I wish I would have been smart enough to see this coming, but it just goes to show you how stupid I am for not spotting the obvious this whole time.
Polamalu is the first inductee out of a group of Steelers’ defenders that helped the organization win its fifth and sixth Lombardi trophies in Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII. But Dick LeBeau was going to be the presenter regardless of who made it into Canton first.
Dick LeBeau and Troy Polamalu in December 2012. Photo Credit: Jason Bridge, USA Today.
In fact, even though most are long-shots to join Polamalu, if any or all of the players that took LeBeau’s 3-4 zone-blitz defense and made it famous were to get that call for football immortality — including James Harrison, Joey Porter, Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, James Farriorand Ike Taylor — there’s no doubt that every single one of them would pick LeBeau to be their presenter. Heck, by the time he got through doing all that presenting, LeBeau would have enough training for a second career as a motivational speaker.
The next time you hear a former player say anything bad about LeBeau, it will be the first time. And if word ever got back to the likes of Harrison and Brett Keisel, I’d hate to be that former player.
Speaking of Harrison, perhaps the biggest, baddest defender LeBeau ever coached, he once broke down in tears on national television while talking about his former defensive coordinator. This was back in 2013, months after Harrison was released by Pittsburgh and then signed with the Bengals. No player ever forgets LeBeau, the man they affectionately called Coach Dad during his second stay in Pittsburgh.
The kind of connection LeBeau often developed with his much-younger players was rare then and it’s rare now. I guess that’s because LeBeau treated his players like men and genuinely cared about them. He didn’t command respect through words and a presence; he earned it through his actions and the ability to teach them.
Sure, LeBeau was a great leader, but in my opinion, it wasn’t because he got people to follow him; he was a great leader because he got his players to believe in the same defensive philosophies that he did.
Maybe it’s fitting that this kind, gentle man once described his zone-blitz scheme as “Tweaking someone’s nose while you go behind them and kick them in the tail.”
The zone-blitz scheme was all about deception, but it was still a rough and tough defense, one that allowed his players to wreak havoc on opponents week in and week out.
“Probably the best man, and not just one of the best coaches, I’ve ever met in my life. The things I’ve learned from him about football and about life, I’ll cherish forever, really. Every minute you’re around him, believe me, is a minute where you’ve benefited in some way.”
The NFL trade deadline came and went on November 3; the Steelers added more than they subtracted, thanks to acquiring inside linebacker Avery Williamson and a seventh-round pick from the Jets in exchange for a fifth-round pick in 2022.
This was seen as a success by many Steelers’ fans and media members who were a bit concerned about the inside linebacker spot after the season-ending ACL tear suffered by Devin Bushagainst the Browns back in October.
Bud Dupree strip sacks Ryan Finley. Photo Credit: Matt Sunday, DK Pittsburgh Sports
However, there may have been more than a few fans disappointed by the fact that Pittsburgh failed to part with either outside linebacker Bud Dupree or receive JuJu Smith-Schuster in exchange for some 2021 draft compensation. You see, that’s the new thing now, not only with the fans, but also with the media and, yes, even the teams, themselves.
Both Dupree and Smith-Schuster are in the final year of their rookie deals, and I don’t know how many times I was asked if I thought the Steelers were going to trade the star players before the deadline. In the old days, it was just understood that some players were going to reach the end of their rookie contracts and ultimately depart without anything in return except for maybe a compensatory draft choice.
But those days are long gone.
Today, everyone thinks they’re owed compensation.
JuJu Smith-Schuster out duels Chris Lammons for the go ahead touchdown. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive.com
Again, even the fans are preoccupied with worry about a pending free agent. Instead of being excited about what Dupree and/or Smith-Schuster could do for the Steelers here in 2020 and their quest to finally make it back to the top of the NFL mountain, the sentiment among so many folks leading up to the deadline was: “So, they’re supposed to just let them walk without getting anything in return?”
Yes…at least this season. Pittsburgh is 8-0 for the first time in franchise history. What would you rather have:
A 2021 first-round draft choice for Dupree or a Super Bowl?
A second-round pick for Smith-Schuster or a seventh Lombardi?
I realize that outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, the rookie third-round pick out of Charlotte, has shown a great deal of promise this year. I also understand how deep the Steelers’ receiving corps is. But can you imagine Pittsburgh’s defense without Dupree and what he has brought to the outside linebacker position opposite T.J. Watt? Can you picture that receiving corps without Smith-Schuster leading the way both on the field and off?
As I alluded to already, this isn’t just driven by fans.
In my opinion, they’re taking their cues from the media and even the teams. How often do you hear media members talk about the possibility of getting compensation for a pending free agent? More now than ever, and that’s because NFL general managers and coaches seem to be interested in doing just that.
But while that might make sense for your downtrodden franchises like the currently winless Jets, it makes very little sense for a team like Pittsburgh. Besides, do you think a team like New York is going to part ways with a premium draft choice in exchange for a rent-a-player? No, that team is going to want to stack draft choices, not part with them. And do you really think the Steelers are going to trade a main cog in their machinery to another contender? No, because that would be quite dumb.
Avery Williamson is a free agent after this season, and he’ll likely leave. But that’s okay because he’s just a rent-a-player for the Steelers, one that the team didn’t develop and one that the fans didn’t become emotionally attached to.
Hines Ward catches a touchdown pass from Antwaan Randle El in Super XL. Photo Credit: Bill Frakes, Sports Illustrated
Dupree and Smith-Schuster, but especially, Smith-Schuster, are different.
I get that, but it still doesn’t change much.
Back in the old days of NFL free agency — for someone my age, that would be the 1990s and 2000s–many Steelers players came and went, but not before leaving behind lots of great memories.
Kevin Greene, a veteran free agent pick up in 1993, gave Pittsburgh three great years and helped the franchise reach Super Bowl XXX, their first trip to the big dance in 16 seasons. But he left for the Panthers after that.
Antwaan Randle El, a receiver who also specialized in punt returns and even a little quarterback from 2002-2005, threw the game-sealing touchdown pass to Hines Ward in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XL. Immediately after becoming a Super Bowl hero, Randle El signed a lucrative second contract with the Washington Football Team.
Can you imagine how that 2005 season may have played out if Pittsburgh was more interested in flipping Randle El for a future draft pick?
I don’t know how the Steeler careers of Dupree and Smith-Schuster will end, but if they leave behind some Super Bowl memories, well, that would be much better than some extra draft compensation.
The “Steelers Way” is at once palpable and nebulous. The Pittsburgh Steelers march to their own drummer, how they do it eludes precise definition.
The “Steelers Way” extends far beyond contract negotiation and salary cap management, but COVID-19 will soon test those aspects of the team’s MO like never before.
To illustrate how, we’ll revive an anecdote shared here before.
It was the summer of 1993. Free agency had just arrived and was transforming the league. Free agent shopping sprees where the norm in the NFL with that year’s top free agent, Reggie White, being wooed by gifts of city keys and ticker tape parades.
COVID-19 Will Test Art Rooney II like never before. Photo Credit: Chuck Cook, USA Today via 93.7 the Fan
First they extended Greg Lloyd’s contract, a year before he was set to become free agency. Then they did the same thing same thing for Dermontti Dawson, prompting on one fan to rip Rooney on an AOL message board:
Someone needs to sit Dan Rooney down and EXPLAIN to him that the whole point of free agency is to get better by signing OTHER TEAMS players instead of wasting time signing your OWN PLAYERS.
Had social media existed then, this post would have certainly secured hundreds of Retweets and Facebook likes. Fans in those days weren’t any more shy about castigating Dan Rooney as “cheap” than they are today about criticizing Art Rooney II for being too patient with Mike Tomlin.
Today, resigning your own players before they reach free agency standard NFL practice. The Steelers showed the way, and the rest of the NFL copied. It is easy to see why.
Since that summer, the Steelers have suffered just 3 losing seasons, been to the playoffs 17 times, won 13 AFC Central or AFC North titles, played in 8 conference championships, won 4 AFC Championships and taken Lombardi’s back to Pittsburgh following wins in Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII.
Sure, the Patriots have more hardware, albeit some of it is tainted, and the Cowboys have one more Lombardi, but those are the only two franchises that can remotely touch the Steelers.
But the COVID-19 crisis is making it impossible for the Steelers to do one of the things they do best.
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, it was conventional wisdom that starters such as JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner wouldn’t see contract extensions, in part due to salary cap considerations. When it became clear that COVID-19 wouldn’t “go away” before the NFL season, serious talk of extensions ended for most players, but some in the press still held out hope for a new deal for Cam Heyward.
Public comments by Art Rooney II and Kevin Colbert now even seem to rule that out.
Cam Heyward isn’t the only starter the Steelers would normally be targeting for training camp extension. Bud Dupree’s asking price might be too steep, but starters like Matt Feiler and could be starters such as Zach Banner would be obvious candidates.
And while the smart move for a player like Mike Hilton would be to wait to test the open market, Cam Sutton is exactly the sort of under the radar player the Steelers would typical target for a 2nd contract heading into his fourth year.
But next year the NFL’s salary cap could and likely will drop to $175 million dollars. Per Jim Wexell’s calculations on Steel City Insider, “the Steelers have 40 players signed for 2021 at a cost of $197 million.”
Those types of numbers point to painful cuts and difficult departures as opposed to contract extensions designed to prop Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl window open.
The Rooneys have adpated the “Steelers Way” over time. For a long time, Dan Rooney balked at renegotiating contracts. Yet, when he renegotiated Kordell Stewart’s contract in the spring of 1999 he quipped that maybe you to things in 1999 that you didn’t do in 1933.
For a long time, the Steelers resisted the practice restructuring contracts to free salary cap space. Since Art Rooney II took over the reigns from his father, contract restructures have become a Steelers staple.
COVID-19 figures to give the Art Rooney II’s adaptation skills a far stiffer test.
COVID-19 is radically transforming our world. Not even the NFL is immune. Yet, Coronavirus can’t touch James Harrison’s status as the “gift that keeps on giving” to Pittsburgh Steelers bloggers.
Seriously. Just when you think there’s nothing left to add James Harrison’s story, a new chapter emerges. No disrespect to Antonio Brown, but James Harrison out does him when it comes to controversy. Heck, Harrison might give Terry Bradshaw a run for his money at this rate.
Football news has been slow during the pandemic, but Steelers Nation can count on James Harrison to speed it up. And that’s actually a real shame. For James Harrison.
James Harrison and Mike Tomlin after Steelers ’15 loss to Seahawks. Photo Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
And so it was that James Harrison went on Willie Colon’s Going Deep Podcast talking about a wide range of topics. From a journalistic standpoint, Harrison’s interview with Colon was revealing.
He reaffirmed his love for Dick LeBeau. He contrasted how players partied heavily the Bill Cowher era as compared to the atmosphere on Mike Tomlin’s watch. He left no doubt that Kevin Colbert stood shoulder to shoulder with him in 2010 when Roger Goodell unfairly scapegoated him for hits to the head. He shed light on a previously unreported clash with Bruce Arians that started when he bumped into Ben Roethlisberger.
Our knowledge about the inner workings of the Steelers of the 00’s and the ‘10’s is richer for Harrison’s chat with Colon. Then, after referencing his $75,000 fine Roger Goodell slapped on him for his legal hit of Mohamed Massaquoi he dropped this bomb:
And I ain’t gonna lie to you, when that happened, right? the G-est thing Mike Tomlin ever did, he handed me an envelope after that. I ain’t gonna say what, but he handed me an envelope after that.
Of course James Harrison was implying that Mike Tomlin was paying the fine for him. Harrison knew what he was doing would set off a firestorm. That was his intention all along.
And that’s the problem.
James Harrison Needs to Get Over Himself
Reaction has been swift to Harrison’s bomb. Art Rooney II issued an unequivocal denial. Harrison’s agent Bill Parise declared that the exchange “Never Happened.” Harrison himself partially walked back comments, clarifying that Mike Tomlin never paid him to hurt anyone.
This came after Sean Peyton suggested the Steelers should face some sort of Bountygate investigation similar to what he was subjected to.
Hum. It seems like Harrison is confronting the law of unintended consequences, doesn’t it? He wanted to poke his former coach. He wanted to make some mischief? But get him and the organization into real trouble? Not so much.
But both men moved on and ultimately reconciled with their first NFL franchise.
Rod Woodson terrorized the Houston Oilers
Whether James Harrison reconciles with the Steelers is his choice. Regardless, he would do well follow Rod Woodson’s lead. Even when blood was bad in the ‘90’s, Woodson never resorted to taking petty potshots of the kind at Harrison is taking. (Even if Woodson was on the receiving end of some of those from Tom Donahoe.)
James Harrison again insisted to Colon that he’d been promised more playing time and made no bones about mailing it in once when he didn’t get it. Even promises were made, Harrison must take responsibility for his own actions.
Yes, Harrison could still contribute in 2017. But rookie T.J. Watt was better than Harrison. Faking injuries, sleeping through meetings or going home when deactivated is no way to prove you deserve to play.
As the late Myron Cope argued, the Pittsburgh Steelers yield nothing to the rest of the NFL when it comes to its linebacking legacy.
But how James Harrison transformed himself from a practice squad bubble baby into a an NFL Defensive Player of the Year who made game a changing play in Super Bowl XLIII was always part of his mystique.
Now he’s tarnishing that mystique. James Harrison needs to get over himself and see just how petty his one-sided feud with Mike Tomlin has become.
To milk the metaphor a bit more, Brown and Bell seem intent on keeping the story alive by stinging their former team via social media.
But none of the barbs that Brown and Bell are throwing Ben Roethlisberger’s way change the fact that these two Killer Bees left town without fulfilling their purpose – bringing Lombardi Number Seven back to Pittsburgh.
Maybe that shouldn’t surprise us, given the trio’s nickname.
Sports nicknames entrench themselves with fans when they’re both fun and accurate.
The Steelers Killer Bees were too true to their name. Photo Credit: pegitboard.com
Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine really did churn out division titles, pennants, and championships in machine like fashion. Washington’s “Hogs” really did dominate the line of scrimmage. The Redskin’s “Fun Bunch” was fun.
And so it was with the Steelers Killer Bees, whose nickname was both fun and accurate.
The “killer bees” or Africanized bees were brought to the Americas in the late 1950’s in an attempt to breed bees that produced more honey. They were originally contained in a secure apiary near Rio Claro, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. But the escaped and headed north!
An urban legend was born.
The phenomenon reached critical mass in popular culture the 1970’s. Although their stings weren’t worse than normal bees, “killer bees” were more aggressive, and more likely to swarm. It was too much for Hollywood to resist.
Several (bad) killer bees movies were shot. If memory serves, a Super Friends episode plot line revolved around the “killer bees.” And I even had to read a story about the coming threat of the “Killer Bees” in one of my elementary school reading books.
When the killer bees arrived in the United States in the 1980’s, their buzz was much worse than their bite.
Kind of like the Steelers Killer Bees.
Injury = Steelers Killer Bees Insecticide
Shortly after the Steelers January 2015 playoff loss to the Ravens, a fellow Steelers blogger, who is no homer, sent me a sort of “chin up” email, assuring me that by mid-October the Steelers offense would be “Blowing other teams out of the water.”
As others, such as the Post-Gazette’sJoe Starkey have pointed out, injuries and suspensions are the main culprit behind Steelers Killers failure meet expectations. Ben, Bell, Brown and Byrant only played together for a handful of quarters in 2015. Le’Veon Bell missed games to suspension in 2015 and 2016 and Martavis Bryant missed all of 2016 due to suspension.
The Steelers should have had the 3 Killer Bees on the field together for 6 playoff games.
Instead, Ben, Bell and Brown only managed 3 complete games and the first quarter of the AFC Championship loss to the Patriots together. They won 2 of those three, and only won 1 of the other 3 contests.
Injury was the ultimate insect repellent even when all 3 Killer Bees remained healthy.
The 2017 Steelers defense was flashing signs of being good, if not very good before injuries to Joe Haden and Ryan Shazier. But of course we know what happened to the defense without Shazier. For whatever else you want to say about the Jacksonville disaster, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell (and Martavis Bryant) did their part.
Its been pointed out that Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to victory in Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII before Bell and Brown even arrived on the scene. Perhaps he can do it again.
The Steelers history against the New Orleans Saints has Pittsburgh taking a 7-8 record down to the Big Easy where the Steelers are 4-5 vs. 3-3 at Heinz Field and Three Rivers Stadium.
As the Steelers prepare for their 10th trip to New Orleans for a game that could make or break their 2018 season, here is a look at highlights of the Steelers last 31 years of history against the Saints.
Antonio Brown stiff arms P.J. Williams. Photo Credit: USA Today Sports via, Tribune-Review
1987 – Steelers Playoff Potential Nothing More than a Tease
The 1987 Steelers were looking to build on a 6-4 record as Pittsburgh was very much alive in the AFC Central playoff picture during that strike shortened season. The Steelers took a 14-3 lead into the locker room at half time on the strength of a Dwayne Woodruff pick six and a Walter Abercrombie touchdown.
However, Pittsburgh faltered in the 2nd half as the Saint scored 17 unanswered points, aided by 3 Mark Maloneinterceptions. The Saints took an intentional safety at the end of the game to bring Pittsburgh to within 4, but the Steelers could not mount a comeback.
The game was typical of the 1987 Steelers who teased playoff potential but ultimately fell short against a quality Saints team.
1990 – Joe Walton’s Ineptitude on Full Display in Steelers win
The 1990 Steelers entered the game with a 7-6 record and an an offense floundering under Joe Walton’s mismanagement. And this game shows just how badly Joe Walton had neutered the 1990 Steelers offense, as a single Gary Anderson field goal were the only points it could score for 3 quarters.
Bubby Brister only threw for 154 yards passing, while Merril Hoge andTim Worleycouldn’t combine to break the 100 yard rushing mark.
For its part, the Steelers defense held the Saints to two Morten Andersen second half field goals, until Gary Anderson booted two more 4th quarter field goals to give the Steelers the win.
The 1990 Steelers went 9-7 yet only one two games against teams that finished with winning records. This was one of them.
The 1993 Steelers started 0-2 leading many to question whether Cowher Power’s 1992 debut had been a mirage. But Pittsburgh won its three games, leading up to a showdown with the then undefeated Saints.
Rod Woodson intercepted Wade Wilson’s opening pass and returned it 63 yards for a touchdown. Two series later Rod Woodson picked off Wilson again. On Pittsburgh’s next procession, Neil O’Donnell hit Barry Foster for a 20 yard touchdown pass, and the Steelers were leading 14-0 in less than 8 minutes.
And Pittsburgh was just warming up.
By half time the Steelers were up 24-0, and the Saints hadn’t even managed a first down. Carnell Lake intercepted Wade Wilson’s first pass of the second half, which made way for two more Gary Anderson field goals, followed by an Eric Green touchdown.
Wade Wilson had arrived in Pittsburgh as the NFL’s number 3 passer, only to have the Steelers intercept him three times and limit him to 6 completions on the day as Donald Evans, Levon Kirkland, Joel Steed and Kevin Greene sacked him 5 times.
While the 1993 Steelers would ultimately underachieve, this game revealed that their championship potential was real.
The 2002 Steelers had started 0-2 and only won in week three thanks to a blocked field goal plus Bill Cowher’s decision to bench Kordell Stewart late in the game for Tommy Maddox.
But the Steelers defense gave up 13 points early in the game before Tommy Maddox and Plaxico Burress connected to get Pittsburgh on the board before the half. The Steelers mounted a spirited effort in the 2nd half with Jerome Bettis, Hines Ward and Terance Mathis scoring touchdowns, the but Saints scored 13 points to keep ahead of the Steelers.
The game confirmed, if there had been any doubt, that the once vaunted Steelers secondary was a shell of its former self.
The 2006 Steelers took a Super Bowl Hangover induced 2-6 record to New Orleans to face the 6-2 Saints. Fireworks ensued as the Saints and Steelers fought to a 24 to 17 half time score. The Steelers fought back in the second half, scoring as Ben Roethlisberger connected for a touchdown to Cedric Wilson in the air as Willie Parker ran for two more on the ground.
Deuce McAllister put the Saints within striking distance of a comeback with a fumble returned for a touchdown with 8:31 remaining in the 4th quarter. But the Steelers defense burned nearly 4 minutes off of the clock, and closed the game as Tyrone Carter and Ryan Clark teamed up to end a Saints comeback effort with a forced fumble and recovery.
The game marked the 6-2 rebound of the 2006 Steelers that would ultimately allow Bill Cowher to retire during a non-losing season.
If the first battle between Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees was a shootout, their second meeting took on the character of a slug fest.
Both teams were scoreless during the entire 1st quarter, and when they both got on the board in the 2nd quarter it was only with field goals. In the second half New Orleans put 10 points on the board, but the Steelers moved to within three on a Rashard Mendenhall touchdown.
However, the Steelers defense couldn’t hold on, as Drew Brees connected with Lance Mooreat just over the two minute mark to give the Saints a 10 point lead. Ben Roethlisberger attempted to rally the Steelers and got them to mid field but Leigh Torrence intercepted him as he attempted to hit Mike Wallace.
Lot’s of commentators suggested that this loss spelled gloom and doom for the 2010 Steelers, but the tam of course finished in Super Bowl XLV.
The offensive line gave him time, Heath Miller and Antonio Brown served as reliable targets, but Ben Roethlisberger’s passes were too often off target. Roethlisberger threw two picks, but that number could have easily been double.
Drew Brees only threw for 257 yards, but he threw 5 touchdowns, as an unknown Kenny Stills lit up the Steelers defense for 162 yards.
This late November loss to the Saints seemed to signal that Pittsburgh was nothing more than average, but the 2014 Steelers rebounded for 4 straight wins
The Steelers history vs the New Orleans Saints offers a mixed bag, with both some impressive wins and tough losses. But none of the outcomes had season-defining implications. Today’s contest could be quite different in that respect.
Who are former Pittsburgh SteelersBill Dudley, Elbie Nickel, John Reger and Myron Pottios and what they mean to the franchise’s legacy? Unless you’re in your mid-60’s or older, you’ve probably never heard of them, let alone considered their importance.
After you read Jim Wexell’sMen of Steel, an 187 page volume published in 2006 and reissued in 2011, you’ll know more about 36 men who wore the Black and Gold before during and after the Super Bowl era and what’s more, Wexell’s work will make you care about their contribution to the Steelers legacy.
At first glance, Jim Wexell’s lean, simple structure to Men of Steel might appear to be a drawback, but in truth it is one of the book’s greatest strengths.
Each of the 36 Steelers Wexell profiles gets between four and five pages to tell their story, including first hand interviews, highlights from the player’s career and an update on each player’s “Life’s Work.”
Hines Ward and Ben Roethlisberger on the cover of the 2011 edition of Jim Wexell’s Men of Steel
Wexell effectively employs this spare approach to lend a rich relevance to the stories of familiar players to players from yesterday that even the most diehard Steelers fans will struggle to recognize.
The average “educated Steelers fan” might be vaguely familiar with the Steelers role in effectively ending the career of Y.A. Title, but most probably don’t know that the man who sacked Tuttle on that fateful play was John Baker, a man who went on to serve as sheriff of Wake County, North Carolina for the better part of two decades.
Devoting so much space to pre-Noll era Steelers might seem counter-intuitive from a commercial stand point, but Wexell explains, “I wanted to get the same amount of Steelers from each era, with the stipulation that I have to talk to them.”
Expanding on this goal, Wexell details, “I heard that Steelers fans wanted more of the stars, but I just assumed they had access to the internet. I’ve always wanted to know about some of the older players.” Wexell learned and shared stories.
And on that front, Wexell delivers, benefitting on guidance from the Steelers legendary PR man Joe Gordon, who for example, pointed him in the direction of Johnny Lattner, the only Heisman Trophy winner to sign with the Steelers.
Jim Wexell weaves each tale by starting with a key fact or action taken by the player, establishing its significance to the narrative and then providing the reader with a firsthand account from the player. After that, Wexell navigates seamlessly through the player’s college, pro and post-football careers.
Each chapter ends with the player moving on just as the reader turns the page to begin the next in medias res narrative a new player.
A book browser who might pick up Men of Steel, scan its table of contents, and see that Wexell takes 16 chapters to get to the beginning of the Super Steelers era could easily put the book down thinking there’s nothing interesting in there for fans focused on rooting for Mike Tomlin to bring home Lombardi Number Seven.
They’d be making a grave error however.
Wexell combines crisp, succinct sentences with detailed, game-specific research to deliver compelling stories about men who blazed the trails that opened the way for the NFL and the Steelers to become the icons we adore today.
Wexell matches his economy of words with copious research, as he relates, “There’s really my art. I love research. I love sitting in libraries and poring through microfiche.”
Men of Steel Narrative Galvanized by Super Bowl Era and 80’s Stories
The majority of Wexell’s Men of Steel is devoted to telling the stories of the Steelers from the Chuck Noll era onward. Steelers fans will see names that they know, starting with Joe Greene and ending with stories on Hines Ward and Ben Roethlisberger.
Wexell secured an exclusive interview with the Steelers signal caller prior to Super Bowl XLV and also documents a pre-draft nugget linking Roethlisberger to Steelers scout Mark Gorscak (the need for greater insight into the Steelers draft evaluation process has long been a pet cause of this site.)
Along the way, Wexell scores a rare interview with Jack Lambert. When prodded about how he got the reclusive Steelers legend to speak, Wexell shares that he’d tried, and failed to get an interview for his first book, Tales from Behind the Steel Curtain and for Men of Steel:
[For] , Men of Steel, I made the cursory call. He didn’t answer. I left a message, again, figuring he wouldn’t call back. But he did. “I don’t usually return calls to people like you,” he said with a pause. “But I thought your first book was the best Steelers book ever written. How can I help you?”
Photo Credit: Tony Tomsic, Sports Illustrated
Lambert not only answered Wexell’s questions, but was surprised that the author only wanted to speak with him for 45 minutes and confesses, “To this day I’m kicking myself for not having more philosophical questions for a guy who obviously wanted to talk about pure football.”
Still, Wexell got enough to impress one of the most popular Pittsburgh Steelers of all time, as after sending him a copy, Jack Lambert wrote Wexell back:
It’s New Years Eve and I’m sitting down in the basement with my friends, a Michelob bottle and a pack of Tareytons. A long overdue thank you for sending me “Men of Steel.” … I just finished it and enjoyed catching up on some of my old teammates.
But that’s essentially a function of the fact that we already know so much about those men. You’re not surprised when you enjoy reading Merril Hoge’s reflections on how special the 1989 Steelers playoff run is the way you unexpectedly crave more after learning of John Reger’s role in the 1955 MNF season opening win over the Chicago Cardinals at Forbes Field.
And, to be clear, Wexell succeeds in providing fresh insights on modern-era Steelers.
For transparency’s sake, its important to note that Men of Steel is not a perfect work and does contain a few factual errors. But just as a quarterback can throw an interception but still play a great game, these mistakes don’t keep Men of Steel from being a great book.
When asked what Steelers fans in 2018 can expect to gain by reading Men of Steel, Wexell concedes that he hasn’t given the question much thought, but then offers, “I love writing biographies because that’s where I learn the most.”
This reviewer concurs. Jim Wexell’s love for his subject matter is apparent on every page of the book, and so are the lessons he’s learned from those Men of Steel.
As of this posting, limited copies of Jim Wexell’s Men of Steel remain available on Amazon.com.
Are the Steelers suited for splash free agency? That question came to mind when news broke late Friday that the Steelers were indeed planning to cut Mike Mitchell for salary cap reasons.
The impending decision to cut Mike Mitchell, paired with the Ladarius Green experiment along with an article by Simon Chester reminded me of a poem I once read.
Yes, a poem penned by Jimmy Carter (yes, that “Jimmy Carter,” but fear not, politics remains a verboten topic on this site) and told of how, when his father first succeeded in the peanut business, he mail ordered an expensive suit only to have it fit badly when it arrived. He titled the poem “Prosperity Doesn’t Suit Everyone.”
Might the same lesson apply to the Steelers and free agency, at least under Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s watch?
Well, it certainly feels that way now.
Mike Mitchell fails to stop Jordan Howard’s touchdown. Photo Credit: Charles Palla, via Twitter
The Pittsburgh Steelers have never been big players in free agency. In the 1990’s fans would howl over the Steelers decision to devote their salary cap dollars to resigning stars like Rod Woodson, Dermontti Dawson and Greg Lloyd, while opting to let other teams over pay players like Yancey Thigpen and John Jackson.
The opening of Heinz Field in 2001 gave the Steelers the resources to keep more of their own players. And victories Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII validate the Steelers approach.
Yet One for the Thumb and the Lombardi Six Pack haven’t stopped fans from lamenting the fact that Dan Rooney’s team doesn’t act more like Daniel Snyder’s team the off season Lombardi race.
Yet, the Steelers started free agency with a bang during two of the last four off seasons.
In 2014 it meant signing Mike Mitchell to replace Ryan Clark, and in 2016 it meant signing Ladarius Green to replace Heath Miller. Both were day one, big money deals which were decidedly out of character for the franchise.
The Difference with the Mitchell and Green Signings
The signings of Mike Mitchell and Ladarius Green were different. While they certainly weren’t Albert Haynesworth break-the bank blowup the salary cap type contracts, they also weren’t the type of bargain hunting/best-bang for the buck type free agent the Steeler are known for.
And both Mike Mitchell and Ladarius Green were disappointments.
In his six games with the Steelers Ladarius Green delivered the “field flipping” capability that Mike Tomlin brought him to Pittsburgh to provide. But the Steelers signed him to a 4 year contract, so they were expecting another 58 games or so. Ladarius Green remains out of football either because his ankle never healed correctly, because of concussions or because of both.
In 2015 Mike Mitchell made a number of plays, including a few drive killing interceptions in the Red Zone. Mitchell didn’t make as many “Splash” plays in 2016, but his tackle and pass defensed numbers were on par with 2017.
Consensus by analysts both inside and outside Pittsburgh concludes that 2017 was a disaster for Mike Mitchell. He defensed a total of two passes, and his tackle count was down by more than a third.
Mitchell might unfairly get scapegoated by fans for more things than are actually his fault, but clearly he hasn’t delivered as the Steelers expected, or needed.
What Do the Mitchell and Green Disappointments Tell Us?
A few weeks ago on Simon Chester, the best writer on staff at The Steelers Wire, opined that “Steelers history with free agency far from inspiring.” It certainly feels that way now, given how badly the Ladarius Green experiment failed and how uneven Mike Mitchell’s tenure in Pittsburgh was.
Yet Chester’s analysis literally began with Greg Clark, one of the first free agents the Steelers signed and one who never saw the final roster and wasn’t overly colored by recent events.
Nonetheless, to declare the Steelers history with free agency as uninspiring is an over reaction.
The Steelers have acquired the services of future Hall of FamerKevin Greene and perennial Pro Bowlers James Farrior, Jeff Hartings and Ryan Clark through free agency. They’ve also found quality starters like fullback John Williams, defensive end Ray Seals and offensive lineman like Will Wolford and Tom Newberry. And they’ve excelled at finding backups who deliver like starters when called upon, with Arthur Moats and Mewelde Moore providing recent examples.
But there’s a common thread to all of these free agent moves.
Almost none of them were considered “splash free agency signings.” The Steelers only signed Kevin Greene after the Chargers offered an inane one year restricted free agent tender to Jerrol Williams. The Steelers only signed James Farrior after getting wind that Earl Holmes was shopping Pittsburgh’s offer to the Browns.
In the spring of 1994, Steelers Nation was clamoring for Pittsburgh to poach Daryl Johnson and Alvin Harper from the Cowboys — John L. Williams and Ray Seals were consultation prizes. When the Steelers drafted Anthony Smith in the 2nd round of the 2006 NFL Draft, they planned for him and not Ryan Clark, the free agent they’d signed earlier, to be the long term starter at safety.
Its not that the Steelers can’t hit home runs in free agency — the can and they have — but it almost seems like they’re more likely to hit them without trying.
Maybe its just coincidence, but its hard not to think of this and remember the lesson that Art Rooney Sr. tried to teach his kids when he admonished them to drive a Buick instead of a Cadillac “Never put on the dog.”
Perhaps its a lesson his grandson would do well to remember as the Steelers approach free agency this spring.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are not splash players in free agency. Sure, the franchise used free agency to secure the services of future Hall of Famers such as Kevin Greene and fixture starters like Ryan Clark, but the Pittsburgh has never put itself into contention for the off season Lombardi.
But most Steelers free agent signing headlines are more likely to elicit a “Who?” opposed to an, “Yes! We got him!” from fans. So, from that perspective, Arthur Moats in many ways has been a typical Steelers free agent signing, which speaks well of both him and the team. And as Moats reaches free agency again, it will be interesting to see if the Steelers offer him a third contract.
Arthur Moats strip sacks Andy Dalton. Photo Credit: Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
Capsule Profile of Arthur Moats Steelers Career
Arthur Moats joined the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013 during a time of turmoil at outside linebacker.
After ending 3 straight seasons on injured reserve, the Steelers had parted ways with LaMarr Woodley. Jason Worilds had finally seemed to hit his stride, posting a good although not great year, prompting Pittsburgh to transition tag him. While Jarvis Jones rookie year had provided a mixed bag, the latest done jersey number 95 still had legitimate “upside.”
So it came as a bit of a surprise, when at the end of March, the Steelers signed Arthur Moats from the Buffalo Bills. The move to bring in Arthur Moats delivered almost immediate dividends, as Moats recorded a sack in relief of Jarvis Jones in the Steelers win over Carolina. Moats forced a critical fumble in the Steelers November win over the Ravens, and also downed Joe Flacco.
In 2015 the Steelers drafted Bud Dupree, but Bud Dupree’s arrival didn’t stop Moats from making splash plays, as he recovered a fumble on Cleveland’s first play of the game, setting up a Steelers score. For the season, Moats recorded 4 sacks and recovered two fumbles.
In 2016, Arthur Moats recorded 3.5 sacks and defensed 3 passes while splitting time with Bud Dupree, and finished the season with two sacks against the Browns in the finale. In 2107, Moats saw his playing time drop, as the rotation at outside linebacker ended. Still, he saw action n 14 games, including work at inside linebacker due to injuries to Ryan Shazier and Tyler Matakevich.
Arthur Moats name’s never going to make that least, nor should it.
But that wasn’t what Arthur Moats was brought to Pittsburgh to do. He was brought to in to be a backup, and the first role of a good backup is to provide stability when the starter is unavailable. Arthur Moats has started 24 of his 62 games in Pittsburgh, and he’s provided solid stability with splash play making ability.
Arthur Moats is just the kind of player you want in the mix behind T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo. He’s only just turning 30, and he’s not going to cost a lot of money. What’s the wait?
The Case Against the Steelers Resigning Against Arthur Moats
For better (see keeping T.J. Watt in the game) and for worse (see the James Harrison situation), the Steelers ended their outside linebacker rotation in 2017 and there’s been no indication that will change in 2018.
The Steelers have salary cap issues, and while Arthur Moats isn’t going to command serious money from any NFL team, he is someone who deserves to get paid more than the veteran minimum. Depth is nice, but the Steelers have Kion Adams coming off of injured reserve, who could grow into a Moats type role and would do so for a lot less money.
Resigning Arthur Moats would make for a quality feel-good story, but is it a luxry the Steelers can afford?
Curtain’s Call on the Steelers and Arthur Moats
We started by saying that in a lot of ways Arthur Moats is your typical Steelers free agent. His arrival was unheralded, he provided stability and depth in an understudy role and delivered convincingly when called upon.
In fact, Arthur Moats is kind of a defensive equivalent to Mewelde Moore.
When you say “Championship caliber player” you probably don’t think someone like Mewelde Moore, yet Moore was the unsung hero of the 2008 Steelers season that culminated in Super Bowl XLIII.
When it comes to winning Lombardi Number 7, Arthur Moats’ impact will never equal that of, say, Cam Heyward, but he’s shown the ability to be the “Next man up” when his number is called, and championship rosters require players who fit that role.
If the Steelers are smart, they’ll find a way to bring back Arthur Moats.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers are the NFL’s two most storied franchises. The latter defined winning and excellence in the 1960’s; the former defined the term “NFL Dynasty” in the 1970’s. Both franchises were fortunate to hit their respective peaks as the NFL was coming of age.
Yet, due to the conference and division realignment which followed the NFL-AFL merger, these two teams have seldom faced off of late.
The Pittsburgh Steelers history vs the Green Bay Packers is pretty one-sided affair, with the Cheeseheads holding a 22-15 edge as of 2017, but much of that lopsidedness is due the the Steelers pre-Immaculate Reception Record.
In fact, in the last 25 years, the teams have only met seven times, but those meetings have contributed much to the lore of both franchises. Either scroll down to click on the links below to relive your favorite moment in Steelers-Packers history.
Le’Veon Bell rushes for his 1st 100 yard game in the Steelers 2013 win over the Packers @ Lambeau Field. Photo Credit: Wesley Hitt, Getty Images via Zimbo
1992 – Bill Cowher Reveals His True Nature in 1st Loss
History will long remember this as Brett Favre’s first NFL start. Conversely, it was also Rod Woodson’s career worst and Bill Cowher’s first loss.
Although the words “Hall of Fame” and “Rod Woodson” were already being collocated in 1992, Woodson fell flat in almost every conceivable way possible on this day.
If you have a strong stomach for memories you’d rather forget, you can watch the game summary from NFL Prime Time.
For Steelers fans the significance of this game is in what Bill Cowher revealed about himself.
Near the end of the game Cowher approached Woodson. Rod turned away fearing a tongue lashing. Instead, Cowher consoled him, saying that “You’ve had a bad day at he office. When that happens, you don’t quit the job, you analyze what went wrong and bounce back.”
Steelers fans loved Cowher for his fire, brimstone and in your face bravado, but…
…in his first loss as a head coach, The Chin showed that he was a head coach who was smart enough to know when to kick a player in the a_s, and when to pat him on the back.
The Steelers playoff position was set, while the Packers still had something to play for. Bill Cowher benched many starters – Fred McAfee and Steve Avery were the Steelers starting backfield.
Yet this was a hard-fought, knock down drag out game. Kevin Greene hit Brett Favre so hard that he appeared to be coughing up his brains at one point. Jim McMahon did come in for a few snaps, but Favre refused to stay out long.
The Steelers second string almost pulled it off, as Yancey Thigpen dropped a sure touchdown pass as time expired.
Rookie Hines Ward on his 3rd NFL catch as LeRoy Butler closes in. Photo Credit: Rick Stewart, Getty Images via Bleacher Report
As the fourth quarter began, Pittsburgh appeared poised to make it 34-3, until Sherman decided to get cute on the goal line. Sherman thought it would be smart to revive Slash, and sent Mike Tomczak under center with Kordell lining up as a receiver. All went well, until the snap….
A bobbled exchange leads to a fumble, which Keith McKenzie returns 88 yards for a touchdown. The Packers score 17 unanswered points, but Pittsburgh holds on. Barley.
The moral of the story there is that trick plays can give an already efficient offense a lethal edge, but they can be just as lethal for a struggling unit.
2005 – Never Underestimate the Importance to Backups….
Bryant McFadden strip sacks Brett Favre, setting up a 77 yard Troy Polamalu touchdown return. Photo Credit: Steelers.com
But the star of the day is Duce Staley, who gets his first carry of the year that day, and adds a total of 14 more for 76 yards and including a long run of 17 and a touchdown. He also catches to passes for nine yards.
As Bill Cowher said the day Pittsburgh released Staley, “If we don’t have Duce, we don’t win that game. If we don’t win that game, we don’t make the playoffs, and never get to Super Bowl XL.”
The Steelers signed Duce Staley to a generous contract in 2004, and he only ended up playing 16 games over three season. But in the end, it was money well spent.
The Steelers and Packers combined for 936 yards and the lead changed hands four times in the fourth quarter as Aaron Rodgers passed for 383 yards. Ben Roethlisberger did him better, however, passing for 503 yards and in doing so only becoming only the 10th NFL signal caller to break the half-century mark.
Hines Ward and Heath Miller both broke the 100 yard mark, but the star of the game was Steelers rookie of the year Mike Wallace. Wallace bookended his game with touchdown catches. Taking his first pass for 60 yards to the end zone, and he did it again with his last pass, hauling in a 19 yard grab with 0:03 seconds remaining.
2010 – Super Bowl XLV – Steelers Must Wait for Stairway to Seven…
And that brings us to Super Bowl XVL and the Steelers ill-fated quest for Lombardi Number Seven.
The Steelers made some early mistakes and, as Mike Tomlin, ever the class act, insisted, the Packers made some tremendous plays that put the Steelers deep in a hole.
The men in Black and Gold fought back furiously and were alive until the game’s final minute. But, when the final gun sounded, the Packers simply showed themselves to be the better team and, to their credit, the Steelers acknowledged as much.
2013 – Le’Veon Bell Finds His Rushing Feet in the Snows of Lambeau Field
Le’Veon Bell rushes against Lamari Lattimore in the snows at Lambeau Field. Photo Credit: Jeffrey Phelps, AP via the Bleacher Report
Le’Veon Bell played as if he took it personally, ripping off runs for 11, 5, and 22 yards in his first four carries. By half time, Bell had 71 yards and was in route to his first 100 yard game. But Bell’s game was hardly blemish free.
The game also featured Bell’s first NFL fumble at Pittsburgh’s 2 yard line no less.
Eddie Lacy put Green Bay ahead, but Le’Veon Bell took his next carry and shot through the Packers defense for 25 yards. The fireworks were far from over at that point, as Cortez Allen intercepted Matt Flynn and took it to the house, only to see Green Bay return to tie the score after intercepting a failed Ben Roethlisberger pass to Heath Miller.
The Steelers however, regained the lead with 1:25 left to play on another Le’Veon Bell touchdown.
A monster return saw Green Bay return the ball all the way to the Pittsburgh’s 1, but penalties prevented the Packers from scoring as time ran out.
A hundred yard rusher, six changes in the lead, fumbles at the goal line and snow on Lambeau Field – as John Madden would say, “This is what the game of football is all about.”