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

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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1998 Pittsburgh Steelers: The Black & Gold Crashes Down to Earth

The 1997 Steelers finished a handful of plays away from winning the AFC Championship. The silver lining was that they had proven they could defy gravity. Pittsburgh had replaced over a dozen Super Bowl XXX starters and  come within a whisker of making Super Bowl XXXII.

  • And they’d done it with Kordell Stewart, a first year starting quarterback.

Sure, Kordell’s twin end zone interceptions had flipped momentum in Denver’s favor. But those were just growing pains. Weren’t they?

The Steelers lost left tackle John Jackson and wide receiver Yancey Thigpen in free agency. Jackson had been a mainstay since Chuck Noll’s time and Thigpen was a playmaking wide out. But big name free agents left Pittsburgh throughout the 1990’s, and the Steelers kept winning.

  • Why would 1998 be any different?

In fact, when two “defectors” Rod Woodson and Eric Green, got cut by their new teams and asked to return to Pittsburgh, Tom Donahoe quipped, “We’re not the Salvation Army.”

  • Steelers Nation snickered.

So did most of the rest of the NFL as one preseason publication (Street and Smiths?) projected Pittsburgh as the NFL’s 3rd best. Sure, cornerback Chad Scott had torn an ACL during OTAs ending his season in May, but the Steelers would compensate. They always did. Right?

By the summer of 1998 everyone just assumed that “The Steelers Way” meant automatically fielding a contender.

The 1998 season would challenge a lot of assumptions about the Steelers.

Greg Jefferies & Robert Porcher bring Jerome Bettis down. Photo Credit: Julian Gonzalez, Detroit Free Press

Preseason Danger Sign: Premium Draft Picks Not Panning Out

Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe hid their “secret” for surviving annual free agent exoduses in plain sight: Anticipate departures and draft accordingly. The duo’s first two picks in the 1992 NFL Draft were Leon Searcy and Levon Kirkland. When Tunch Ilkin and Hardy Nickerson left as free agents in the spring of 1993, Searcy and Kirkland took their places.

Levon Kirkland, Frank Reich, Steelers vs Lions

Levon Kirkland closes in on Frank Reich. Photo Credit:

  • The plan functioned to near perfection through the mid-1990’s.

But it was Bob Smizik of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who sensed that something was amiss as preseason ended. He could have focused on the Steelers looking less than stellar that summer. But he didn’t.

  • Instead he focused on two critical position battles at offensive line and wide receiver.

The Steelers had drafted Will Blackwell in 1997 to replace Yancey Thigpen, yet Blackwell couldn’t beat out Courtney Hawkins, who’d been brought to in ’97 Pittsburgh as a 3rd wide receiver. At least that contest had a winner.

At right tackle, Bill Cowher had staged a battle between Jamain Stephens and Paul Wiggins. When neither man stepped up, he injected Chris Conrad into the competition. Conrad failed to grab the opportunity, forcing Cowher to move Will Wolford to left tackle, shifting Justin Strzelczyk from guard to right tackle and starting Roger Duffy in his place while rookie Alan Faneca got ready to start.

  • Stephens, Blackwell, Wiggins, and Conrad represented 1st, 2nd and two 3rd round picks from the ’96, ’97 and ’98 drafts.

None of them were ready to start. Factor in the ACL tear that cornerback Chad Scott, 1997’s first round pick, had suffered during OTAs ending his season in May.

This was not in the plan…..

Veteran Leadership Sorley Lacking for the Steelers

Looking back, the first month of the Steelers 1998 season offered several touchstones that signaled disaster:

  • There were the two lackluster wins over the Ravens and Bears to start the season
  • In week 3 the Dolphins dealt the franchise suffered its first shutout loss in 5 years
  • Kordell Stewart suddenly  looked tentative and was unable, or unwilling, to throw deep

All troubling trends, to be sure, but they were just symptoms of a root problem that was on display in a week 5 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati.

Carl Pickens, Dwayne Washington, Steelers vs Bengals

Carl Pickens burns Steelers Dwyane Washington. Photo Credit: Post-Gazette

The Steelers had fought a back-and-forth game, with Kordell Stewart leading a comeback just inside the 2 minute warning, only to see the Bengals comeback to win with no time outs. The play that everyone remembers was Neil O’Donnell faking a spike with 2 minutes left and instead hitting Carl Pickens for the go ahead touchdown.

  • The play stung to be sure, but the more telling play come a minute earlier.

The Bengals had started their drive at their own 7. After a few plays, the Steelers defense had the Bengals at 4th and 12 from their own 15, only to see Neil O’Donnell complete a 50 yard pass to Carl Pickens.

The scene screamed for a Greg Lloyd or Rod Woodson to rally the troops – Cincinnati still had 50 yards to go in under a minute and the clock was ticking.

But Lloyd was in Carolina and Woodson in Baltimore, and instead of steeling themselves to make the stop, Pittsburgh’s defenders stood pouting, with their hands on their hips. Given that attitude it is no surprise that that O’Donnell could steal the game by fooling them so easily.

Steelers Tantalize Fans with “Tease Wins” at Midseason

By capitulating to Cincinnati at the final gun the 1998 Steelers had accomplished a rare feat during the Cowher era: They lost a close game. To that point, Bill Cowher’s teams had been blown out and embarrassed plenty of times, but they’d almost always found ways to win the close ones.

  • Although, that was about to change, the 1998 Steelers would not go gently into this good night.

Far from it. Over next the six weeks the 1998 Steelers would tantalize their fans with a series of tease wins. The month of October would see the Steelers drop two decisions to the Tennessee Oilers in the span of 3 weeks.

  • But those losses were staggered by Steelers wins on Monday Night Football over the Chiefs and Packers.
Courtney Hawkins, Steelers vs Packers

Courtney Hawkins advances against the Packers on MNF. Photo Credit: Rick Stewart, Allsport

Both victories came over contenders. Both wins were convincing. Jerome Bettis ran for 100 yards in both games. Kordell Stewart played competent, if unspectacular football. Rookie Hines Ward even completed a pass to Stewart in the Chiefs win.

  • The 2nd loss to the Oilers set up a AFC Central show down at Three Rivers Stadium with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Steelers were ready. Dwayne Washington opened and closed the game with 58 and 74 yard pick sixes. In between, Norm Johnson booted 3 field goals and Mark Bruener scored a touchdown to deliver a convincing, 30 to 15 win over the division leader.

The 1998 Steelers were now 7-4 and heading into a short week and a trip to Detroit for what looked to be a little more than a Thanksgiving layup against a 4-7 Lions team. To boot, Detroit was Jerome Bettis’ hometown and his mother welcomed the team with a Thanksgiving dinner.

What could go wrong?

Thanksgiving Coin Toss Exposes 1998 Steelers as Turkeys

Thanksgiving 1998 is a day that will live in infamy within Steelers Nation.

After a sloppy 4 quarters of football, the Steelers had blown a 13-3 lead only have Norm Johnson kick a last second field goal to force overtime. Jerome Bettis and Carnell Lake took the field. The Bus called “tails.” The coin landed on tails.

  • Phil Luckett awarded the ball to the Lions.

Even the Lions captain Robert Porcher stood dumbfounded. But if this was one of the most egregious examples of an officiating error impacting the outcome of a game, Dan Rooney called it straight when he declared that it never should have come to overtime. The 1998 Detroit Lions were bad team. The Steelers had botched multiple opportunities to put them away.

But just as the Thanksgiving game never should have gone to overtime, a bad coin toss never should have unraveled the entire Steelers 1998 season.

But it did.

Steelers Close 1998 with Total Implosion

The 1998 Steelers didn’t field a championship caliber roster, but they certainly had a playoff caliber team. You’d never know it after watching the final 5 weeks of the season.

A week after the Thanksgiving debacle, the Patriots came to Pittsburgh. The Steelers defense responded to New England going up 23-9 early in the 4th quarter with a 46 yard Earl Holmes interception return that took Pittsburgh to the Patriots 22, with 4 minutes and change remaining. Here’s what followed:

  • Kordell Stewart threw 7 passes, yet couldn’t find the end zone.
  • The Steelers defense forced a 3 and out.
  • Kordell took the Steelers to the 10 yard line, then he threw an interception.

The Patriots had tried to give the Steelers the game, but Pittsburgh refused to accept their gift.

A week later Bill Cowher lost control. Early in the 3rd quarter during a deluge in Tampa, Bill Cowher pulled Kordell Stewart in favor of Mike Tomczak. Kordell Stewart protested, getting in his coach’s face. Next, Kordell was seen crying on the bench.

Back on the field, Mike Tomczak was busying fumbling the ball on his third play in the game, and then he throwing an interception on his second pass. Meanwhile, hurricane force rains continued to pour.

  • Stephen King couldn’t have scripted a more horrific scene had he tried.

A beleaguered Bill Cowher reinserted Kordell Stewart. To no one’s surprise, Kordell failed to rally the team. The downward spiral continued. Steelers fans scapegoated Kordell Stewart. That was both ugly and unfair. He had plenty of help.

Offensive Coordinator Ray Sherman was in over his head. Beyond having no idea of what to do with Kordell Stewart his play calling was so predictable that on 3rd and 7, patrons of Baltimore’s Purple Goose Saloon would call out, “Weak side pitch to Fred McAfee.” Invariably at the snap, McAfee would get a pitch, run to the weak side, and make it about 6 yards before getting clobbered.

  • The defense, which had carried the team, collapsed.
  • But worse of all, the Steelers quit on Cowher.
Jon Witman, steelers running back jon witman, Jerome Bettis, Steelers vs Jaguars 1990's

Jon Witman blocks for Jerome Bettis. Photo Credit: Statesman Journal

Certainly, not players like Levon Kirkland, Dermontti Dawson and Jerome Bettis. But they were exceptions. The Post Gazette’s Ron Cook went as far as to call out Carnell Lake for “playing so poorly with such little passion down the stretch.”

By the time they reached their 1998 season finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Pittsburgh was playing for pride.

  • They’d already been eliminated from the playoffs.
  • Bill Cowher had stripped Ray Sherman of play calling duties.
  • The Jaguars playoff position was set
  • Tom Coughlin started third string quarterback Jonathan Quinn.

Each of those factors flowed in Pittsburgh’s favor. But they were formalities. The Steelers lost 21-3. Bill Cowher suffered his first losing season as the 1998 Steelers finished 7-9.

And Pittsburgh, learned the hard lesson that in the NFL gravity could only be defied for so long.

Thanks for visiting. To access our full series on Bill Cowher click here (and scroll up or down).

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Concerned about Ray Sherman’s Return as Steelers WR Coach? You Shouldn’t Be.

Last week Mike Tomlin named Ray Sherman as Steelers interim wide receivers coach, filling the vacancy created by Daryl Drakes’ untimely death. The move was expected, as Ray Sherman had been working with the Steelers wide outs at St. Vincents, and he is by far more experienced than William Gay or Blaine Stewart who’ve also been coaching wide receivers.

  • But raise your hand if you weren’t concerned when you first saw Ray Sherman’s name surface.

Twitter tells no lie. Guilty as charged. Ray Sherman was the Steelers offensive coordinator in 1998, and he was a disaster.

With that said, Ray Sherman’s first stint with the Steelers over 20 years ago offers and important lesson for today.

Ray Sherman, Ray Sherman Steelers wide receivers coach

Steelers interim wide receivers coach Ray Sherman on the South Side. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Of Conference Championship Losses and Offensive Coordinators

Conference championship losses can be curious affairs.

Any conference championship loss delivers a dose of disappointment. The idea is to open heaven’s door, not knock on it. But every conference championship loss can be viewed as a “Half-Full/Half-Empty” experience. It either signals that you’re ready to cross the threshold or that you never will.

  • Unfortunately, in the immediate aftermath which direction your team is heading in is never clear.

In 2004 rookie Ben Roethlisberger set the NFL on fire leading the Steelers to 15 straight wins only to fall flat against New England at Heinz Field in the AFC Championship. The loss stung. Critics charged it was proof that Bill Cowher “Will NEVER win The Big One.”

The atmosphere was very different after the Steelers 1984 AFC Championship loss to Maimi. The Steel Curtain had shaken off the rust and Pittsburgh was primed to be good or event great again. After the game, both Chuck Noll and Dan Rooney were unabashedly optimistic about the future in talking with Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Press.

Mike Merriweather, Edmund Nelson, John Elway, Steelers vs Broncos 1984, Mike Merriweather Steelers career

Mike Merriweather and Edmund Nelson close in on John Elway. Photo Credit: Pin Interest

Yet, the Steelers would lose 3 of the next 4 seasons, and Chuck Noll’s next, and last playoff victory with the 1989 Steelers lie 5 years away.

The Steelers had knocked on heaven’s door only to have John Elway slam it shut with another miracle comeback. But the arrow seemed to be pointing up in Pittsburgh. The Steelers had weathered dramatic roster turnover in the two years following Super Bowl XXX, defying the gravity of free agency and late drafting position.

More importantly, with Chan Gailey’s tutelage Kordell Stewart appeared to have established himself as the quarterback of the future….

Ray Sherman’s First Stint in Pittsburgh

Coincidence might create historical symmetries, but they provide perfect story telling props.

In 1990 shortly after a disappointing playoff loss the Steelers nonetheless seemed to be on the rise. But on Valentine’s Day, Chuck Noll hired Joe Walton as his offensive coordinator, a decision that doomed his final years in Pittsburgh.

The move came as a surprise, and it sent the Steelers scrambling because the promising coordinator candidates had already found jobs. However, when the Steelers hired Ray Sherman, it looked like a smart move.

Ray Sherman brought an impressive pedigree to Pittsburgh, and had done wonders in developing Brad Johnson from an obscure 9th round pick from the 1992 NFL Draft to a quality starter who would later guide the 2002 Buccaneers to a Super Bowl win.

Kordell Stewart, Bryce Fisher, Steelers vs Bills

Bryce Fisher sacks Kordell Stewart. Photo Credit: Getty Images, via

  • Who better to bring Kordell Stewart along?

Well, it turns out a lot of coaches. In his first year as a starter, Kordell Stewart revealed his flaws, but like Jim McMahon, he seemed to have that innate ability to find ways to win. Stewart played fearlessly in 1997, making costly mistakes, but always bouncing back with a vengeance.

He looked like he lacked confidence. Kordell Stewart even admitted to “pressing.” The long and even medium pass all but disappeared from his game. Ray Sherman was part of the problem. As John Steigerwald observed, rollouts, play action and bootlegs vanished from the Steelers offense as Sherman tried to mold Kordell into a pocket passer.

To be fair, Sherman was handed an offense that had lost and failed to replace Yancey Thigpen and John Jackson. Just when the offensive line began to jell, he lost Justin Strzelczyk.

  • But Ray Sherman was in over his head as offensive coordinator.

Mexican blogger Carlos Ortiz charges that Ray Sherman once called a play from his Vikings days that wasn’t even in the Steelers playbook. Outside of that, his play calling was perilously predictable.

When the Steelers faced third and 6ish situations, we’d sit there and say, “Weakside pitch to Fred McAfee.” And sure enough that was the call. McAfee, God bless him, would often make it a good 4 or 5 yards before he got clobbered.

Late in the season, Bill Cowher stripped Sherman of play calling duties, and Sherman resigned shortly thereafter.

The Lesson? Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

The lesson from Ray Sherman’s first stint with the Steelers is that things aren’t always what they seem. Despite losing in the conference championship, the Steelers appeared to be a team headed up following the 1997 season, and Sherman appeared to be a good choice as offensive coordinator.

Neither turned out to be true.

Quite to the contrary.

Ray Sherman is by all accounts an accomplished wide receivers coach, having coached Jerry Rice, Drew Hill, Ernest Givins, Antonio Freeman, and Terrell Owens. Ray Sherman is hardly the first position coach to struggle in a coordinator’s role, but Steelers fans have every reason to expect him to succeed as interim wide receiver’s coach.

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Too Bad Mike Tomlin Can’t Run the Oklahoma Drill at St. Vincents

Tomorrow the Steelers put the pads on at St. Vincents. Football in shorts will have ended. The sorting between the men and the boys will begin. As Peter King remarked two years ago, Mike Tomlin is one of the last NFL coaches to practice full speed hitting in training camp.

  • It says here that is a wise move.

As Jack Lambert remarked, “I believe the game is designed to reward the ones who hit the hardest. If you can’t take it, you shouldn’t play.”

Steelers training camp hitting

Unlike other teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers STILL hit in training camp. Photo Credit: MMQB

And conditioning yourself to hit doesn’t come through simulation. So its good that the Steelers will do some hitting in Latrobe.

  • But it would be better if Mike Tomlin could run the Oklahoma Drill.

The NFL, in an attempt to reduce head trauma banned the Oklahoma Drill along with a number of other traditional hitting drills. The blunt truth is, this is a wise move. After the tragedies of Mike Webster, Justin Strzelczyk, Terry Long and Adrian Robinson, Steelers Nation needs no reminder of the existential threat that CTE poses to football.

  • But that doesn’t change the reality that something is lost even as player safety gains.

Advocates of the ban point to the fact that Oklahoma Drill doesn’t really help develop any skill, and therefore exposes players to unnecessary head trauma. They have a point. But, as much as it pains me to quote him, so did Bill Belichick when he explained that these Oklahoma Drill did answer these important questions: “Who is a man? Who’s tough? Who’s going to hit somebody?”

  • The Oklahoma Drill pits a defender against an offensive player and sometimes a ball carrier in a test of wills.

They line up 3 yards off the ball and the offensive lineman and the defender tussle until the defender is knocked to the ground, or the ball carrier is tackled or disrupted from his one yard corridor. Chuck Noll used to start training camp with the Oklahoma Drill.

  • Rookie Joe Greene famously tossed Ray Mansfield like a rag doll and anhililated every other offensive lineman in his first Oklahoma Drill.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have regressed each of their past two seasons. The team, along with Ben Roethlisberger, served as a veritable punching bag during the 2019 off season. What better way for Mike Tomlin to set the tone than by asking for volunteers to run say a half dozen Oklahoma Drills?

How about letting Matt Feiler and Chukwuma Okorafor start their competition for the starting right tackle slot by squaring off against Cam Heyward in an Oklahoma Drill? Why not acquaint Mark Barron and Benny Snell Jr. with what it means to be a Steelers by making the former fight through David DeCastro  to get to the latter?

Joe Greene’s famous Oklahoma Drill exhibition came on his very first snap of training camp practice. Dick Hoak says that veteran defensive lineman who were watching Greene openly talked about packing their bags. Andy Russell pinpoints this as the key moment when Pittsburgh pivoted from being a perennial loser, to transforming into the best football team the story has or ever will see.

There are a lot of things Mike Tomlin can do to transform this Pittsburgh Steelers squad into a champion this summer at St. Vincents. Sadly, however the Oklahoma Drill won’t be one of the tools at his disposal.

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Is Former Steelers Fullback Jon Witman Doomed to Become CTE’s Next Victim? Let’s Hope Not

Disconcerting. That describes my reaction to the headline “Former Steelers fullback Jon Witman pleads guilty to DUI crash.” For the record, Jon Witman was on a painkiller and a muscle relaxer when he ran a stop sign and crashed into a tree. Clearly Witman wasn’t on any sort of drunken rampage.

The Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s headline specifies a “2nd DUI crash” but only details the stop sign and tree incident. There’s more to Jon Witman’s story, it is not pretty, at least potentially, and it hits home for this writer.

Jon Witman, steelers fullback jon witman, 2001 steelers afc championship loss patriots

A distraught Jon Witman after the Steelers 2001 AFC Championship loss to the Patriots. Photo Credit: Matt Freed, Post-Gazette

Jon Witman and the Upshaw Players Assistance Trust

It’s ironic that we often get less news in the age when publishers no longer need worry about ink and page space limitations. A quick (and admittedly incomplete) Google search reveals that most of the news outlets ran the same AP stub on Jon Witman that appeared in the Tribune Review.

  • No one offered details regarding Witman’s other crash.
  • No one hinted that a bigger backstory might lay behind Witman’s latest brush with the law

That’s a shame, because the last time Steelers Nation saw Jon Witman’s name in the news, USA Today sports writer Tom Pelissero was presenting Witman as a success story of the Gene Upshaw Players Assistance Trust. As Pelissero detailed, Witman was out of money, depressed, hooked on pain killers and literally had a gun to his head until the sight of his son walking into the room convinced him not to pull the trigger.

  • Michelle Witman called the NFLPA, which led to Witman spending time in detox and rehab for a methadone habit.

The article reported that assistance had gotten Witman sober, but that the former NFL running back still struggled with pain from back and ankle fusion surgeries. While Pelissero pulled no punches describing Witman’s post-NFL struggles, his December 2015 article did suggest that Jon Witman had turned a corner.

This latest news muddles the picture.

Don’t Jump to Conclusions on Jon Witman & CTE, But….

Let’s be clear on a few critical points:

  • This site has zero information about Jon Witman’s medical condition
  • Substance abuse alone can lead to the same, self-destructive behavior that Witman exhibited
  • Millions of people who’ve never had head trauma issues struggle with substance abuse

Fortunately, it is clear that Witman and his family are still actively seeking help. But it is hard not to read about this and wonder if Jon Witman isn’t doomed to be another victim of CTE. CTE is of course chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and CTE is caused by the accumulation of tau proteins in the brain due to repeated hits to the head.

CTE claimed the lives of former Pittsburgh Steelers Mike Webster and Justin Strzelczyk, as documented in the feature film Concussion, as well as Terry Long and Adrian Robinson.

The only objective indication that head trauma might be an issue is that Jon Witman has been getting treatment at Michigan’s Eisenhower Center whose “After Impact” program targets former soldiers, athletes, and first responders suffering from, among other things, post- concussion syndrome.

Possibility of Jon Witman Having CTE = “Citadel Moment”?

The possibility that Jon Witman might be falling victim to head trauma hits home especially hard for me. I really don’t have many memories of Mike Webster playing, other than perhaps watching the tail end of the Steelers 1988 final preseason game against the Saints, and answering “Mike Webster” to my older brother’s “Who in the hell is that old man?” inquiry.

Terry Long was little more than a name I’d occasionally see in the Monday morning papers while following the Steelers from Maryland in the late 80’s. I do remember Justin Strzelczyk well, rooting for him as he moved through all four positions of the offensive line whenever he was needed.

Reading about Jon Witman’s latest troubles called to mind a scene for Pat Conroy’s autobiographical My Losing Season. Conroy he recounts how, cadets at the Citadel during the 60’s cheered at breakfast whenever it was announced that an alumni had been killed in Vietnam, because more Citadel graduates were giving their lives for their country than West Point graduates.

  • But as Conroy chilling reminds his readers, one morning in the mess hall the cheering stopped, because someone the cadets had studied with had died.

That’s why Jon Witman’s troubles are different for me, because I remember when he was drafted. I remember a friend of mine telling me how good of a player he was going to be, I remember him flashing in preseason, and remember rooting for this 3rd round draft pick in his rookie season that earned him Joe Greene Great Performance Award honors.

Clearly, I never thought Jon Witman’s career would equal that of Franco Harris or Dick Hoak, two other Penn State running backs who played for the Steelers.

  • But during his rookie year, I thought he might develop in the mold of Merril Hoge.
Jon Witman, steelers running back jon witman, Jerome Bettis, Steelers vs Jaguars 1990's

Jon Witman blocks for Jerome Bettis. Photo Credit: Statesman Journal

As a rookie Jon Witman got 69 yards on 17 carries for a respectable 4.1 yard average and got 59 yards on 10 carries in the playoffs. But his role as a running back never evolved. He was stuck for the next few years behind Tim Lester who was blocking for Jerome Bettis.

Witman got the starting job full time during the God-awful 1999 campaign, and was off to a strong start in 2000 before an injury cost him the season in week six. That injury led to Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala shot as a starting fullback. But Fu also got injured, opening the door for a little-known practice squander named Dan Kreider.

Jon Witman reclaimed the starting role in 2001, only missing the season finale in week 16 and starting both of the Steelers playoff games. Sadly, the Steelers first AFC Championship loss to the Patriots was Jon Witman’s last game, and sight of him staring down in despair at game’s end is one of the enduring images of the game for me.

  • Currently, there is no way to diagnose CTE in someone who is alive.

So let’s hope he wins his battle with substance abuse and pulls his life together. Let’s hope he doesn’t have and never gets CTE. And let’s pray that if there ever is a CTE diagnosis for Jon Witman remains a long, long way off in the future.

But should that diagnosis ever come, it will be yet another painful reminder of the brutal toll that the game we love exacts on players we cheers so heartily for.

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A Lifelong Steelers Fan Watches Concussion

Concussion: The story of Dr. Bennett Omalu. The tragedy of Mike Webster. The discovery of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or “CTE.” The genesis of crisis that threatens the existence of the sport we love.

When someone pens the definitive history of the NFL and its CTE-fueled head trauma crisis, Pittsburgh will occupy ground zero. Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster will play the role of patient zero. Dr. Bennet Omalu will act as the canary that sounded an alarm from deep inside the diamond mine.

For a lifelong Steelers fan watching Concussion was going to be difficult. Not because of what I might learn, but because of what I already knew:

  • The hits that Mike Webster took in football that caused the CTE that took his life are in no way an aberration.

Difficulties aside, Concussion tells a story that any conscientious football fan must hear. Steelers fans know it all too well. Mike Webster died at age 49, penniless and robbed of his wits thanks to the tau proteins that accumulated in his brain. CTE took Justin Strzelczyk two years later, at age 36 in a fiery wreck. Yet another year later, Terry Long ended his own life by drinking antifreeze while suffering from CTE. Less than one year ago, Adrian Robinson was posthumously diagnosed with CTE after committing suicide the age of 25.

Concussion recounts the story of a young Nigerian doctor, who saw 2 + 2 not equaling four and insisted, at his own risk, on doing something about it.

Mike Webster, Steelers vs Buccaneers, Concussion

Mike Webster blocking against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Photo Credit: Mike Fabus, AP via Al Jazeera

A Steelers Fan Watches Concussion

From an artistic stand point, Concussion represents a work of excellence. Its imagery and acting in many ways capture the essence of Pittsburgh. Will Smith provides an Oscar-worthy performance. David Morse became Mike Webster. While there’s an undeniable “David and Goliath” air to Concussion, the producers do tell a balanced story.

  • They pull no punches when it comes to depicting the horrors of CTE and the resistance the NFL marshaled when Dr. Omalu refused to keep quiet.

Yet, Concussion also conveys to the viewer the power and pull of football. Interspersed with live game footage showing Mike Webster taking hits to the head throwing blocks for Franco Harris or Rocky Bleier shots of Terry Bradshaw rocketing off bombs to John Stallworth and Lynn Swann epitomizing just how graceful a sport defined by brute force can be.

  • The director takes some artistic liberties – depicting a meeting between Strzelczyk and Webster that almost certainly never happened.

Another apocryphal meeting between Dave Duerson and Andre Waters one between serves the same purpose: To clarify football stands at the very crux of the tragic deaths suffered by these players.

In Concussion, the NFL establishment plays the part of the antagonist. Yet Steelers Nation will likely see the portrayal of their Pittsburgh representatives, in shades of grey and rightly so.

Concussion casts Dr. Joseph Marron the same Steelers doctor who once earned the wrath of this site, as one of the ultimate NFL skeptics and someone vehemently hostile to Dr. Omalu. But according to Julian Bailes, the movie casts Marron in an unfair an inaccurate light.

  • But one thing Dr. Marron’s character claims in the movie is undoubtedly accurate:

Football forms a fundamental part of the fabric of Pittsburgh’s identity and the Rooney family has been pillars of the community. In an earlier scene, Danny Sullivan, a fellow doctor who plays Bennett Omalu’s antagonist in the coroner’s office pleads with Omalu not to press forward with a deeper investigation of Webster arguing that it was players like Webster who gave the city hope when J&L and the rest of the steel industry collapsing.

WDVE’s Scott Paulsen spoke to that reality in his seminal essay “Steeler Nation” that provides a touchstone for both the city, the products of the Pittsburgh diaspora and the Steelers nationwide legion of fans. Before the 70’s, Pittsburgh was known for its steel. Since then it’s known more for the Steelers.

Mike Webster, Don Shula Steelers vs Dolphins 1988, Mike Webster last game Steelers

Mike Webster talks to Don Shula before his final game with Steelers. Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar, AP via Pro Football Talk.

  • No one can dispute that.

But based on what we now know, Webster’s may have suffered from the first diagnosed case of CTE, but he certainly was not the first to suffer from that affliction. As former ABC Radio journalist Mike Silverstein observed in a related story on Going Deep with the Steelers, that as long as 20 years ago “…there were stories of ‘punch drunk’ ex-football players living in abject poverty, without medical care or insurance.”

Still, several times during Concussion Mike Webster repeats, “If we finish the game, we win.” The movie’s none too subtle message is that perhaps the key to winning at football is not to play at all….

  • And it’s getting more difficult to dispute that.

Fear not loyal readers, Concussion does not represent a “Come to Jesus” moment for this site on CTE any more than Adrian Robinson’s CTE diagnosis.

Perhaps new helmet technology can dissipate impact to prevent the brain from sloshing against the cranium. Pittsburgh Post Gazette writer Ed Bouchette has commented that he’s seen hundreds of former football players grow into their golden years with sharp minds but with painfully broken bodies. Maybe some study will pinpoint the independent variable that correlates to the excellent mental health of those players. Perhaps an enzyme will be discovered that neutralizes the tau protein.

  • Yeah, that’s the emotional side of my brain talking more than the intellectual side, for sure.

Still, on January 29th 1974 – the famous 1974 NFL Draft where the Pittsburgh Steelers took a chance on an undersized center from Wisconsin named Mike Webster, the idea that someone with prosthetic legs could run marathons pure science fiction. So was the idea that you could communicate globally with a hand-held communicator. Now, both are realities.

Conclusion on Concussion, the Steelers and CTE

Early in the movie my wife asked me why so many ex-Steelers had CTE. I told her, “It was really just a conscience.” Later, I asked myself, “Was it because Chuck Noll was such hard driving coach?” After all, the Steelers were one of the last teams to stop live tackling in practice and Webster, Long, and Strzelczyk all played for The Emperor.

  • If Concussion makes one thing clear, it is that neither of those explanations are valid.

CTE was not discovered in Pittsburgh because football forms fundamental part of the city’s fabric. CTE was discovered in Pittsburgh because fate intervened allowing Webster, Strzelczyk and Long to find their end in a place where Dr. Omalu was practicing medicine and because Dr. Omalu refused to accept the simple answer and insisted on searching for the truth, even if it meant opposing some very powerful interests.

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The Adrian Robinson CTE Diagnosis Raises Deeply Disturbing Questions

The suicide of former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Adrian Robinson caused a lot of commotion last May. And so it should. Robinson was 25 and seemingly had just renewed his lease on a pro football career, having signed a contract to play for the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Yet, he took his own life.

As family and friends struggled asking “Why?” Ivey DeJesus of Penn-Live asked the normal battery of questions:

He seemed to have so much: a career, friends, a loving family, a girlfriend and a baby daughter. What led him to the desperation? Was it the pursuit of perfection? Was it disappointment that his NFL career might be ending? Had his brain been ravaged by years of playing football – years of hits to the head? [Emphasis added]

The normal battery of questions, save for the last one, which today is all the more ominous, as tests on Adrian’s Robinson’s brain revealed the presence of an abnormal protein known as tau. The tau protein is similar to the proteins that build up in people who suffer from Alzheimer’s, although it builds up in different places in the brain. In other words Adrian Robinson was suffering from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy.)

Adrian Robinson, Adrian Robinson CTE diagnosis

Adrian Robinson’s CTE diagnosis is troubling. Photo Credit: FOX Sports

Why the Adrian Robinson CTE Diagnosis Should Deeply Disturb You

The Adrian Robinson CTE diagnosis is deeply disturbing on many, many levels.

CTE is the same brain disorder which afflicted former Pittsburgh Steelers Mike Webster, Terry Long and Justin Strzelczyk. Mike Webster died after suffering for years from the disease, and the tales of his struggles in Gary Pomerantz’s Their Life’s Work are simply harrowing. Terry Long committed suicide. Justin Strzelczyk died in a fiery crash after a lengthy highway chase.

By all accounts, “Crazed” does not even begin to describe Justin Strzelczyk’s behavior before he died led police on a 40 mile chase.

  • Why is the Adrian Robinson CTE diagnosis so troubling? Let me count the ways.

Mike Webster’s death, and Dr. Bennet Omalu post-mortem investigation on his brain, is credited for sounding the alarm bell on the dangers and risks that head trauma poses to football players.

But if Webster provided the medical community with a landmark case, his story was also somewhat exceptional. Webster played center for 17 years, and was estimated to have suffered tens of thousands of hits to the head.

For a time, Terry Long’s case appeared to be a potential exception because he was a known steroid user, although research has since discounted a connection between steroids and CTE. While Justin Strzelczyk had no known steroid use, Strzelczyk had banged heads for 9 years as an offensive lineman.

While no one would suggest that there was anything “comforting” about the cases of Webster, Long, or Strzelczyk all three men were lineman who played in an age when playing with a concussion was almost a mark of pride. Their cases, along with other high profile cases such that of Dave Duerson or Andre Waters came from players who played the game for a long time.

  • That at least suggested that awareness of the problem, along with the proper precautions, could mitigate the dangers of CTE.

The Adrian Robinson CTE diagnosis goes a long way to dispelling that illusion.

Adrian Robinson’s CTE Diagnosis Is a Potential Game Changer

Adrian Robinson was only 25, and had appeared in only 22 professional football games, unlike the hundreds of games played by Webster, Duerson, Waters, Long or Strzelczyk. If you love football AND you’re concerned about protecting players from head trauma then Adrian Robinson’s CTE diagnosis MUST to make you uncomfortable.

The presence of tau in Robinson’s brain presents several inconvenient truths for football fans:

  • Robinson, like former Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry, had never been diagnosed with a concussion
  • Ergo, protecting against concussions is at the very least insufficient
  • With only 22 NFL games logged, the Adrian Robinson CTE diagnosis certainly suggests that CTE begins in college, if not before

Robinson’s CTE-influenced suicide also suggests that any number of active NFL players could be suffering from CTE at this very minute. Last year when the NFL was reeling from the Ray Rice scandal, former Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested for domestic violence.

At the time, former Steelers linebacker Larry Foote was a teammate of Dwyer’s at Pittsburgh West aka the Arizona Cardinals and expressed shock at Dwyer’s arrest, indicating that he and his wife hat traveled with the Dwyers to an off season Christian Conference.

No one on this site will excuse Dwyer or anyone for domestic violence, but he if did experience a sudden change in character then it raises a legitimate question:

  • Could Jonathan Dwyer be suffering from CTE?

We don’t know. But the Adrian Robinson CTE diagnosis suggests that it remains a distinct possibility.

Adrian Robinson CTE Diagnosis Forces Another Gut Check

Raise your hand… if you’ve been concerned about CTE and head trauma but honestly wished the issue would “Just Go away.”

Raise your hand… if you’ve looked at players like Mike Ditka, Franco Harris and Lynn Swann, to name a few, who’ve made it into their 60’s or beyond without exhibiting any outward signs of CTE and thought, “See, those guys show the problem can’t be that bad….”

Raise your hand… if you’ve read stories about CTE and thought, “This is serious shit, but honestly, I know plenty of people who played in high school or college and are just fine as adults.”

Raise your hand… if you’ve seen the NFL rollout concussion protocols and other measures to protect the head and thought, “Good, that’s going to help a lot.”

My hand is raised to each of those questions and, if you’ve read this far, I suspect yours is too. And if you’ve gotten this point, I suspect that you’ll join me in celebrating any Steelers success vs. the Arizona Cardinals this afternoon, or whomever they’re playing next if Google should bring you to this article.

Fair enough.

For as deeply disturbed I am at the Webster, Strzelczyk and Juinor Seau stories and the stories of others who’ve suffered from CTE, I haven’t reached my “Come to Jesus moment” yet that forces me to turn away from the sport I love.

  • But let’s repeat something said here before: CTE is dangerous enough not just to end the NFL but the entire sport of football itself.

And the Adrian Robinson suicide and subsequent CTE diagnosis suggest that roots of CTE and the forces that generate the tau protein that causes it drive far deeper and are woven far more fundamentally into the fabric of football than we’d like to believe or wish to admit.

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Watch Tower: Your Team Cheats Debunked on Behalf of Steelers Nation

Deflatgate is spurred the New England Patriots and their fans to fight back. Unable claim innocence, wish to claim “Everyone else does it” and thereby bring the rest of the NFL down into the muck with them.

Your Team Cheats” provides an example. Your Team Cheats attempts to rank instances of cheating across the league. Steelers Nation will not like their conclusions. Your Team Cheats charges that the Pittsburgh Steelers are the NFL’s 2nd worst cheats, after the Denver Broncos.

Your Team Cheats charges the Steelers with ten individual instances of cheating and includes the Steelers in four more league wide cheating allegations.

How well do their claims hold up? The Watch Tower takes a look.

Steelers vs Patriots, Your team cheats debunked, Your team cheats steelers debunked, mike tomlin, Bill Belichick

Mike Tomlin shakes hands with Bill Belichick shake hands after Steelers 2013 loss @ New England

Your Team Cheats Strongest Arguments Against Steelers

Your Team Cheats’ best argument against the Steelers comes in the case of Dr. Richard Rydze who was charged with distributing steroids, human growth hormone and other illegal substances. Dr. Richard Rydze was a Steelers team doctor from 1985 to 2007.

The blunt truth is that this story has been underreported both in Pittsburgh and nationally, something which was to be (and might still become) the focus of a Watch Tower column

  • Having a doctor on staff for over 20 years who gets busted for steroid distribution looks very bad and his exact role with the Steelers deserves greater investigation.

Yet, Your Team Cheats fails to break ground here and provides no evidence whatsoever that Dr. Rydze was involved in distributing steroids to members of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Instead the site simply links to other pages on the site.

One of those does site Paul Wiggins and Joel Steed’s substance abuse violations, but fails to mention that Steed was using an over-the-counter supplement which happened to contain banned ingredients.

Your Team Cheats brings “Shoulderpadgate” or the Steelers illegal off season use of shoulder pads in 1978, a violation for which the Steelers were docked a third round pick. Really, there’s little to dispute here.

  • The Steelers broke the rules, got caught and were punished.

However, the one can question the tone of Your Team Cheats conclusions as current ESPN reporter John Clayton broke the story, and while the Steelers weren’t happy about it, Art Rooney Sr. later complemented him on it, and Clayton built a strong relationship with Noll afterwards (and Noll was not known for his warm media relations.)

  • The Watch Tower takes no issue with Your Team Cheats assessment of Emmanuel Sanders getting fined for faking cramps.

Likewise, one cannot quibble about Your Team Cheats on Mike Tomlin’s sideline stutter step vs. Baltimore in 2013. Intentionally or unintentionally, Mike Tomlin clearly broke the rules. But, to be blunt, had Your Team Cheats done more thorough research, the site could have made a stronger case.

That’s the downside of doing selective or at least incomplete research, which as the Watch Tower will make clear, seems to be the MO of Your Team Cheats.

Your Team Cheats Empty Arguments Against the Steelers

Your Team Cheats makes a number of bogus claims against the Steelers when it comes to cheating.

First, Your Team Cheats levies 5 cheating points against the Steelers for incidents of illegal hits. The idea of including illegal hits into an analysis of cheating is inane, because there’s a big difference between making a hit in a heat of a game that happens to be illegal and premeditated deliberate rule breaking.

Your Team Cheats summary of the Steelers cheating includes entries for Tampergate, Headsetgate, Spygate, and Scrapsgate. Note, the site doesn’t add “cheat points” to the Steelers score for these instances and adds no evidence whatsoever that the Steelers participated in any of these, aside from Bill Cowher’s statement that the Steelers would try to decode opposing team’s signals (without the use of illegal video.)

Your Team Cheats could, for example, cite a single case where the Steelers signed a recently cut or a practice squad player of an upcoming opponent, but fails to do so (in part, because the Steelers don’t do that.)

But that’s what Your Team Cheats would do if the site were a legitimate investigation into NFL rules infractions. But not the objective, instead the site’s objective is to suggest guilt by association.

Your Team Cheats on Steroids and the Steelers of the 70’s

Your Team Cheats makes a big deal about steroid use by the Steelers of the 70’s. Let’s be clear on something:

  • Members of the Super Steelers used steroids.

No one can dispute that. A handful of players have admitted to it. Steve Courson suggested before his death that there were many more members who needed to fess up.

To bolster its case, Your Team Cheats recycles comments by Jim Hasslett and Fran Tarkenton. He even recycles Hasllets hackneyed charge that the Steelers of the 70’s were “the ones who kind of started” use of steroids in the NFL.

  • That’s a damming quote.

It’s also inaccurate. The use of steroids in pro football dates back to at least 1963, when Sid Gillman’s strength coach Alvin Roy actively encouraged his players to use Dianabol and went as far as put them on the team’s training table in cereal bowls.

  • Use of steroids in pro football began long before Chuck Noll ever drafted his first player for the Steelers.

Your Team Cheats directly suggests that steroid use taints the Steelers 4 Super Bowl victories. Were the Steelers the only NFL team using steroids in the 1970’s? Your Team Cheats doesn’t say that, but the use of the Hasslett quote implies that the Steelers were somehow responsible for league-wide steroid use in the 70’s.

Both Jim Hasslett and Randy White (the later quoted in Gary Pomerantz’s Their Life’s Work) claim how their assumptions that the Steelers of the 70’s were using steroids prompted them to begin using…
…So if a high school guy starts drinking underage after getting dumped a girl who is also an underage drinker is the ex-girlfriend then to blame?

I daresay not, and steroid use in the NFL cannot be pinned on the Super Steelers.

  • Your Team Cheats gives the Steelers 7.0 “cheat points” for the use of steroids in the 70’s.

There’s a problem with that. Steroids were not banned by the NFL nor were they even illegal until the 1980’s.

  • Use of steroids is wrong on so many levels. Both the members of the Super Steelers as well as their opponents were wrong to use steroids in the 70’s.

But that doesn’t change the fact that if steroids weren’t illegal, then using them cannot be considered cheating.

Your Team Cheats on the Steelers and the 1975 AFC Championship Game

Were Al Davis still alive, it would be possible, and perhaps even plausible to suggest that he was Your Team Cheats source here. This story is part of Steeler-Raiders lore. The tarp covering the field at Three Rivers Stadium the night before the 1975 AFC Championship game tore, causing parts of the field to be icy.

The winter winds in Pittsburgh get pretty wicked. Tarps do tear, and water does freeze when the temperature drops below 32 degrees. Al Davis argument is that the tear was intentional, that the Steelers iced down the sidelines to weaken the Raiders deep passing game.

  • This debate is ancient history, and only gets rehashed by Raider apologists

Your team cheats justification for toeing the Al Davis line boils down to “A groundskeeper who’s nickname is “Dirt” is always on top of his field conditions.” Ergo Steelers grounds keeper Dirt Dinardo did it. With an airtight case like that, is it any wonder this didn’t make it to the Supreme Court? One might suppose that, given the uncanny accuracy of his weather reports, longtime WTAE weatherman Joe DeNardo is also responsible for the wind, rain and cold in Pittsburgh that night.

  • The entire logic behind Al Davis’excuse making is fundamentally flawed.

Changes to field conditions impacted the Steelers as much as the Raiders. The Steelers could not hurt the Raiders deep passing game without hurting their own. In 1975 Lynn Swann averaged 15.9 yards per catch, Frank Lewis 18.1 yards per catch, and John Stallworth 21.2 yards per catch…

Yeah, the Steelers strategy was to keep Terry Bradshaw from going deep.

Your Team Cheats on the Steelers and Salarycapgate

Perhaps Your Team Cheats most egregious entry on the Steelers involves “Salarcapgate” which relates to an incident in 1998 that ultimately led the Steelers to lose their 3rd round draft pick in 2001.

  • The facts here are well known, and that’s why Your Team Cheats sleight of hand is so apparent here.

Although he never made a Pro Bowl, for nearly 10 years John Jackson protected Bubby Brister, Neil O’Donnell, Mike Tomczak and Kordell Stewart’s blindsides. When he became a free agent in 1998, the San Diego Chargers made Jackson the highest paid offensive lineman in the league at the time.

  • The Steelers opted not to over pay.

Near the end of preseason it was clear the Steelers had no one to play right tackle, so Bill Cowher moved Justin Strzelczyk to the right side and moved guard Will Wolford to left tackle. Wolford’s original contract had called for him to be paid an additional $400,000 should he play tackle instead guard. Unfortunately page of the contract containing that clause got left off and was never filed with the league.

Will Wolford’s agent remembered brought it to Dan Rooney’s attention who also remembered the original agreement, and the Steelers honored their word and paid Wolford. Knowing that this money needed to be accounted for, the Steelers turned themselves in to the league office. The league investigated, and took away the Steelers 2001 third round draft pick.

  • This isn’t want you’ll read on Your Team Cheats, however.

Your Team Cheats cites an article from the New York Times and the Bangor Daily News (that lifeblood of NFL information) and tells readers:

The league determined that the Steelers made an undisclosed commitment to pay Wolford $400,000 that violated the league’s rules governing the size of team payrolls. The Steelers were ordered to pay Wolford the $400,000 and another $150,000 to the league as a penalty.

  • How sinister of the Steelers! They both made an “undisclosed commitment to pay Wolford $400,000” AND were “ordered”” to pay the $400,000 to Wolford.

Through all of this, Your Team Cheats neglects to tell readers that, far from trying to hide something, the Steelers turned themselves in to the NFL! Nor does he tell readers that the Steelers also took a $400,000 salary cap hit, while the 49ers avoided taking a similar salary cap hit for a more extensive case of salary cap cheating just 8 months later.

In all fairness, there’s a lot of information on the Steelers salary cap incident with Will Wolford which doesn’t instantly pop up when you Google it. But that’s no excuse, as a little extra digging did produce the links referenced above.

Your Team Cheats Debunked by Shoddy Research and Selective Use of Facts

When held up to the Watch Tower’s light, most of Your Team Cheat charges against the Steelers fail to stick. What could have been an honest assessment of rules infractions in the NFL instead turns into a gigantic attempt at guilt by association.

  • While Your Team Cheats uses links and discusses methodology in an attempt to add an air of objectivity to its findings, its research and application of the facts is selective at worst and incomplete at best.

For example, the New York Giants were founded in 1925 and the Baltimore Ravens were established in 1996. Yet they both have cheating scores of 35. That math simply doesn’t add up. Likewise, Your Team Cheats analysis of the Washington Redskins fails to take into account something which was once a stable of franchise policy which could be considered “cheating” at least by the site’s overly broad standards.

For the record, with Your Team Cheats debunked by the Watch Tower on behalf of Steelers Nation, the author of the site doesn’t seem to have any particular axe to grind against the Steelers. Rather Your Team Cheats is simply another site engaging in the 19th “art” of muckraking.

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The Pittsburgh Steelers All Time Free Agent Offense

The Pittsburgh Steelers have never been big players in free agency.  “The Steelers Way” is to build with the draft and promote from within.

  • But that doesn’t mean that the Steelers have ignored free agency.

Whether it was Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher, or Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin calling the shots, the Steelers have deftly dipped into the free agent market to fill much-needed holes or reinforce key roster areas. Here is a look at the Steelers All Time free agent offense:

Steelers All Time Free Agent Quarterbacks

Tommy Maddox
Tommy Maddox
failed to realize the greatness he flashed in 2002. But Maddox saved that season, and gave Pittsburgh one of its most electrifying playoff wins in history.

  • Clearly, one of Kevin Colbert’s most astute free agent pick ups.

Charlie Batch
Detroit surprised the NFL in July 2002 by cutting Charlie Batch, but Kevin Colbert wasn’t caught napping, snapping him up instantly. Since then Batch has helped stabilize the Steelers depth chart at quarterback for a decade.

Honorable Mention:  Mike Tomczack

Steelers All Time Free Agent Running Backs

Erric Pegram
The name “Erric Pegram” likely elicits a response of “who?” It shouldn’t.

When Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe cast off the formidable but flaky Barry Foster they brought Pegram in from Atlanta as an insurance policy.

When Bam Morris became more interested in illegal activities than winning football games, Cowher and Donahoe’s investment handsome dividends to the tune of 831 yards in just 11 starts as Pegram saved the season.

Erric Pegram might not have earned a spot for himself alongside great Steelers running backs such as Hall of Famers Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis, but he role should not be overlooked.

Duce Staley
When Amos Zereoue decided he couldn’t share the backfield with Jerome Bettis, the Steelers brought in Duce Staley. Staley started the season like gang busters until injuries got the better of him.

Injuries aside, Staley teamed with Bettis to give the Steelers Nation a glorious afternoon of smash-mouth football vs. the Jets in the 2004 Divisional Playoffs.

Perhaps his biggest contribution came in 2005, when he came off the bench, along with Charlie Batch, to lead the Steelers to victory over the Packers – a victory that became crucial to the Steelers ability clinch a playoff spot and proceed to Super Bowl XL.

Honorable Mention:  Mewelde Moore

Steelers All Time Free Agent Fullbacks

Bill Cowher’s arrival signaled a sea-change in the Steelers rushing philosophy. Prior to 1992, both the fullback and the halfback carried the ball. Bill Cowher and Ron Erhardt changed that, much to Merril Hoge’s frustration.

John L. Williams
But the ball carrying fullback saw an Indian summer during 1994 and 1995 as John L. Williams took over the position. Williams ran the ball 69 times in 1994 – an astronomical number for a fullback in the post-Noll era.  Injuries dropped Williams numbers in 1995, but they didn’t prevent John L. Williams making several critical plays.

The 1995 Steelers mid-season rally began the Jacksonville Jaguars traveled to Three Rivers Stadium and ended in Super Bowl XXX. The Jacksonville game was also the day that John L. Williams rejoined the line up. Those two events are no coincidence.

Williams also make some critical catches in the AFC Championship game that the Steelers won by the skin of their teeth. Again, no coincidence.

Honorable Mention:  Tim Lester

Steelers All Time Free Agent Offensive Lineman

Offensive Tackle: Oliver Ross
Oliver Ross will never be considered a “world beater” and in fact struggled when injuries forced him into the starting line up in 2003. But Ross rebounded to start 16 games on the 2004 squad that won 16 straight games.

Offensive Tackle: Flozell Adams
When Willie Colon was injured in the 2010 off season, Flozell Adams was the best free agent on the market. The Steelers approached him. At first he said “no.” But Flozell wanted a shot at a Lombardi, and Mike Tomlin convinced him the Steelers could get him that. The Steelers signed Flozell Adams. They didn’t get him the championship, but together they got close.

Offensive Guard/Tackle:  Will Wolford
Will Wolford was in fact brought in to play guard following the departure of Leon Searcy and the retirement of Tom Newberry after Super Bowl XXX. Wilford played his best football at guard and was supposed to stay there when the Steelers let another offensive tackle, John Jackson, go via free agency the thought was that Jamain Stephens, Paul Wiggins, or Chris Conrad could take his place.

But by the middle of the 1998 preseason it was clear none of these men were up to the task, and Will Wolford stepped in at left tackle, providing the Steelers with some stability at this much-needed position.

Offensive Guard: Duval Love
Duval Love is the first of two the Steelers “Plan B Free Agents” to make this list. Signed following the 1991 season as a stop gap measure in light of Terry Long’s substance abuse problems, Love bolstered an offensive line on an upswing and blossomed into a Pro Bowler in 1994. A great, below the radar screen pick by Tom Donahoe.

Offensive Tackle: Rich Tylski
The departure of John Jackson, the injury to Justin Strzelczky and the total bust that was Jamain Stephens threw the Steelers offensive line into havoc in 1998 and 1999.

One of the moves that Kevin Colbert made to add some stability to the line was to sign guard Rich Tylski. Tylski only played for two years and only started for one full year, but the Steelers offensive line was markedly improved in 2000-2001 and Tylski helped make that happen.

Honorable Mentions:  Tom Newberry and Todd Kalis

Center:  Jeff Hartings
It is not easy to follow in the footsteps of Ray Mansfield, Mike Webster, and Dermonti Dawson, but Jeff Hartings came from Detroit, switched from guard to center, and not only lived up to the Steelers legacy there, but added to it winning Pro Bowl honors in 2004 and 2005.

Steelers All Time Free Agent Wide Receivers

Yancey Thigpen
Most people think Yancey Thigpen is a home grown Steeler, but Thigpen was actually drafted by and played for the San Diego Chargers in 1991. In 1992 Thigpen got cut in training camp, cleared waivers and was on the street when Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher brought him in during the middle of the 1992 season.

Thigpen played on special teams in 1992 and it was only in 1993 that he got to play sparingly at wide reciever only catching 9 balls. Funny thing was, 3 of them were for touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt and receivers coach Chain Gailey didn’t find that to be a coincidence

  • Thigpen ascended into rotation on the starting lineup in 1994 and became a full time starter before year’s end.

Thigpen had standout seasons in 1995 and 1997 although injuries marred his 1996 effort, as they did the rest of his career in Tennessee.

Courtney Hawkins
Courtney Hawkins. This is one player who drew his share of ire form the fans because he wasn’t a particularly good starting wide receiver. The rub is that he was never supposed to be a starter. Brought in 1997 from Tampa Bay to replace Andre Hastings, Hawkins performed admirably that year as third down receiver – the role he was brought into play.

In 1998, with Thigpen gone, Charles Johnson under achieving, and Will Blackwell failing to live up to his potential, Hawkins became the number one receiver. Hawkins contributed as a part-time starting in 1999 and took over when injuries ended Plaxico Burress rookie season in 2000.

Jerricho Cotchery
This selection is one of the Steelers most recent free agent selections, arriving during 2011 training camp. He hasn’t compiled a ton of eye catching statistics. He hasn’t started many games. But Jerricho Cotchery has responded when called upon, making tough catches and otherwise coming up with the ball when the team needs him.

Steelers All Time Free Agent Tight End

Steelers fans under 30 no doubt only remember Mike Mularkey from his “Inspector Gadget” tour as offensive coordinator from 2001 to 2003. However Mularkey was the Steelers first “Plan B Free Agent” signing in 1989, when Tom Donahoe brought him in from Minnesota. Mularkey only caught 22 passes in the Steelers storybook 1989 season, but that was 20 more than his predecessor had caught.

Mularkey played a strong number two tight end to rookie Eric Green in 1990, but his knees began to get the better of him, and he was out after 1991. Still, Mularkey was a great pick up on Donahoe’s part.

Honorable Mention:  Jonathan Hayes

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