The ABCs of the Pittsburgh Steelers
Reviewing the all-time players list for the proud Pittsburgh Steelers is enough to make most, if not all, other franchises jealous. After all, the Black and Gold's list of perennial all-pro players reads like an alphabetized catalog of capitalized GREATNESS, with just a few lowercase louses sprinkled in.
From Anderson to Zereoue, and for all letters in between, Steelers fans can proudly reflect on the memories of great athletes and iconic figures through whom Steelers Country has lived vicariously for 80 seasons, the latter half of which has seen great success.
Yet, it isn't just the players who have made the great tradition of Steelers football. A number of other cherished places and events have contributed to the development of the greatest football team in the history of the sport. No bias, right?
The following dictionary of the dynasty includes no players names, though it certainly includes some of the positions and units that have been historically strong in the 'Burgh. This list is dedicated to all that makes being a Steelers fan great.
Focusing on the modern era NFL, otherwise known as the Super Bowl era, these are the ABCs of Pittsburgh Steelers football.
A Is for American Football Conference.
Image courtesy of cassadybenson.com
The NFL merged with the rival American Football League in 1970, with the now newly-expanded football league retaining its original NFL name and logo.
Most of the original NFL teams would remain in the conference known as the National Football Conference, while the AFL teams would comprise a second conference known as the American Football Conference.
While most fans know the basic details of the merger, many may not understand how, or why, the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to play in the AFC.
The problem with the two conference format was a disproportion of teams in the NFC opposed to the AFC. While the merger combined the two former separate leagues, animosity still existed between both factions, causing NFC, formerly NFL, teams to be hesitant to cross lines to that "horrible red" conference.
With a 16:10 ratio, the NFL needed three teams to move to the AFC. It appeared no teams would make the move, and it would be necessary to have imbalanced conferences with balanced divisions in each. The league later sweetened the deal by offering $3 million to the trio of franchises willing to move over.
The story regarding the decision to move is set in the hospital room of Browns owner Art Modell, the same Modell who would later be vilified when moving his team from Cleveland. Modell, being treated for ulcers, discussed realignment plans with team owners Wellington Mara and the Rooneys from Pittsburgh.
Dan Rooney disliked the notion of moving, responding to the idea of the Colts and Brown moving in saying, "Under no circumstances will the Steelers move."
Art Rooney quickly vetoed the knee-jerk response.
"Danny, you can stay in the National Conference. I'm going with Art Modell to the American Conference."
The two Arts mutually understood the importance of their rivalry and financial need for the other. The two nomads left the NFL teams along with the Colts.
Ironically, the Colts joined the AFC following one of the most embarrassing losses in modern sports history. In Super Bowl III, the Jets' defeat of the Baltimore Colts (16-7) was the first in two straight championship wins that legitimized the AFC.
B Is for Blitz
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The militaristic term Blitzkrieg means "lightning war." Blitzkrieg was first used by the Germans during World War II and was a tactic predicated on speed and surprise, concentrating a high speed attack from planes or light tanks in order to break through enemy lines.
One can easily see where football adopted the term "blitz."
A blitz most simply refers to sending players originally lined up behind the line of scrimmage across that line to attack the quarterback. While the full philosophy of the strategy is more complex, that is its most basic premise.
Larry Wilson, a safety for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 60s, is credited as the defensive player who pioneered the art of blitzing from non-traditional positions, namely the defensive backfield.
Then, Dick LeBeau further pioneered the concept of blitzing with the "zone blitz." Soon after, Pittsburgh was known as Blitzburgh. Get the picture?
While traditional blitzes required man coverage in order to ensure that all receivers were covered after the absence of the blitzing player from pass coverage, the zone blitz allows zone coverage to continue through the use of altered assignments never seen prior to the once-radical concept.
Linemen—tackles and ends—would drop into pass coverage to alleviate stress in the secondary. This would create confusion for quarterbacks reading the play who once depended on the vacated area and void as safe space for "hot receivers" to get open after the "hot read" is made against said blitz.
The concept depends on disguise and execution. The payoff is the degree of misreads and mistakes by quarterbacks who misinterpret the blitz as more severe than it actually is, going to hot reads in zones that aren't vacant like they were traditionally.
Long story made short: no team ran the blitz or zone blitz better than the Steelers under Dick LeBeau in the 90s, and its influence has caused the concept to be adopted in varying degrees by every NFL team.
C Is for Coaches
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For those wondering, "Why isn't "C" for Chief?," rest assured that "R" may just be reserved for a certain prestigious football family.
On this list, "C" is for coaches, a small membership club made possible and successful by the Rooney way of doing business.
Few organizations are run by a group of people so decent, professional, and family-oriented as the Rooneys. Their vision for long-term success, well-timed patience and loyal commitment to team development make the names listed under "Steelers Head Coaches" since the 1969 quite exclusive.
The terrific (or terrible, depending on whether your allegiance is to the Steelers) trio consists of Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin.
Each of the three has delivered at least one Vince Lombardi Trophy to the franchise.
It's hard enough for a quarterback—even in today's era of prolific passing—to complete his first three passes of any given game. A franchise hiring three consecutive championship coaches is unparalleled, and it hasn't happened elsewhere in the NFL.
Considering the plenitude of franchises to hire more coaches in a five or six year span without any mark of success makes the Steelers' feat all the more incredible.
Chuck Noll coached the team to four Super Bowl wins in the 70s, leading arguably the greatest dynasty in NFL history.
Afterwards, Bill Cowher took over in 1992. He infused an attitude and passion from the headsets that bolstered his players, and while retribution was a long-time coming for the "Chin," he finally delivered "One for the Thumb" in February 2006.
Finally, Mike Tomlin became only the third coach since the late 60s, leading the team to Super Bowl triumph in only his second season at the helm.
D Is for Dynasty
Often regarded as the greatest dynasty in NFL history, the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s will forever remain one of the most sublime collections of talent in sports.
Coach Chuck Noll groomed homegrown talent into champions, using excellent drafts, particularly the 1974 draft class, unarguably the greatest ever, a great eye for talent from everywhere and anywhere, and a no-nonsense approach as the key catalysts.
With a litany of Hall of Fame players and four Super Bowl rings in six years, those who argue that team as the best ever have a great number of bullet points to use in their favor. No other coach and quarterback combination has ever won four Super Bowls, an accomplishment reserved only for Noll and Bradshaw.
However, the real beauty of the era was the changing of the guard from a scowled, physical, flawed team led by "lovable loser" Art Rooney to an intimidating winner and champion. As the success of the football team grew, the pride of Pittsburgh swelled, and the city could now proclaim itself the "City of Champions."
At their brand new venue, Three Rivers Stadium, the Steelers felt the love of the fans who had divided into various factions, making the game day atmosphere quite unique to the era.
Across four championship seasons and a decade of dominance, many great Steelers became Hall of Famers, or at least local legends and football icons.
Bradshaw, Stallworth, Swann, Harris, Bleier, Webster, Hamm, Greene, Greenwood, White, Lambert, Blount, Russell, and a whole list of talented friends.
Is it any wonder the Steelers rose to dynastic status?
E Is for the Emperor
Among Steelers coaches, one man particularly stands out amongst his peers.
Andy Russell recalled one of the team's early meeting from training camp during Chuck Noll's inaugural season in 1969. Recounting one of Noll's early speeches to the team creates a distinctive portrait of the psychology and business demeanor of the man.
"We get to training camp, and the first speech to the team he says, 'I've been watching the game film since I took the job, and I can tell you the reason you've been losing is not because of your attitude or your psyche or any of that stuff. The problem is you're not good enough. You can't run fast enough, you can't jump high enough, you're not quick enough, your techniques are just abysmal. I'm going to probably have to get rid of most of you and we're going to move on.' Five of us made it from that room to the '74 Super Bowl."
When Chuck Noll became the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the attitude of the organization changed. Many attribute the rise from losing to certain players who arrived during the late 60s and early 70s, such as Joe Greene or Franco Harris, but without "the Emperor," it's very possible that key scouting and roster decisions may have never occurred.
Further, even with such talent, it was Noll's ability to coach the team into discipline and consistency, a trademark not ascribed to most of his predecessors, that allowed the Black and Gold to transform from black to gold.
Among the top of the NFL all-time coaching circuit, the four-time Super Bowl champion is, dare it be said, underrated? Despite having more Lombardi wins than any other coach, his name rarely comes up in conversational debates regarding the best coach ever.
Myron Cope, the nails-on-chalkboard voice of the Steelers for many seasons, was also an underrated mind. After all, his brilliance brought about the nickname "Steel Curtain" and conjured up the concept of the "Terrible Towel," as well as the notion of its supernatural powers.
Cope, a Noll admirer, gave the coach his only nickname, and it was befitting of his style. If nothing else, the underrated coach would now be an eternal ruler, "Emperor Chaz," playing off of Noll's first name of Charles
F Is for Frank Sinatra
Image courtesy of Groovyvic.com
Steelers fans divided into factions in the excitable 70s, and few players embraced their respective groups more than running back Franco Harris did his "Franco's Italian Army."
The influence of the fun-loving bunch would become more widespread than anyone could have imagined, reaching its grip from the Steel City and into Hollywood.
Chuck Noll was helping prepare the team for an important game against the San Diego Chargers. To acclimate the unit to warmer weather in December, he prepared practices in Palm Springs.
Myron Cope was informed that the legendary Frank Sinatra lived in Palm Springs and charged with signing him into "Franco's Italian Army."
Cope, ever the unpredictable and beloved character, did just that.
Whether by design or coincidence, Cope and pals dined at a fine restaurant in the area when Sinatra and his group arrived. On a napkin, Myron informed Sinatra of his similar background to Harris, both being of Italian descent and from New Jersey, and using this as a springboard to request Sinatra's presence at the next day's practice for entry into the "Army."
The next day, Noll confronted Myron about the potential disruption. Yet, undaunted, Cope asked Franco to join him whenever, and of all things, Sinatra arrived!
After an initial refusal by Harris, Noll coolly permitted Franco to attend the sideline festivity.
Wine drinking, cheese eating, hand-shaking, helmet exchanging, and cheek kissing all took place.
By practice's end, "Colonel Francis Sinatra" was an official member of the group. It remains one of the more beloved and off-beat tales in team history.
G Is for the Great Hall
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Acting as a veritable museum of the team's great tradition and rich history, the Coca-Cola Great Hall at Heinz Field is a great central hub for first-time visitors to the stadium and all who wish to partake in championship greatness and a variety of entertainment.
A center stage, Three Rivers Stadium remnants, including lockers and bleachers, replicas of the six Lombardi Trophies, and a variety of other great sights make the area a must-see for any Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
Live music echoes through the corridor on game days, and the luckiest of fans took the opportunity to attend "Cope's Cabana," a post-game radio show, live after team home games while his presence still graced the hallowed halls of Heinz.
The Great Hall can be reserved for entertainment or business purposes, but the real draw of the area is to create great memories between Steelers fans, and no other team offers such a rich gallery of modern success.
H Is for the Hall of Fame (with Special Guest Stars Rod Woodson and Mel Blount)
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Steelers enter Canton like hillbillies enter flea markets.
Needless to say, a lot of Black and Gold graces the halls of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
A full list of Hall of Fame Steelers can be found on the team website, here.
The monument is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST during the summer, and tickets range from $15-21, depending on age. With children under six years of age entering free and affordable local accommodations, there's no excuse not to experience Steelers greatness in Canton at least once in your lifetime.
At the Hall of Fame, two Steelers corners, are honored, and they will be honored on this slide as well. Unfortunately, with only 26 letters to work with, finding a spot for this position, particularly for the two men addressed, was difficult.
The Hall of Fame slide seems as fitting as any.
After all, you can't have an ABC listing of Pittsburgh Steelers football without Rod Woodson or Mel Blount.
Few Steelers players came in a mold like Mel Blount, whose absolute dominance over receivers in his early career facilitated rules changes by the NFL to allow receivers to escape the brutal initial contact that Blount enforced as a matter of principle. The rules changed, and the blunt force Blount dominated anyway.
Any classic car connoisseur can tell you that a hot rod is built for speed. The description holds for "Hot Rod" Woodson.
Atop of his special teams prowess as a return man, Rod Woodson was a great defender in every facet of the game. Able to come up and play the run with great aplomb, Woodson was a hard-hitting corner with coverage skills to match, finishing his career with 71 interceptions.
During his time in Pittsburgh, a banner was hung at Three Rivers Stadium that said "Rod is God."
If the phrase is overstating things, it's only a slight foul. His 11 Pro Bowls, with seven in Pittsburgh, and placement onto the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team speak to his lofty status.
I Is for the Immaculate Reception
Like the movie "Inception," the Raiders cried "deception" as though the NFL had distorted reality.
The conclusion of the 1972 divisional playoff between the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers saw arguably the most iconic moment in the history of football.
In the annals of NFL history, there are "The Catch," Bart Starr's run in "The Ice Bowl" and "The Immaculate Reception."
One, two, three: the top three plays of all time.
In 1972, the football could not contact an offensive player and be caught by another member of the same team.
As such, when a desperation heave by Terry Bradshaw bounced off the pads of either Raiders' defensive back Jack Tatum or the Steelers' Frenchy Fuqua, there was an argument that the next segment of the play could have been illegal.
Franco Harris caught the football as it spiraled toward the turf, running up the left sideline into Pittsburgh immortality.
The debate of the play rests with two facets: the potential illegal touch and whether the ball hit the ground as Harris caught it.
The trajectory of the football after Tatum and Fuqua collided is a simple matter of physics—the "equal and opposite reaction" of the ball's path being in direct opposition to the pursuit angle Tatum took toward the intended receiver.
As for the football hitting the turf, there are no definitive angles. Somehow, though, the officials felt confident enough to rule a touchdown.
More than any nitpicking, dissection of the events or desire for a different outcome rests a component of the play that Al Davis could not change whether he wanted to or not:
It is what it is.
J Is for Jersey
The NFL Network's acclaimed show "Top Ten" did an episode that counted down the best jerseys. While the criteria for such a selection is largely subjective and a matter of personal taste, my objectivity causes me to question how the Pittsburgh Steelers wardrobe did not make the cut.
Black and gold, or, as many fans hate to hear, Black n' Yellow, go together seamlessly, like an aesthetic euphoria, and the jersey has stood the test of time with little variation during the modern era.
While teams from the past have featured gold lettering, prison stripes and "Batman" cowl collars, the design of the uniforms has remained largely untouched, save for mild changes, in the past four decades.
A recent release of the 2012 jersey showcases some sleek improvement, but as always, the popular design remains intact, and the colors still serve as "Black like grit, and Gold like champions."
Indeed, one of the most iconic, recognized, and commercially successful jerseys in sports history has stood the test of time like a fine wine. And, with every new Super Bowl win, those bold colors just get richer and more vibrant.
Aside from shameless self-promotion and a chance to link one of my recent articles, the Steelers uniform is the one constant that has graced the field of play through 80 great seasons and 40 years of unparalleled success.
Players who have adorned the jersey play not for themselves, hopefully, but for the great franchise who symbol fittingly rests above their hearts.
K Is for Kickers
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Kickers are players, too. It is whenever the scoreboard shows one team down by three or fewer points, late in the fourth quarter, with fourth down upcoming and 48 yards from the placeholder to the uprights that even the most cynical player can say, "Yeah, kickers are players, too."
It is a thankless job that often only yield recognition in the worst of moments. For every Adam Vinatieri there are unemployed kickers who dream at night only of "wide left or wide right."
While the Steelers have had a few of the latter, their history has enjoyed some of the former category as well, particularly during the career of one of the all-time greats.
Roy Gerela kicked for the Steelers of the early 70s, but his claim to fame was being taunted by Cliff Harris in Super Bowl X. Jack Lambert quickly came to his aid, throwing Harris to the ground and reestablishing the Steelers as the intimidating force.
Later in the decade, Matt Bahr took over the duties.
Next, the Steelers welcomed one of the great all-time kickers to the Black and Gold family in Gary Anderson. While his name is associated with a missed kick during the 1998-99 NFC Championship game for the Vikings, this miscue coming after 38 consecutive conversions, his legacy should be remembered for his domination at the position.
Anderson ranks No. 2 in NFL history career points and field goals made. One of his most famous kicks came in overtime during the 1990 Wild Card Playoffs at the Astrodome. His 50-yard field goal ended the season for the favored Houston Oilers, proving to be the last great Chuck Noll win and Jerry Glanville's last game as the opposition's coach.
Since the legendary Anderson, many other kickers have come through the 'Burgh. Norm Johnson succeeded Gary, and he converted an onside kick which proved to be one of the more clutch calls in Super Bowl history. Trailing 20-10 to the Dallas Cowboys early in the fourth quarter, Bill Cowher called for a surprise onside. The perfect kick, great timing, and flawless execution stunned "America's Team," who allowed a touchdown shortly thereafter.
While Norm Johnson didn't get his Super Bowl ring that night, Jeff Reed would earn two.
After Kris Brown unceremoniously left the Steel City, Reed came onto the scene with a statement game against the team and coach that had previously cut him. On a hot day in Jacksonville, Reed boomed six kicks, including 46- and 50-yard efforts, converting each. All six were critical conversions in a 25-23 victory.
On the sideline, Tom Coughlin looked on with exasperation after each successful attempt.
Though he left the team for personal reasons, most of Reed's career saw the kicker as reliable in the clutch, and this factored into his long stead with the team.
L Is for Linebackers
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While Penn State University is the collegiate "Linebacker U," the Steel City could just as well be called the PLA, or "Professional Linebackers Association."
Few teams, if any, have had the inordinate amount of consistent, all-pro success at the linebacker position as the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Consider this list, which includes a one-shot wonder and long-time stalwarts:
Andy Russell, Earl Holmes, David Little, James Farrior, Joey Porter, LaMarr Woodley, Mike Vrabel, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Kevin Greene, James Harrison, Jason Gildon, Chad Brown, Lawrence Timmons, Greg Lloyd, Kendrell Bell (circa 2001, of course), Levon Kirkland and a whole slew of other great talents make the list.
I'd challenge any NFL fan to match the list above—comparable talent provided for each player, and actual statistical evidence to back it up—with another NFL squad in the modern era.
From "Count Dracula in Cleats" to rising star Lawrence Timmons, the past, present and future of the Steelers will continue to include great Hall of Fame linebackers.
Count on it.
M Is for Myron
"Yoi and double yoi."
Myron Cope was a spirited broadcaster and well-stated journalist, and nobody could ever forget the "nails-on-chalkboard" voice that Steelers fans couldn't help but love.
He created the Terrible Towel, recruited Frank Sinatra and created an array of war songs that made fans laugh as they were galvanized toward defeating the next opponent.
Well, frankly, the list doesn't really seem to end with Myron Cope.
"What's on your cranium?"
What should be on the cranium of every Steelers fan in this moment is the huge influence that Cope had on the culture of the team and its relationship with the fans. Likewise, for his unique personality and many contributions, both professionally and charitably, Myron will always be remembered as one of the two greatest non-coach and non-athlete sports personalities in Pittsburgh history, along with Mike Lange.
Miss you, Myron.
N Is for Notre Dame and Nittany Lion
So, what do Notre Dame and the Nittany Lions have anything to do with each other, aside from being two squads that aren't likely to share a luncheon either with themselves or the Steelers?
Answer: two iconic Steelers running backs that defined two championship eras of Pittsburgh football.
Franco Harris averaged 4.1 yards per carry during an illustrious career that saw over 12,000 rushing yards, 91 touchdowns and four Super Bowls.
Harris was selected to eight consecutive Pro Bowls from 1972-1980, and his eight 1,000 yard rushing seasons almost broke the record that was held by the great Browns running back Jim Brown. Incidentally, Jim Brown had often criticized Franco for running out of bounds, even in spite of the odds, instead of getting an extra yard or two. Harris stood by his strategy, feeling the preservation allowed him to be stronger as games and seasons wore on.
When he retired, he was only 192 yards short of Jim Brown's rushing record, an achievement he could not surpass in only eight games with the Seattle Seahawks.
While the ending with Seattle is one that Steelers fans grimace over, Harris will always be remembered for his bravado during better days, a dominance that catapulted the Steelers offense to four Super Bowl wins.
A runner who had a far more fitting ending in Black and Gold was Jerome "The Bus" Bettis, whose final game was a Super Bowl XL win in Detroit.
A "mudder" and "big back," Bettis had the footwork, agility and deceptive speed in the open field that runners of his size simply aren't naturally blessed with. His unique blend of skills made him a chore to tackle, particularly at the goal line, and most of his tacklers weren't the better for it after the collision.
Just ask Brian Urlacher, who gets run over by Bettis in the video above.
O If for Offensive Line
The traditional identity of the Steelers, as it has commonly been known, is predicated on two basic principles.
Running and defense.
For the former to have had any impact, one key quality element certainly had to remain true through many great Steelers seasons: a great offensive line.
And, for the majority of four decades, the Steelers' offensive line has featured yeomen, men who did their thankless, brutish jobs so well and to little acclaim.
Life in the trenches is the reason that can only be one football game per week, so excelling along the line is standout praise.
Just at the center position alone, the Steelers have had more great offensive linemen than any team deserves. Consider the team has featured Ray Mansfield, the tree trunk arms of Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson and, now, Maurkice Pouncey at the anchor position of the offensive front. Any fan can see the imbalance of that historical lineup against the likes of those who have started on other NFL lines.
At guard, Ernie Stautner, Gerry Mullins, Craig Wolfley, and the dynamo Alan Faneca are among those who have blessed the Black and Gold front. David DeCastro brings a bright promise for a continuing great future at the position. That isn't even mentioning the former Steelers star and always superb Chris Kemoeatu.
What I wouldn't give to see the faces of those of you who took that last sentence seriously.
Lastly, the tackle have included Larry Brown, radio personality Tunch Ilkin, Leon Searcy and many others standout behemoths. With any luck, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams will continue a tradition of excellence on the outside of the offensive line.
P Is for Playoffs
Since 1972, the Pittsburgh Steelers have made the playoffs 26 times, missing the postseason on only 14 unfortunate occasions.
In other words, the team has qualified for sudden death for two-thirds of the last four decades. That is a level of success that a franchise and its ownership could only dream about, but that has been the Black, and very Gold, reality of the last 40 years in the Steel City.
After playing in only one playoff game (1947; 21-0 loss to Philadelphia) and scoring zero postseason points in their first 40 seasons, the modern team's success is like a lesson on photography: the darker the initial picture, the brighter the negative will be.
Shedding the loser's low light, the Steelers have been handsomely in the winner's limelight.
Though most fans recall the Super Bowl wins, and painful losses, many other classic playoff bouts have entertained Steelers Country.
It started with the team's first-ever postseason win, a 13-7 victory over Oakland remembered for the "Immaculate Reception."
One week later, a fulfilling 24-13 win over the Raiders in sunny California earned Pittsburgh's spot in the cold, windy Super Bowl IX.
Even after the 70s, which featured a number of forgotten but exciting playoff wins, the success continued. While the 80s are regarded as a lost decade in team history, the Black and Gold had, get this, a winning record in those ten years.
This included two of their finest victories. In 1984-85, America anticipated an AFC Championship showdown between Dan Marino and John Elway. Instead, after the surprising Steelers upset the heavily-favored Broncos at Mile High Stadium, Pittsburgh traveled south.
On the final day of the decade, Jerry Glanville lost his job after a demoralizing 26-23 overtime loss to Pittsburgh, arguably Chuck Noll's last great win.
The 90s saw three wins in one season over Belichick and the Browns and Jim Harbaugh's Hail Mary for the rights to go to Super Bowl XXX.
Hopefully, the most recent playoffs are still vivid in the minds of Steelers faithful. Certainly, last season's disappointing ending still leaves a sour taste in one's mouth.
Here's to hoping the team can build on the successful postseason track record in 2012-13.
Q Is for Quarterbacks
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In the annals of team history, two quarterbacks stand head and shoulders above the rest. They could easily be labelled the Steelers' own version of the "Killer B's," Terry "Blonde Bomber" Bradshaw and Benjamin "Big Ben" Roethlisberger.
They're the franchise guys. The big two.
The duo has combined for six Super Bowl wins, the only championship signal-callers in team history.
Terry Bradshaw is a Hall of Fame player. Will Ben Roethlisberger someday join him?
Feel free to debate the question in the comments section below.
R Is for the Rooneys
They're quite arguably the greatest family and ownership team in all of sports, and the tradition of greatness has trickled down the line with the Rooney family. The apples haven't fallen far from the tree, and the fruits of their business style is the most successful modern NFL franchise.
Art, Jr., Dan and Art Rooney II are among those sons who have continued on the great works of their beloved father.
And, make no mistake, "The Chief" was beloved.
Art Rooney Avenue runs adjacent to Heinz Field.
A statue in the founder's likeness is a common central hub for fans, often wishing to be pictured beside the most important person in franchise history.
Fittingly, the founding father of the Pittsburgh Steelers was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1964.
And, lastly, without Art Rooney, there would not be...I don't think I need to finish that sentence.
Clearly, this was a man that deserved to be honored, and everyone knew it—and did it.
Art Rooney, Sr. was revered as a kind soul, the type of person that would be of value in the life of any other human being. He carried himself with grace, looked out for the people around him, and gave each player the gift of his humanity, even with gestures as simple as thanking each of them for their efforts after each game—even during the losing years.
According to former players, that's just who "The Chief" was: someone who cared.
S Is for Steel Curtain
Image courtesy of sodahead.com
Will the real “Steel Curtain” please stand up?
While many argue that the entire defensive dynasty from the 1970s served as a “steel curtain,” draping over opponents and enveloping them in their sheer dominance, the phrase Steel Curtain in actuality refers to the defensive front exclusively.
L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White, Ernie Holmes and Joe Greene were a potent mesh of mettle, more often than not a battering ram against quarterbacks and brick wall for running backs.
From “Mean Joe” revolutionizing the position with his angular stance- and his personality with a bottle of Coke and game worn jersey—to L.C.’s bright yellow shoes, the unit was one of the most memorable in NFL history, and they are often the first image that comes to mind when one reflects on the great Steelers dynasty.
The nickname was befitting the unit, though the usage of the term didn’t occur organically. Local radio station WTAE held a contest in which fans could send in recommendations for a new moniker that best described the terrorizing front. Inspired by “Iron Curtain,” a phrase popularized by Winston Churchill, ninth grader Gregory Koonz was one of many to recommend the name. He is credited for the creation after winning a drawing that included everyone who submitted the nickname.
T Is for Terrible Towel
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Today, the Terrible Towel is a staple symbol of Steelers football, connected as closely to the franchise as its own Black and Gold colors.
Yet, the brain child of Myron Cope was welcomed with a lukewarm reception when it was unveiled in 1975. With the first wave of towels set to appear at Three Rivers Stadium prior to a key divisional playoff battle against the Baltimore Colts, many wondered if the gadget would turn out to jinx the team. Cope began marketing with a catchphrase, stating, “The Terrible Towel is poised to strike!”
Many wondered…what if it is poised to strike US?
Jack Ham was candid in his discrediting on the concept, telling Cope, “I think your idea stinks.”
Another player opposed to all of the towel torquing was Andy Russell, but the sentiment soon changed whenever Russell gave fans one of the greatest plays in the city’s sports history with a 93-yard touchdown return to put away the Colts. The return length remains a Steelers record.
To Cope’s delight, fans waved bright yellow towels in the tens of thousands on that fateful playoff afternoon, and it was the start of a wonderful tradition, rife with superstition and success.
Lisa Benz, a Steelers fan with an apparent artistic flair, wrote a gleeful response about Russell’s return and the “power” of the towel to Cope, which read:
"He ran ninety-three like a bat out of hell, and no one could see how he rambled so well.
'It was easy,' said Andy, and he flashed a crooked smile, 'I was snapped on the fanny
By the Terrible Towel!'"
Today, nearly every fan owns a Terrible Towel, complete with the classic design and lettering Cope initially envisioned those many years ago. Few traditions stand the test of time so well and without sabbatical. The towel has appeared in many locations, including outer space.
Its mystical powers continue to prove Cope as an omnipresent being, cursing all those who disrespect it.
Those who question the grip of the golden garments need only ask LenDale White and Keith Bullock about the ramifications. Nearing the end of a late season win over the 2008 Steelers, in which the Titans secured home field advantage in the AFC playoffs, the players decided to send a message to Pittsburgh through its most iconic symbol of power by stomping the towel into the ground.
Thereafter, the Titans lost their opening playoff game at home. They subsequently lost eight straight games dating into 2009 before both players decided to apologize publicly for their actions. After the duo stated their regrets, the Titans won five in a row, but the franchise still hasn’t returned to the postseason since the romp.
Others that have allegedly been negatively impacted by the towel’s wrath include Earnest Byner, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Derrick Mason and a slew of other players.
And, naturally, silly mascots.
More than just a rally towel and cheering device, proceeds from the sales go to the Allegheny Valley School Pennsylvania, which assists in the education of those with mental and physical disabilities.
U Is for Upsets
A close friend from Colorado once said to me, "Josh, the interesting thing about Steelers fans, unlike any other fans in football, is this strange notion in spite of all odds that you believe you will win with 100 percent certainty."
"It kills me that you honestly think that you will all never lose another game again."
Frankly, the thoughts of fanatics is a terrible place to judge logic with objectivity.
Personally, I think that "objective" folks often confuse the hope of fanatics—unwavering optimism even in the face of realism—with an illogical superiority complex.
What true fan doesn't go into a game expecting—or at least strongly desiring—to win?
Indeed, it is the hope of the fanatic that somehow, some way, the Black and Gold will never again suffer defeat again. Excuse them if their intense determination is confused for irrationality. When has fanaticism ever been rational?
Aside from playoff games, upsets are the most intense results, and that emotion increases exponentially when that upset occurs in the postseason. After all, the thrill of victory against all odds is further validation of their unwavering sense that the team will find a way to win. And, naturally, if probability goes against the favored Steelers, the melancholy alpha-fan will slump into a sobering hibernation for weeks.
The highs are higher and the lows are lower for the "crazed fanatics" when upsets occur.
When the Steelers defeated the Raiders in the 1974-75 AFC Championship game, the euphoria for Steeler Nation was unparalleled to that point in team history.
Can you remember the extreme exaltation unleashed by Pittsburgh fans when they upset the heavily-favored Colts, 21-18, in the all-too-tense and dramatic 2005-06 Divisional Playoffs?
On the other side of the coin, the agony of defeat is hard enough, but it carries a greater burden on the hearts of the fan whenever the contest seems so winnable.
For instance, the loss to the Chargers in January 1995 ended with an eerie silence about Three Rivers Stadium, an ominous hush that I may never hear again in the Steel City. Ahead 13-3 over the seemingly outmatched and, to that point, outplayed Bolts, Stan Humphries threw two touchdown bombs late in the second half, rallying San Diego to a 17-13 win. Pittsburgh fell three yards short of a comeback and their first Super Bowl in 15 seasons.
Additionally, what Steelers fan didn't cringe when Kris Brown's kick was blocked in the 2001-2002 AFC Championship? Even though it was a matter of special teams execution, it felt like a fluke play that cost Pittsburgh against a seemingly inferior opponent.
Upsets are the ultimate sources of celebration and deflation, depending on the result, and they have a huge impact on the history and success of every NFL organization.
V Is for Venues
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Since the merger of 1970, the Pittsburgh Steelers have called two venues home: Three Rivers Stadium and Heinz Field.
The former was the home that ushered the Black and Gold out of their droll first four decades of existence, so it earns a special place later in the presentation.
In 2001, they moved to their current home, Heinz Field. Just as Three Rivers ushered in the first championship era of Steelers football, Heinz Field has coincided with the second such decade in team history.
Already, Heinz Field has hosted 10 playoff games, and the Black and Gold boast a 7-3 record in those affairs, despite two heartbreaking championship defeats to New England early on.
In 11 seasons at the "Big Ketchup Bottle," the Steelers have won two AFC Championships in the Steel City en route to a split of two Super Bowls.
While the open end of the stadium does not allow noise to be retained in the venue, unlike the boisterously loud Three Rivers, it does add to the wonderful aesthetic look of the arena. A skyline of downtown Pittsburgh, as seen from the stands along Mt. Washington, is one of the most breathtaking views in the NFL—though it's even more remarkable inside of PNC Park, the most gorgeous venue in all of sports that nobody knows about.
Though many fans miss the tradition and ruggedness of the old venue, Heinz Field provides a far better viewing experience than its predecessor, and features a list of amenities, including The Great Hall, for fans to enjoy on game days.
W Is for Wideouts
It's safe to say that no receiver going forward will ever be the same as Hines Ward, and one could argue that no wideout will ever come close to creating the emotional bond and DNA-level connection No. 86 did with Steelers fans.
Yet, if a future receiver were to want to attempt to duplicate Hines' relationship with the Steel City, what would he have to do to come close?
First, he would make the unpopular decision for that position to be a receiver that delivers bone-crushing, sometimes literally, blocks.
And, atop this, he would have to make the modern day Ed Reed cry.
Additionally, he would need to display a hybrid of unique talents that make his play a huge commodity, grappling for that extra few yards all while making sensational catches on throws that nobody has any business grabbing.
At the feet? Catch it.
Slightly behind your head? Catch it.
Just beyond your grasp but grazing the edge of your extended pinky finger? Catch it.
Well, okay, that last part could be exaggerated a wee bit.
Then, if you can do all of that, all that is left is setting the team record for receptions, earning 1,000 catches, putting on a Super Bowl MVP performance, grooming a new wave of young talent that will carry the team beyond your tenure and leaving an organization with the utmost of class and graciousness.
After one accomplishes all of those things, then, and only then, they could possibly come close to embodying the stature and heart of a Hines Ward in a way that makes them even nearly as beloved as Ward became in the city that embraced him.
Ward was the ultimate Steelers guy.
If Ward was a Steelers guy, Lynn Swann—at first glance—would not have been labeled as such. After all, from ballet classes to an alleged softness by some of the NFL's nastiest defenders (George Atkinson, anyone?), Swann didn't seem to carry the obvious attributes that endear one's self to blue collar football fans.
However, by all accounts of his teammates, Swann was a prize fighter, willing to stick his nose into the mix—including over the dangerous middle of the field—to make the key catch.
In the ultimate display of toughness, Swann played in Super Bowl X after many, including Dallas players who made their thoughts public, wondered if he would be able to participate.
Making four of the finest catches in Super Bowl history, Swann won MVP honors. It wouldn't be the last time he would torture the Cowboys on Super Sunday, as the Steelers beat Dallas again three years later in Super Bowl XIII.
Swann's fourth quarter touchdown, the final score of the game for Pittsburgh, proved to be the winning points.
John Stallworth was equally huge in Super Bowls. His two deep receptions in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XIV, including a touchdown bomb, were the main catalysts that completed the Steelers dynasty with four Lombardi Trophies.
While Swann is regarded by many as the more talented of the two receivers, it was Stallworth whose contributions were more voluminous, finishing his career with 537 receptions for 8,723 yards and 63 touchdowns.
Few would argue that the list above represents the "big three" of Pittsburgh receivers, but a few other fantastic faces are hidden in that wideout crowd.
Louie Lipps simply came to the Steel City a decade too late, a surefire talent whose skills were every bit on par with the best pass catchers in team history. Lipps was mentored by Stallworth when he arrived in Pittsburgh in 1984.
Many have forgotten his unique special teams skills, setting the NFL record for punt return yards in a season during his rookie campaign with 656 yards. He also contributed that season in the air with over 800 yards and nine touchdowns.
After getting to the century mark in receiving yards and scoring a dozen touchdowns in 1985, injuries hindered his progress from 1986-87.
Undaunted, he came back with a vengeance in 1988 before leading the team in receptions, yards, and touchdown in 1989, his second year as team MVP.
In 1995, the next noteworthy Steelers receiving performance came from Yancy Thigpen, who set a team record that stands today with 1,398 receiving yards in 1997.
Now, with Hines Ward officially retired, who will be the next legendary receiver to make a career full of big plays for the Black and Gold? Can the team resign Mike Wallace to the long-term deal he desires? Will Antonio Brown prove to be the long-term version of Santonio Holmes, making clutch catches and huge special teams plays?
X Is For...Super Bowls?
So, why is "X" for Super Bowls?
Simple. Roman numerals.
Every Super Bowl since the ninth installment has had a common roman letter designating its volume: "X", which is a base of 10.
The Steelers have won six Super Bowls: IX, X, XI, XII, XL, and XLIII. They have lost XXX and XLV. Basically, the team has been fine so long as the Super Sunday doesn't include multiple "Xs" or an "LV." Hopefully, the future changes those two coincidences.
To earn a berth in their first Super Bowl, the "Men of Steel" had to fly west.
After John Madden proclaimed a duel with the Dolphins as "Super Bowl Eight and a Half", the 1974 Steelers took out Oakland before an expectant crowd at the Coliseum. Instead of the anticipated coronation that AFC Championship celebration, the Raiders' fans watched on with painful eyes as Pittsburgh outscored the Silver and Black 21-3 in the fourth quarter.
The Lamar Hunt Trophy was fine, but it would be nothing without that silver Lombardi, and the team secured its first over the Vikings at cold, windy Tulane Stadium.
While Super Bowl IX saw miserable weather in New Orleans, the gorgeous Miami Orange Bowl hosted the 10th installment of the event. The Steelers defended their championship with pride, defeating the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 in a resentment fueled affair.
After surrendering only 28 points in their final nine games, including five shutouts, in 1976, the Black and Gold rebounded from a 1-4 start to finish 10-4.
Nevertheless, the team lost star running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier in the Divisional Playoffs, and a loss to the hated Raiders was a bitter ending for a Pittsburgh squad many argue was the best ever.
Unfinished with their decade of dominance, the Steelers adjusted to a changing game and new rules made to facilitate NFL offenses. In the late 70s, the defense still held stout, ranking among the league's best. Moreover, the offense was even better, catapulted among the league leaders due to the rules changes.
Back-to-back home AFC Championship wins over the Houston Oilers set up the path for two more Super Bowl victories, over Dallas and the Los Angeles Rams.
The cry became "One for the Thumb," a pursuit for a fifth Super Bowl win that unexpectedly lasted 26 years. Making the fifth championship the most painful to acquire was the number of close calls and emphatic gut checks Steelers fans endured en route to it.
After seeing the former dynasty erode in the early 80s, the Steelers went through a stretch of losing or mediocre seasons before the acquisition of Bill Cowher.
With "Cowher Power" as the fuel, the team became an instantly revitalized championship contender for a new age of football, but coming close just made the failed pursuit for five more painful.
Three yards short.
Elway hitting sprint option right. Twice. In the final two minutes of the first half.
Brown's blocked kick.
Nedney's Oscar-worthy performance.
Being blown out by Brady.
At long last, after years of heartbreaking disappointments, the Steelers became the first sixth seed to win a Super Bowl, defeating all three top seeds in the AFC before winning over the NFC's top-ranked team, Seattle. The 21-10 win over the Seahawks allowed Bill Cowher to finally hand the Lombardi Trophy to Dan Rooney.
Mike Tomlin will not have to endure the same stress.
In only his second season, he led the Black n' Yellow to a record sixth Super Bowl title, a dramatic last-second victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
Y Is for You
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Fittingly, "Y" is for you, the fan.
The Steelers have sold out every game since 1972, playing before a dedicated and loyal fan base that is one of the most passionate in all of sports.
Athletes who play in the Steel City describe it as a unique experience, and the most credited factor is the relationship between the team that its fans.
Wildly whipping their Terrible Towels, standing tall against the adversity of freezing temperatures and January winds off the three rivers, eating a Primanti Brothers sandwich and guzzling the popular beverage Kool-Aid, Steelers fans are a unique breed.
Other fans can argue that they stand on equal footing with the Steelers fan, but nobody can claim one ounce of superiority over those who bleed black and gold.
Steelers home games are a showcase of how a home crowd should look, with practically every member of the crowd wearing an actual jersey.
Likewise, those same uniforms can be spotted in large clusters throughout other NFL venues, as Steelers Country spreads through opposing NFL cities like no other "nation" of fans in sports.
From Pittsburgh to Next-burgh, Steelers fans are always ready for the next game, their allegiance never wavering and their endless pursuit of the next Super Bowl ring never losing momentum.
So, once again, "Y" is for you, the Steelers fan, a member of the greatest fan base in the National Football League and all of sports.
Z Is For...Three Rivers Stadium?
"Josh, Josh, c'mon, man. This just makes no sense."
Or, does it?
Here's the reality. Words that start with "Z" include zebra and...zap? Frankly, even the more desperate letter "X" has stolen from the "Z" sound, as evidenced by xylophone and a number of medications that are more difficult to spell than any word should be.
I can already predict one rebuttal.
"Josh, Josh, c'mon man. Zone blitz? See? Duh!"
To which I say, see: "B" is for Blitz. I may be a cheater, but I'm not a broken record.
And, just like I cheated on the letter "X" by using the roman numerals excuse, I'm going to cheat on "Z" as well.
Here is my personal guarantee to you: I promise that working together we will all get through this.
A lowercase cursive "Z" looks like the number three in its numeral form. In fact, some type fonts also have a form of the letter that resembles the numeral.
So, since we translated "Z" to three, the list ends with Three Rivers Stadium, which could technically have fallen under venue.
But, here's the reality of that hallowed field: it deserves its own placement. With it (and, you know, a few dynamic drafts, legendary coaching, and fine athletes), the Steelers went from lovable losers (who, truth be told, were not that lovable as a very physical and imposing group of winless warriors) to an envied empire.
Three Rivers was labeled as a "bowl stadium" and often criticized aesthetically for its cookie cutter design.
However, the Steelers and the fans could not have cared less.
Their new circular castle was appropriately labeled "Blast Furnace" in the 70s. A new state-of-the-art arena coupled with a sudden rise from utter infancy to complete dominance made for the perfect storm, and the relentless Steelers were sublime at home.
The team enjoyed a 69-13 home record in the decade, including a marvelous 8-1 playoff record. One week after the venue's first playoff affair, won on the "Immaculate Reception,"
Pittsburgh suffered its only home postseason loss in the 70s, 21-17 to the undefeated 1972 Dolphins in the AFC Championship game. At the time, home field was determined based on division on a rotating basis.
The site saw the Steelers win four Lamar Hunt Trophies en route to three Super Bowl wins and one loss.
If any team can give credence to the difficulty of winning on Three Rivers turf, it was the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers' arch rivals started off 0-16 at their "House of Horrors," a couple of those losses being particularly painful, before finally winning a close game in 1986.
The noise reverberated nicely as the steep seating created a sense of vertigo when looking up from the field, and the lower stands would actually shake when the excitement developing inside the venue reached a fever pitch.
In 31 seasons at Three Rivers Stadium, the Steelers posted a record of 182–72, including a 13-5 playoff record.