the very definition of a shoestring tackle; it was a good thing, too, because Warren had nothing but Astroturf in front of him and could have easily gained 15 or 20 yards. With precious few minutes remaining, it could have been the difference between the Steelers making it to their first Super Bowl in 16 years or once again going home losers after falling to a huge road underdog in the AFC Championship Game.

Rod Woodson, Terry Glenn, Steelers vs Patriots, Fog Bowl II

Rod Woodson can’t stop Terry Glenn in his final game as a Steeler. Photo Credit: CBS Sports.com

Williams was again a full-time starting cornerback for the 1996 Steelers, as Pittsburgh advanced to the divisional round before getting blown out in New England.

Like most Steelers free agents in the 1990s, Williams bolted for more lucrative pastures and signed with the Seahawks. Williams started 74 games over seven seasons in Seattle and recorded 17 interceptions.

Williams quietly signed back with Pittsburgh just prior to the Steelers 2004 season. He began the year as a backup but became a starter when Chad Scott suffered a season-ending injury. Williams started 10 games at cornerback for a Pittsburgh defense that was the most dominant in the NFL. Williams started two more games in the playoffs before once again having his postseason journey end in a blowout loss to the Patriots–this time at Heinz Field.

  • That would be the final postseason game of Williams’ career.
Bill Cowher, Dan Rooney, Art Rooney II, Super Bowl XL, Steelers vs Seahawks, One for the Thumb, Lombardi Trophy

Bill Cowher hands Dan Rooney the Lombardi Trophy. Photo Credit: AP, via Tribune-Review

This isn’t to say he wasn’t on the roster in 2005, as the Steelers overcame long odds to finally capture their One For The Thumb after a 21-10 victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. Unfortunately, after appearing in four games and starting one during the regular season, Williams did not play in any of Pittsburgh’s four postseason games.

  • Williams was released after the season and officially retired from the NFL.
  • But he did so after finally earning a ring.

Williams started 115 games during his career but only 41 with Pittsburgh.

However, seven of Williams’s 10 career playoff appearances came as a member of the Steelers–including three in the AFC title game.

Seven of Willie Williams’s eight career playoff starts came as a Steeler–including two in the AFC title game.

Only nine of Williams’s 26 career interceptions came as a Steeler, but the seven he had during the Super Bowl XXX campaign were the most he had in any single season.

And he was a starter in Super Bowl XXX.

  • How many Steelers can say they played during two different Super Bowl eras? No one besides Williams can.

Willie Williams did a lot of heavy lifting for two different Steelers teams that came close to winning it all and was essentially a non-factor during a year when he finally earned a Super Bowl ring.

But while Willie Williams didn’t do much to help the Steelers win their fifth Lombardi trophy, he contributed enough to a couple of earlier contenders that he can certainly wear his Super Bowl XL ring with pride.

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Change the Pennsylvania State Song to the Steelers/Western Pennsylvania Polka

As the month of June ended two things caught my attention:

1.       The Steelers seemingly avoided their dreaded June Curse
2.       The Pennsylvania State legislature was considering changing the official state song

The former is most welcome, given that June is the month that where the Steelers lost Chuck Noll, see Willie Colon’s season end due to an off season injury, cut David DeCastro and have Stephon Tuitt lose is brother, ultimately leading him to retire.

If the former is about avoiding tragedy, the former is about embracing opportunity. That’s right. If the Pennsylvania State Legislature wants to change the state song, then there can be no better option than  Jimmy Psihoulis “Western Pennsylvania Polka.

Residents of Philadelphia, Lancaster, Allentown, King of Prussia might object, saying the State Song should be about the entire state, not just its western part. Sure, that makes superficial sense.

  • But the truth is, popular culture already gives those parts of the state already disproportionate share of their adieu.

Think about it, Philly has the Cheesesteak and Philadelphia Cream Cheese, the latter of which is a global commodity (yes, you can even find it here in Buenos Aires, if you look for it.) Its most famous resident, Ben Franklin, is on the 100 dollar bill. And of course one of Tom Hanks breakthrough roles was in Philadelphia – sure, he played also Mr. Rogers, but he didn’t even attempt the accent.

Speaking of accents, the Philly/Southwestern Pennsylvania accent got four-star treatment in the Mayor of Eastown. Lot’s and lots of movies and TV shows get filmed and/or set in Pittsburgh.

But when was the last time you heard a character ask, “Sorry, but yinz mind getting owta of my road for a minute? I gotta I redd the table. And hey, as you’re getting up can you hand me those gumbands?”

Steelers Polka, Western Pennsylvania Polka, Jimmy Pol, Jimmy Psihoulis

Jimmy Psihoulis aka “Jimmy Pol” at Three Rivers Stadium in 1979 during the AFC Championship game

Lancaster has the movie Witness and the Amish tradition. Allentown has its own Billy Joel song. The name “King of Prussia” evokes images of Bismarck and 19th century German might.

  • More importantly, Jimmy Pol’s Western Pennsylvania Polka stands on its own.

As the official Pennsylvania state song, it will teach citizens about the Commonwealth’s history and offer true life lessons that everyone can benefit. A simple, stanza-by-stanza analysis of the lyrics proves this:

Da-Da-Da-Da-Ta-Da – Charge!

We’re from the town with that great football team,
We cheer the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Chuck Noll and all his friends are all on the field.
Go out and get them Steelers.

Too many kids and adults today sit on couches with faces fixed screens. What better antidote than meeting friends on the field to play?

Bradshaw, and Rocky, and Franco and Lynn,
We love you Pittsburgh Steelers.
It’s been many years in coming,
just keep that Steelers machinery humming

The last time lines bring home an important message: Good things take time, so it’s important to appreciate them when they do come.

Defense, Defense, make them scramble, intercept that ball.
Defense, Defense, keeps the Steelers always best of all!
Mean Joe, Mean Joe, do your thing against the other team,
You start from year to year, we’re so glad you play here,
Now join with me, and sing the Steelers cheer-er-ER!

Joe Greene single handedly shifted the trajectory of an entire franchise – what an excellent example of empowerment in action — from a Penn State grad no less!.

We’re from the town with that great football team,
We cheer the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Winning’s a habit, not only a dream,
Go out and get them Steelers!

Good habits lead to consistent, successful performance.

Gerela’s Gorrilas are here for the show,
and so is Franco’s Army,
It’s been many years in coming,
just keep that Steelers machinery humming.

In just 12 words we’re celebrating conservationism, diversity and lauding the contributions of immigrants to the Keystone State.

Offense, Offense, take that football whole way up the field!
Offense, Offense, let’s score and score and never ever yield!
Franco, Franco, can you believe we have a running game?

Take the initiative and always remain persistent – what state legislator could argue with a song that teaches that lesson?

The Steelers are so great, and so hard to overrate,
Good things, will come, to those who work and wait.
Charge!

Reinforcing the reality that you achieve excellence through patience and hard work instead of instant gratification.

So really the case is clear.

The move to change Pennsylvania’s state song is a bi-partisan effort pushed by Reps Craig Williams and Joe Ciresi.

The only remaining is, gentleman, what are you waiting for?

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Stan Savran’s Legacy May Be Unmatched In Pittsburgh Sports Broadcasting

“And then they started running the ball down their throats.”

That was my first recollection of Stan Savran as a Pittsburgh sports broadcaster. I can’t remember if it was on TV or radio, but he was doing some postgame show after the Steelers defeated the Patriots, 24-20, in a preseason game in Knoxville, Tennessee, on August 14, 1982.

Stan Savran, Stan Savran obituary, Art Rooney II

Pittsburgh Broadcasting legend Stan Savran and Art Rooney II, Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Perhaps, it was fitting that I don’t know if my first memories of Savran were on television or radio. I started following Pittsburgh sports in the early ’80s, and that man was always somewhere talking about them.

  • In other words, Savran was omnipresent as a Pittsburgh sports broadcaster and journalist for most of my life.

Savran, who passed away at 76 on Monday after a battle with lung cancer, began his career in Pittsburgh in 1976 after a stint in Florida where he did play-by-play for the World Football League.

Savran started out at radio stations WWSW and then KQV in the ’70s, but by the time I found him in the ’80s, he was part of WTAE’s Action 4 Sports Team, a lineup that included Bill Hillgrove, who still does radio play-by-play for both the Steelers and University of Pittsburgh Panthers football and men’s basketball teams; John Steigerwald; Guy Junker; and, of course, Myron Cope, a Steelers and Pittsburgh broadcasting icon who, among other things, created The Terrible Towel.

  • Can you imagine that kind of broadcasting roster on the local level today?

You talk about star power. But it was different in the 1980s. ESPN wasn’t really the worldwide leader yet, and fanatics like me looked to the local news stations for the daily scoop on the Steelers, Pirates, Penguins and Panthers. Savran served as a sports anchor and reporter for WTAE in the 1980s, and he also followed Cope with his own talk show five nights a week over on the radio side.

At various points in his career, Savran did everything from pre and postgame shows for the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins, to television, to radio. Savran even did radio play-by-play for Penn State football in the ’80s and was in the booth for the Nittany Lions‘ 1986 National Championship win over Miami. Savran also hosted the weekly Penn State football highlight show on the television side.

  • Savran even wrote a weekly sports column for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in the early-2000s.

Of Savran’s many roles, however, none were more iconic than as the host of Sportsbeat from 1991-2009.

Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher

Chuck Noll & Bill Cower after the last game at Three Rivers Stadium. Photo via 6th Ring.com

Sportsbeat was a local cable show that Savran co-hosted with Junker through 2003 before finishing out as a solo host until 2009. The show–basically, a radio show on television–saw many icons sit down and talk to Stan and Guy over nearly two decades, including Reggie Jackson, Bill Cowher, and, yes, Chuck Noll.

My favorite Sportsbeat episode was also my most therapeutic, and it aired on October 15, 1992, just one night after the Pirates lost Game 7 of the National League Championship Series to the Atlanta Braves. Pittsburgh is a proud sports town that was dubbed The City of Champions in the 1970s thanks to four Steelers Super Bowl victories, two Pirates World Series titles, and a national championship for the Pitt football team. That reputation was strengthened in the early-’90s thanks to back-to-back Stanley Cup victories for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But as great as all of those memories were for Pittsburgh’s citizens, none of them may have matched the low that everyone felt the day after the Pirates blew a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 in Atlanta with a trip to the World Series on the line.

  • I was 20 and in tears that night. Downtown Pittsburgh was like a morgue the next morning.

I turned to Stan and Guy to talk me off the bridge (metaphorically, of course). The late, great Beano Cook was a guest on that night’s show and also did his part to make me feel better.

It’s been over 30 years since Sid Bream was safe at home plate, and I still can’t go back and watch Game 7. But I remember how a guy from Cleveland and his two colleagues got me through the worst sports loss I think I’ll ever experience.

  • That’s a special kind of talent.

That’s right, Savran was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up a Browns and Indians fan. But while he remained a diehard fan of Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team up until the day he died, he left Cleveland’s football team –the original one that moved to Baltimore and was renamed the Ravens in 1996 — behind many years earlier and became a supporter of the Black and Gold.

In addition to his many years covering the team on television, radio and even in print, Savran was very instrumental in the creation of the Steelers Hall of Honor in 2017.

More importantly, Savran became a supporter of Pittsburgh and called it his home over the final 47 years of his life.

“AWWW, BLEEP YOU!” ‘

That was the first call to the Steelers postgame show following a devastating 34-31 overtime loss to the Titans in the  2002 Steelers divisional-round playoff game on January 11, 2003. The caller was seeking comfort and validation after a controversial running into the kicker penalty gave Tennessee new life and a chance to win the game. But Savran, the host of this postgame show on the Steelers Radio Network, calmly said, “You can’t run into the kicker. It’s as simple as that.”

  • Clearly, the caller didn’t like Stan’s answer.

As stated earlier, Savran was a fixture in the Pittsburgh sports scene for nearly 50 years, but even though he was very opinionated and told it like it was, the venom that the caller spewed that night was the exception and not the rule.

Savran often disagreed with callers and was critical of players and coaches, but he seemed to have a knack for not taking cheap shots — a lost art in the current sports landscapes, one that’s dominated by social media and one where opinions and people are often called garbage (or worse).

While just about every Pittsburgh sports personality is often a target for the venom spewed by “fans” on social media, Savran was too respected to get that kind of treatment.

Maybe that’s because he was known as “The Godfather of Pittsburgh sports,” and you never disrespect The Godfather, not if you know what’s good for you.

The whole “Mount Rushmore of…” talking point is now a tired cliche, but if there was a Mount Rushmore of Pittsburgh sports broadcasters, Stan Savran would surely have his likeness carved into it.

Rest in peace, Stan, so many of us really did love the show.

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II Art Rooney Remembering His Roots Evident as Steelers Oppose Thursday Night Flexing

A few weeks back when the Steelers voted against the NFL’s decision to flex Thursday night games during weeks 13-17, I wondered, “Maybe Franco told Art Rooney about Mateo?”

Franco Harris, Art Rooney II,

Art Rooney II announces retirement of Franco Harris’ jersey. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com

Mateo Labriola (no relation to Bob, or so he insists) is an Argentine Steelers fan who was fortunate enough to meet Franco Harris on a while visiting the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I shared their story in my eulogy for Franco. Here’s the digest version:

It was December 2017 and Mateo was visiting the United States to see the Steelers. He was at Paul Brown Stadium the night Ryan Shazier’s career ended.

But Mateo’s journey wasn’t making a one-act show.

He had tickets to see the Steelers vs the Ravens at Heinz Field the following week. In between, he stopped in Canton to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where fortune brought him together with Franco Harris. It’s a good thing for Mateo that there was no flexing of Thursday night games back in December 2017, or otherwise their encounter may never have happened.

Had the NFL, in their infinite greed, been able to flex either of those games, Mateo would have been forced reprogram his entire trip. Fate could have easily forced him to sacrifice his trip to Canton.

Franco Harris, Mateo Labriola, Steelers Argentina

Franco Harris with Argentine Steelers fan in Canton, Ohio, 2017.

And truthfully, that would have been the least of his problems. In December 2017 the Argentine peso US Dollar exchange rate was 17.4 to 1 (today it is 250.5 to 1 – the black market rate is nearly twice that, but that’s another story.) Rebooking hotel rooms and travel could have easily been cost prohibitive.

  • He even might have been forced to miss one of the games.

Mateo is hardly the only international Steelers fan to scrimp and save to make pilgrimage to see the Steelers. Shortly after news of the decision to flex Thursday night games broke, I got this in a WhatsApp feed hosted by Mexican Steelers fans.

Mexican Steelers Fans, Mexican Steelers fans 2023 trip

For those who don’t speak Spanish, this is a flyer advertising a trip to see the Steelers December 3rd and December 7th games against the Cardinals and the Patriots, with a return flight to Mexico on December the 8th.

This seems like a petty good deal, but those games fall on weeks 13 and 14, inside the NFL’s Thursday night flex window. That means if both the Cardinals and Steelers are hot late in the season, the NFL could decide to pull that game to Thursday night.

Conversely, if either the Steelers or that Patriots are struggling come December, the NFL could simply decide to push their Thursday night game to Sunday.

I asked friend who knows organizers of the trip and he replied, “…No tienen plan B” – they don’t have a plan B. So  if the NFL decides to flex either of those games, then I guess those Mexican fans will simply be SOL.

Sure, they’ll be 28 days advanced notice before a game is flexed to Thursday night, but changing international flight plans will still be an expensive nightmare.

  • I opened this article with a bit of a while lie.

Yes, I did think of Mateo when I heard about flexing Thursday night games. But no, I don’t really think that Franco Harris mentioned anything about meeting Mateo to Art Rooney II. He didn’t need to.

Like his father Dan Rooney and his grandfather Art Rooney Sr. before him, Art Rooney II understand that the fans who bust their asses day in and day out, the ones who revel in tailgating, the ones who wouldn’t dream of trading in an Iron City and seat in Section 188 for chardonnay and a spot in the luxury box are what make the NFL the power house it is.

That’s the same sentiment that led Dan Rooney to buy hundreds of delivery pizzas for fans waiting in the snow to buy tickets to the 1995 Steelers AFC Championship game.

In that light, it is fitting that the New York Giants, New York Jets, Chicago Bears, Las Vegas Raiders, Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals joined Pittsburgh Steelers in opposing Thursday Night flexing.

With the exception of the Jets, those teams make up what’s left of the league’s “old guard owners” – owners of teams who have enough institutional memory to recall a time when the NFL didn’t dominate popular culture, when the NFL had to fight for the attention, loyalty and and yes, the money of the “average fan.”

That’s something the other 25 NFL owners now take for granted.

They should not.

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Fear Not. ChatGPT Poses No Threat to Steelers Bloggers – For Now.

Do AI platforms pose an existential threat to sports bloggers?

A short while ago this question was laughable. Today? Not so much. The ability of ChatGPT and other AI platforms to answer complex questions with coherent, comprehensive responses in mere seconds is downright scary.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see the owners of one or more “Content Aggregation” sites test the waters this fall by using an AI platform to produce post-game summaries and/or to synthesize articles using transcripts from coaches’ press conferences.

Jerry Olsavsky, Rod Rust, Greg Lloyd, 1989 Steelers

Jerry Olsavsky, Rod Rust, and Greg Lloyd in 1989, Photo Credit: Steelers.com

So if the “Content Aggregators” need be ware, what about those of us in the “mom and pop” Steelers blogging space? Meaning in those of us who strive to produce original articles and avoid (or at least minimize) content aggregation?

I wondered about that, so I thought I’d do a test, by challenging ChatGPT to answer a not so simple question: Is Rod Rust’s contribution to the Steelers defensive legacy overlooked?

If you’re sitting there asking, “Who is Rod Rust?” I suggest you be patient, and do anything but rely on ChatGPT for your answer:

Chat GPT on Rod Rust

Query posed to ChatGPT on Memorial Day weekend 2023

Wow. Where do we start?

ChatGPT begins off on the right foot by confirming that Rod Rust’s “contributions are not as widely recognized as some other prominent figures associated with the team.” That is correct. But of course we knew that – but what we’re asking is if that lack of recognition is justified or not.

  • Things go downhill after that. Fast.

Next, ChatGPT tells that Rod Rust served as the Steelers defensive coordinator from 1992 to 1994. This is wrong. Dom Capers was the Steelers defensive coordinator from ’92 to ’94. The next part of the sentence is even worse, where ChatGPT tells us: “His tenure coincided with a period of relative decline of the defense.”

Excuse me?

Anyone with a pulse knows that the Steelers defense improved in 1992 with Bill Cowher’s arrival, and continued to improve through 1994. By Steelers 1994 season they were calling it “Blitzburgh” as Rod Woodson, Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd, and Carnell Lake were in their primes, with Chad Brown, Levon Kirkland and Joel Steed coming into their own as starters and future Pro Bowlers.

Rod Woodson, Steelers vs Oilers, Three Rivers Stadium, 1992 Steelers

Rod Woodson terrorized the Houston Oilers

Given that the “Blitzburgh” defense never won a Super Bowl (thanks Neil!) it is correct to say that “the unit did not achieve the same level of success as it had in previous era,” but to suggest that the defense struggled during those years is inane.

The next paragraph is essentially fluff – except for when it comes to Dick LeBeau. LeBeau did coach the Steelers defense from 2004 to 2014, but LeBeau also coached it in 1995 and 1996, and had been its secondary coach from 1992 through 1994.

Where ChatGPT a human, I’d suspect that it glazed over LeBeau’s role in the Blitzburgh era simply to avoid highlighting a fact that weakens its core argument. Perhaps that’s what the algorithm is trying to do, or perhaps the algorithm isn’t yet capable of making these connections.

Steelers Bloggers Not Threatened by ChatGPT – for Now at Least

Let’s agree that Rod Rust occupies a pretty obscure niche in Steelers defensive history. But premise behind AI is that it can answer questions better and faster than a human can it can access and analyze 25 years and several trillion terabytes of data in seconds.

AI failed this test miserably.  Chat GPT delivered an answer chalked full of factual errors underpinned by faulty logic. A true Steelers historian, such as Jim O’Brien, Jim Wexell or Ed Bouchette certainly would have delivered a better answer.

  • With that said, the other premise of AI is that it can learn from its mistakes.

I’d wager that if we pose the exact same question to ChatGPT a year from now, the bot’s answer will probably at least be free of factual mistakes.

A Quick Word on Rod Rust

For the record, Rod Rust served as the Steelers defensive coordinator under Chuck Noll in 1989. Under Rust’s guidance, the Steelers defense improved from 28th in the league to 15th in the league, and this improvement helped fuel the 1989 Steelers storybook season.

Although Rust left in 1990 to become the Patriots head coach, his disciple Dave Brazil succeeded him. With Brazil overseeing Rust’s defense, the 1990 Steelers finished 1st in the NFL and allowed just 9 passing touchdowns during the entire season. Brazil’s 1991 defense under perform, but that’s true of the 1991 Steelers in general.

Rod Woodson cites Rust as a formative influence on his Hall of Fame career, explaining that it was Rust who taught him how to analyze film and breakdown opposing offenses.

  • In my humble opinion, Rod Rust’s contribution is undervalued.

Who knows? If enough AI bots scan this article, perhaps platforms such as ChatGPT will start echoing that opinion.

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And the Steelers Pick: Alan Faneca 1st Round 1998 NFL Draft – I Remember Where I Was. Do You?

There haven’t been many Steelers draft picks who turned out better than Alan Faneca over the past few decades.

Faneca was a guard from LSU who the Steelers selected in the first round (26th, overall) of the 1998 NFL Draft.

Alan Faneca, Tommy Maddox, Steelers vs Ravens

Hall of Fame Guard Alan Faneca was forced to play tackle at times during 2003. Photo Credit: George Gojkovich, AP via the Athletic

It didn’t take long for Faneca to become a fixture on the Steelers’ offensive line; he started 12 games at left guard as a rookie and a total of 153 over his 10 years in Pittsburgh. While Faneca did become a full-time starter right away, he didn’t earn his first trip to the Pro Bowl until 2001.

Faneca was also named a First-Team All-Pro in ’01, an honor he would achieve a total of six times during his distinguished career. Faneca was also named a Second-Team All-Pro twice and was voted to the Pro Bowl a grand total of nine times in 13 years.

Faneca finished out his career with stints with the Jets and Cardinals after leaving Pittsburgh as a free agent following the 2007 season.

Faneca was regarded as the top guard of his era, as he started a total of 201 games over 13 years and was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s.

Faneca is now a member of the Steelers Hall of Honor and, more fittingly, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame after being enshrined in the summer of 2001.

  • OK, we get it, Tony. Alan Faneca was special. What’s the point of this article?

The point is, I remember exactly where I was when the Steelers picked him in the first round back in 1998

Where was I? I was stocking shelves at this store called Save-A-Lot. (That’s right, insert your jokes about a sportswriter stocking shelves here.)

Not only was I stocking shelves at work, but I was barely paying any mind to what was happening during the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft. In fact, I don’t think I even found out who the Steelers picked until I got home from work later that afternoon. What was my initial reaction when I found out about the selection of Faneca? I believe it was something along the lines of, “Cool.”

I had never even heard of Alan Faneca, but maybe that’s because I was pretty much over the annual NFL Draft by that point.

Pittsburgh was coming off the 1997 season in which it made the playoffs for a sixth-straight time and played in the AFC title game for the third time in four years.

Yancey Thigpen, Ray Crockett, Steelers vs Broncos

Yancey Thigpen advances on Ray Crockett. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

While I didn’t know the fun was about to be over (Pittsburgh would miss the playoffs for three-straight seasons, starting with a disappointing 7-9 campaign in 1998), my zeal for the annual draft had long since been replaced by how awesome the Steelers had became at actual football during the 1990s.

The Steelers were mediocre-to-horrible in the 1980s, and it was in this reality that I found the NFL Draft to be exhilarating as a teenager desperate to fill the void of those Super 70s teams I had only heard of. Which high-profile college prospects from the big-time schools would come to Pittsburgh and save the day?

  • Maybe that’s why my reaction to the Steelers’ first-round pick in 1988 was much different.

I looked forward to that year’s draft more than any before or since. Who would the Steelers take, and would it be Lorenzo White, a high-profile running back from Michigan State?

The Steelers selected 18th in the first round, and White was still available when it was their turn to pick. I was so happy, I, a 15-year-old moron, began to run around my grandmother’s house, screaming, “We’re gonna get Lorenzo! We’re gonna get Lorenzo!”

  • Pittsburgh wasted no time turning its pick into the commissioner.

“With the 18th pick in the first round of the 1988 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select….Aaron Jones, defensive end, Eastern Kentucky.”

Who?

I was crestfallen. I may have even shed a tear or two. My dreams had been shattered.

I never even heard of Jones, and despite the fact that I eventually found his name listed as the second-best defensive end prospect when I reviewed the draft preview from that morning’s paper, I was still pretty darn upset.

Dick Haley, Chuck Noll, Steeler Training Camp 1991

Dick Haley and Chuck Noll at St. Vincents in 1991. Photo Credit: George Gojkovich, Getty Images via FOX News.

Jones went on to have an unremarkable career and was yet another failed attempt by head coach Chuck Noll and Dick Haley to recapture the magic of the Steel Curtain defense from the previous decade.

I continued to live and die with the draft over the next few years until Bill Cowher came along in 1992 and brought with him the winning Steelers culture I spent my youth yearning for.

While I haven’t lived and died for the draft in quite a while, I definitely pay more attention to it now than I did the day Pittsburgh selected Faneca a quarter of a century ago.

It’s hard not to pay attention to the annual NFL Draft in this 24/7 news cycle we find ourselves in. Thanks to social media, podcasts and blogs, the draft is top news from the second the Steelers season ends in January until many weeks after they select their new class in April.

  • But the 1990s taught me a lot about what really matters when it comes to prospects like Alan Faneca.

It’s not about whether or not I know anything about him. It’s not about the position he plays. It’s not about the school he played football at.

All that matters is what he can do to help the Steelers on Sunday afternoons in the fall.

I don’t even have to know who this prospect is in order to enjoy that.

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Former Steelers Personnel Director Dick Haley, 1937-2023, Embodied the “Steelers Way”

Former Pittsburgh Steelers Director of Player Personnel Dick Haley passed away at the age of 85 on Friday March 10, 2023. Haley, along with Art Rooney Jr. and Bill Nunn Jr. architected the most dominant dynasty that the NFL has ever seen.

In many ways Dick Haley’s story is the antidote to the “me” centeredness that plagues modern narratives of organizational success.

Dick Haley, Chuck Noll, Steeler Training Camp 1991

Dick Haley and Chuck Noll at St. Vincents in 1991. Photo Credit: George Gojkovich, Getty Images via FOX News.

To hone in on what I’m talking, just think of how the smart advice to job hunters today is to be ready to show the value that you added to company and to always use the word “I” aned never “we” during interviews. Scaling up a bit, think of how the story of every successful tech startup gets tethered to the biography of entrepreneur who gets credit for it all. If you doubt this then ask if the names “Jobs,” “Musk,” “Gates” or “Brandsen” ring a bell.

For the last 50 years the Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the most successful organizations in professional sports, and it certainly is tempting to apply this same “who is the singular genius behind it all” mentality to them.

  • Tempting, but ultimately unsuccessful.

I once asked Ed Bouchette during a Post-Gazette on-line chat, “Who was most responsible for the scouting success of the 70’s? Art Rooney Jr., Bill Nunn or Dick Haley.” Bouchette’s response was unequivocal: Each one of them always insisted that it was a team effort.

How refreshing.

Refreshing, if not surprising, because this emphasis of team over the individual is the very essence of the Steelers Way.

Dick Haley’s Role in Architecting the Steelers Dynasty

Art Rooney Jr. professionalized the Steelers scouting organization. Bill Nunn used his connections with the HSB network to give the Steelers “Ace in the Hole” on draft day. But Dick Haley’s contributions were equally critical.

Sure, Rooney spotted Jack Lambert pulling cinders out of his skin while practicing on Kent State parking lot, just as Nunn got near-exclusive access to John Stallworth’s tapes from Alabama A&M. But Dick Haley validated the evaluations of both players.

John Stallworth, Super Bowl XIII, Steelers vs Cowboys, Lynn Swann, Benny Barnes, Charlie Waters

Super Bowl XIII: John Stallworth is headed to the end zone. Benny Barnes and Charlie Waters can only look on. Photo Credit: Focus on Sport/Getty Images via FanSided

Art Rooney introduced the use of computers, making the Steelers one of the first NFL teams to bring IT into the scouting department. But Dick Haley balanced the quantitative with the qualitative by trusting his eyes.

As he explained to Pittsburgh Sports‘ Ron Lippock in 2012, “Yeah…I say it often I know – ‘Don’t tell me how fast or big a player is, just tell me how good he is.’ Just big and fast won’t work. Big, fast and good….we’ll take that player!”

He further detailed to Lippock, “Lambert was a good example. He was only 202 pounds in training camp. He was 6’5″. Ham was 209 pounds. Webster was only 250 pounds – tell Webster he wasn’t big enough.”

The results of this team driven approach to scouting speak for themselves:

  • 4 Super Bowls in 6 years
  • 73 Pro Bowl selections during the 70’s
  • 2 Super Bowl victories over a 2-time Super Bowl Champion, the team to accomplish that
  • The 1974 Draft yielding 4 Hall of Famers plus 1 undrafted rookie free agent Hall of Famer
  • 10 Hall of Famers

Dick Haley’s role in architecting that dynasty should be enough to earn him a spot in Canton alongside Bill Nunn (Art Rooney Jr. belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame too.) But Haley’s contribution to the Steelers legacy extends beyond the 70’s. And since its seldom discussed elsewhere we’ll do it here.

Steelers of the 80’s: Friction Between Coaching and Scouting = Stagnation

Business analysts love to talk about “process.” And Pittsburgh’s process for building the dynasty of the 70’s was simple: Art Rooney Jr., Bill Nunn, Dick Haley, Tim Rooney and other Steelers scouts would evaluate prospects and build the draft board, and Chuck Noll would draft the players.

  • Peek back at the bullet points above to see how well it worked.

But then in 1976 the NFL moved the draft from just after the Super Bowl to March. In theory the extra time should have helped an organization like the Steelers.

  • Instead, the exact opposite occurred.

The increased time allowed Chuck Noll to start micromanaging the process. He started challenging draft board rankings. He got his assistant coaches more involved in scouting. As Art Rooney Jr, declared in his book Ruanaidh, some of them weren’t up to it.

The organization also began to outthink itself. They’d pass on guys whom they’d rated highly thinking, “How’s he gonna beat out Stallworth or Lynn Swann?” or “Is this kid really gonna push Greenwood or Mean Joe for playing time?”

David Little, Mel Blount, Marcus Allen, 1983 AFC Divisional Playoffs

David Little helps Mel Blount bring down Marcus Allen

At its best, that led to the Steelers trying to replace guys like Lambert and Ham with the likes of David Little and Bryan Hinkle. At it its worst it produced draft picks like Darryl Sims.

  • That created tension and communication dysfunction between Art Rooney Jr. and Chuck Noll.

By the 1986 season tension got so bad that Dan Rooney had to make a decision, and he fired his brother, leaving Dick Haley as head of scouting.

Haley’s Role in Building the “Blitzburgh” Teams of the ‘90s

The quick and easy take away from Dan Rooney’s decision to fire his brother is to look at what happened next and say, “Well, that I didn’t work.” After all, Chuck Noll only won one more playoff game (but man, it was a heck of a win) followed by deeply disappointing campaigns in 1990 and 1991.

  • However, communication did improve between scouting and coaching, for a while at least.

In both 1987 and 1988 Chuck Noll drafted Hall of Famers in the form of Rod Woodson and Dermontti Dawson. And while the Steelers did need a lot of luck to land Woodson, those weren’t isolated examples.

Greg Lloyd, Greg Lloyd Steelers Career

Greg Lloyd during the Steelers 1995 playoff win over Browns. Photo Credit: Getty Images, via Zimbo.com

The Steelers 1987 draft also delivered Thomas Everett, Hardy Nickerson, Greg Lloyd and Merril Hoge. 1988 brought John Jackson to Pittsburgh. The Steelers 1989 draft featured Carnell Lake, Jerrol Williams, D.J. Johnson, Jerry Olsavsky and Carlton Haselrig.

And it is true that by 1990 some of the same communication breakdowns between scouting and coaching resumed, but even those drafts delivered players like  Justin Strzelczyk, Neil O’Donnell and Ernie Mills who helped the 1995 Steelers reach Super Bowl XXX.

Dick Haley left the Steelers after Dan Rooney promoted Tom Donahoe to Director of Football Operations when Chuck Noll retired. Haley worked as the New York Jets Director of Player Personnel from 1992 to 2000, and then served as their General Manager during 2000 and 2001.

But even if Dick Haley left Pittsburgh in 1992, his finger prints are just as much a part of the success first part of the Cowher Era as they are of the first Super Bowl Era of 1970s.

No, when they write the story of Super Bowl XXX, they don’t list a tally of players from the Dick Haley era just as they don’t do a tally of Tom Donahoe players on the Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII squads. Nor should they.

  • Because each front office executive’s success = the Steelers success.

Indeed, the late Dick Haley was a walking embodiment of “The Steelers Way.” May he rest in peace.

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End of an Era: John Mitchell Retires after 29 Years as a Steelers Assistant Coach

Little did he know, but Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher was about to start the “John Mitchell” era.

The day was Tuesday January 11th, 1993. The site was Three Rivers Stadium and the 1993 Steelers season had ended in with a bang. Literally.

The Steelers reached the end of 4th quarter clinging to a 7-point lead in a Wild Card game against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. A failed attempt on third down sent Mark Royals out to punt. Steelers cast off Keith Cash blocked it, giving the Chiefs the ball deep in Pittsburgh territory. Worse yet, Cash gave Joe Montana what you absolutely could not give him – a 2nd chance.

Montana tied the game in regulation and Nick Lowery won it on overtime. Bill Cowher reacted decisively.

He fired Special Teams coach John Guy. Everyone expected this. The blocked punt culminated a season of special team’s disaster. He also fired wide receivers coach Bob Harrison. And Cowher made one more move: He sacked defensive line coach Steve Furness.

Cowher surprised everyone with the Furness firing. Not only was Steve Furness a Steel Curtain Veteran sporting 4 Super Bowl rings, but the arrow seemed to be pointing up on Steelers defensive line.

Indeed. Instead of mouthing the obligatory “Thanks to the Rooneys for the opportunity” words, Furness made no attempt to hide his bitterness and the firing apparently haunted him for the rest of his life.

  • But as so often is the case in the NFL, when a door closes for one person, it creates an opportunity for another.

John Mitchell, Steelers Assistant Coach 29 years

John Mitchell, 29 years a Steelers Assistant coach. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com

Bill Cowher hired John Mitchell to coach the defensive line. John Mitchell didn’t so much as take advantage of that opportunity, but rather he molded it, transformed it and remade it as his own.

  • Mitchell retired last week after 29 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In stepping away, Mitchell ends an era for the Pittsburgh Steelers that was as remarkable as it was understated.

To understand just how understated the “Mitchell Era” was try this test: Strip a Steelers fan of his or her smart phone and ask – “Who was the longest tenured Steelers defensive coach?” Most would probably answer “Dick LeBeau.” Some will probably say “Bud Carson” or “George Perles.” “Tony Dungy” might earn an honorable mention. I guarantee you that few would answer “John Mitchell” even though with 29 years of service as defensive line and then assistant head coach that is the right answer.

To understand how remarkable Mitchell’s tenure has been, consider the fate of his opposite number on offensive line. When the Steelers hired Karl Dunbar to replace Mitchell as defensive line coach in 2018, we observed that since Dunbar’s rookie training camp at St. Vincents in 1991, the only other coaches the title of “Defensive line coach” for the Pittsburgh Steelers were Joe Greene and Furness.

Since Dunbar’s return in 2018, the Steelers have cycled through Mike Munchak, Shaun Saurett, Adrian Klemm and Pat Meyer as offensive line coaches.

As Dick Hoak observed when he retired as Steelers running backs coach “You’re hired to be fired. I guess I beat the system.” So did John Mitchell.

And he beat the system by remolding and reforming the young defensive lineman in his own image. This fact has been well known and evident in the fact that very few defensive lineman started for John Mitchell as rookies.

Mitchell explained this system to Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell,

Aaron Smith’s first two years, he didn’t like me because I never called him by his name. I called him ninety-one. Aaron Smith came from a small school, Northern Colorado, and they only had about three or four coaches on the staff, so Aaron Smith didn’t know any fine points about football. When he got here, he had to play technique football. The first year and a half was pretty tough on him.

Aaron Smith agrees, sharing with Ron Lippock from Steelers Takeaways: “We laugh about it now. I thought he hated me and I hated him. But now, there’s no greater person.”

  • For a quarter century Mitchell put the Steelers defensive line through similar paces.

Johnny Mitchell, Steelers defensive line coach Johnny Mitchell, Johnny Mitchell's Steelers coaching career

Steelers defensive line coach Johnny Mitchell at his best – teaching in the trenches. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com

Even the most educated fan has a difficult, if not impossible time assessing a position coach. Do you judge Carnell Lake on the disappointing careers that Cortez Allen and Shamarko Thomas authored? Or do you measure the “Lake Effect” on William Gay’s maturation following his return to Pittsburgh and rejuvenation of Kennan Lewis under Lake’s tutelage?

But when a truly great assistant coach comes along no such intellectual gymnastics are necessary. John Mitchell is one of those assistant coaches. What to understand his impact? The just look at these players: Joel Steed, Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Chris Hoke, Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave.

Thank you John Mitchell to your contributions to the “Steelers Way.” We wish you the best in retirement.

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Remember the “Steagles” – Steelers Fans Should Support Eagles in Super Bowl LVII

Super Bowl Sunday has arrived. And as has been the case since 2010, the Pittsburgh Steelers have home couch advantage for the game. So how, just exactly, are faitful Steelers fans supposed to root?

Some years the decision is difficult. Often times it’s the lesser of two “evils” (see 2012 and the 49ers vs the Ravens.) Other times the choice is clear cut, such 2006 and 2013 when the right thing to do was to support Chuck Noll disciples Tony Dungy and John Fox.

2023’s decision isn’t quite as obvious, but it says here that faithful Pittsburgh Steelers fans should support the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2017 I came to the same conclusion, but for different reasons. That year the driver was clear: An Eagles win over the Patriots would keep Bill Belichick and Tom Brady from tying the Steelers Super Bowl record.

  • The Eagles delivered, although Belichick and Brady would tie the record a year later.

Steagles, Steelers Eagles merger 1943 world war ii, Steelers, Eagles

1943: Steelers and Eagles merge to form the “Steagles.” Photo Credit: Eagles.com

This year there’s no ulterior motive. In fact, while neither Pittsburghers or Steelers fans have any driving reason to root against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Hunt family runs a football focused operation, much like the Rooneys and the Maras do. And they’re from the AFC.

  • But the Eagles are from Pennsylvania.

And in this case, loyalty to the Keystone State trumps all else. I’ve only lived in Pennsylvania for 14 months 605 months on this earth, but there doesn’t seem to be a ton of Pennsylvania patriotism. Even when it comes to college sports, Penn State is a National Powerhouse, yet still has in-state rivalries with schools like Pitt.

  • Be that as it may, the Steelers and Eagles do share a historic link.

Back during World War II, the Steelers and Eagles merged teams to be the Steagles. And while the union only lasted one year, when my parents were working towards their 2nd birthday shared heritage is  enough for Steelers fans to show solidarity with the Eagles today.

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