Fast forward a few years into the future...say 2015. The Steelers have won two or, dare we dream, three more Super Bowls with the core of its current team.
What players off this team would be talked about for the Hall of Fame? Considering about half of the starters off the 1970s team eventually heard their names called, it is fun to speculate on how this team will be treated by history.
While this may seem an odd subject for an article, you can't tell me that most Steelers fans watching this year's Super Bowl weren't at least entertaining this question, especially when watching Santonio Holmes ran uncovered all over the field, Harrison rumble up the sideline on what was likely the most dramatic play in Steelers' history, Roethlisberger put on a cape and will the Steelers down the field in the final two minutes, and Ward broke free for the game's first big play.
There are already a handful of players who appear to be well on their way to Canton.
One more Super Bowl victory would guarantee Big Ben a spot in the Hall of Fame. Only now is Roethlisberger truly being valued outside of Pittsburgh for the greatness that many of us Steelers' fans knew from the first season.
The prevailing belief that Roethlisberger was along for the ride during the Steelers' 15-1 regular season his rookie year was always a myth. He was a gamer from the first time he stepped on the field against a vicious Ravens' defense late in the game when Maddox went down.
Lots of sports writers have commented that Super Bowl XL was won in spite of Roethlisberger. While that was far from one of his better games, he was still a key contributor. He converted a 3rd and 28 that led to a touchdown, made several key conversions with his arm and legs, and threw the key block on Randle El's touchdown pass. Plus, that game came after he torched the heavily favored Colts, a team many sportswriters thought could sleepwalk to their first Lombardi Trophy. That was the game in which he made the saving tackle following Bettis' uncharacteristic fumble...an amazing play that has already been forgotten by most of the sports world who, in lemming fashion, insist he was just along for the ride.
He followed that game up by embarrassing another favored team, the Broncos, in the AFC Championship game, making Champ Bailey look foolish on one of the early touchdown throws. Along for the ride? I don't think so.
Roethlisberger is the best clutch quarterback in the game and one of the fiercest competitors to ever wear the black and gold.
The last drive of the Super Bowl was incredible; one that Steelers fans will never forget. But it was the type of drive that Roethlisberger engineered repeatedly during the season.
He will one day be in Canton.
No player epitomizes Steelers football more than Hines Ward.
Honestly, I'm not sure any player in history better epitomizes Steelers football than Ward. He is tough, plays his heart out on every play, and inspires everyone around him to be better.
His blocking is so feared that defensive players spend much of the game trying to figure out where they are at so they don't end up on a Sportscenter clip being leveled by Ward. He is the player that fans of other teams love to hate even as they secretly wish he was on their roster (kind of like Ray Lewis in his prime).
For high entertainment value, check out a Baltimore Ravens fan message board before a Steelers game and see how many Ravens' fans are obsessing about Ward. I think he should be a lock now, but he might not be due to his numbers significantly trailing some of his contemporaries like Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens.
But would anyone in their right mind take Owens over Ward?
One more Super Bowl would guarantee Ward a place in the Hall, even though I think his body of work has already earned him a place there.
Unfortunately, it's likely Ward only has a few more years left since Father Time is knocking at the door. But, if he isn't in the Hall some day, it will be a grave injustice.
Polamalu is a beast. He's a high energy player who makes plays all over the field. He is one of those rare defenders who is so good that offenses have to build their entire game plan around him.
With two Super Bowl rings and a couple highlight reel plays in the playoffs, Polamalu is well on his way to the Hall.
His interception return against Baltimore in the AFC Championship game has to be a top-five Steelers' defensive play, although it did drop one slot after the Harrison Super Bowl return.
He also made an incredible interception against the Colts that would have essentially ended the game during their 2005 Super Bowl run that was overturned in one of the worst officiating blunders in history.
That call should have forever dispelled all of the conspiracy theorists who like to argue that the refs are in the tank for the Steelers. It doesn't hurt that he is such a high character player, a true role model.
Polamalu's greatness was recognized by the decision to put him on the cover of Madden 2010, a rare feat for a defender. Let's just hope that honor doesn't derail his incredible career.
He has a ways to go before being considered Hall worthy, but it is certainly not out of the question that he will get there. With his intensity, he reminds me of former Steelers' great Greg Lloyd.
I remember watching him pace the sidelines before games with an almost maniacal look in his eyes. Harrison has that same crazy axe murderer look about him when he stares across the line of scrimmage leaving fans to wonder if he is foaming at the mouth beneath his helmet.
He is virtually unblockable off the edge and is held on almost every down, although it is almost never called. It is almost as if the refs don't think it is fair for a tackle to try to block him one on one so they are willing to cut them some slack.
Making the top defensive play in Super Bowl history doesn't hurt his cause, a play that will be replayed over and over again for the rest of time.
I was screaming so loud watching him rumbling down the sideline that my voice was gone for the second half. Oh well...it was worth it. He easily could have been named the MVP of the game.
In addition to the play that deserves its own name (and probably will get one), he pressured Warner all day and forced a few key holding calls that were as good as sacks since they ended drives.
I don't think he'll ever put up the numbers he did this year again since offenses are more aware of his ability and are keying on slowing him down.
Still, a couple more great seasons and another Super Bowl ring would certainly move him into the discussion, probably pushing him over the top.
Not bad for an undrafted player out of Kent State who once struggled to stay on an NFL roster and first had to earn his stripes as a special teams standout, his role in Super Bowl XL.
Like all of Steelers Nation, I'm starting to get a great feeling about Woodley. I had no idea what the Steelers were thinking a couple years back when they drafted Timmons and Woodley in the first two rounds. I was stunned.
Why draft linebackers back to back when you already have a great linebacker core while the offensive line was already showing signs of collapsing? Maybe draft one...but two? Me of little faith.
I no longer question that draft. Woodley gives the Steelers a second rusher who is almost impossible to corral, even as Timmons shows flashes of greatness. In this year's playoff run, Woodley recorded six sacks—a pair for each game.
If he stays on his current pace and improves slightly over the next couple years, which seems likely, Woodley will put up monster numbers.
He is the biggest beneficiary of Harrison's greatness since that frees him up on the other side.
Watching him torment offensive lines in the playoffs, I expect we'll see a lot more Woodley jerseys in Pittsburgh in a few years.
The only thing going against Woodley is the tendency for the Steelers to let their great outside linebackers go when it comes time to pony up big money since they've done such a great job over the years in finding superb replacements.
With Harrison and Woodley on the outside, and if Timmons is as good of a rusher as he looked this year in the middle, I almost feel sorry for offensive coordinators next year....almost being the key word.
While Holmes does not have the body of work to even be mentioned in a Hall of Fame discussion at this point in his career, I've got a hunch that may change soon.
Under the assumption that the Steelers win two more Super Bowls with him as the No. 1 receiver, he would almost certainly be a big part of it.
And with Big Ben driving the train, I think they will win at least one more and probably two more. During this year's playoff run, Holmes showed incredible potential.
He returned a punt and made a few amazing plays. And, more importantly, he earned his quarterback's trust and that will carry over.
The Steelers have a way of mentoring their own and Ward may be passing the torch to Holmes. Peter King dismissed the current Steelers wide receivers as being far inferior to the Swann-Stallworth tandem of the 70s.
I'm not so sure. Both of those former players are legends, but are they really heads and shoulders above Ward and Holmes?
While Ward is moving past his prime, I'm not sure a Ward-Holmes in their prime (Ward in the past, Holmes in the future) don't at least come close to breaking even with Swann and Stallworth, if not surpassing them.
One of the big questions for the Steelers going forward is, "Who will emerge as the No. 2 wide receiver to eventually replace Hines Ward?"
When it comes to the Hall of Fame, I don't think any position benefits as much from a great team who wins Super Bowls as wide receiver. Holmes could be a beneficiary.
If I was asked to pick one most valuable person from the two Steelers' Super Bowl runs this decade, it would not be a hard choice. While some fans might go with Ben Roethlisberger or Troy Polamalu, both worthy choices, my vote would go to Dick LeBeau.
I do no think the Steelers would have won either of their Super Bowl rings without Dick LeBeau running the defense. LeBeau is a defensive genius who reminds me of a conductor of a symphony, except his artistry is not leading talented musicians to play beautiful music.
Instead, his genius is taking great football players and using them to wreck havoc and cause confusion in opposing offenses.
Certain types might prefer the symphony but Steelers’ fans are a less cultured sort who prefer the sort of masterpieces LeBeau is more apt to produce.
LeBeau is a defensive genius who changed the way defense is played. And that genius reached a crescendo during the Super Bowl when a confused Kurt Warner threw a perfect strike to a linebacker he thought was blitzing, even as he dropped into the throwing lane, producing arguably the greatest play and momentum swing in Super Bowl history.
It is no accident that LeBeau was the defensive coordinator in two of the best Super Bowls ever played, this year’s game and Super Bowl XX between the 49ers and the Bengals.
LeBeau is well on his way to Canton for his incredible career both as a coordinator and a player.
Aaron Smith - Aaron Smith is a spectacular 3-4 defensive end, the best in the game, and should have gone to the Pro Bowl this year. He was the biggest snub off this year's Steelers team.
He is incredible against the run and pushes the pocket on passing downs which clears space for the linebackers to get their sacks if not chasing the quarterback into the welcoming arms of those same linebackers.
If there was a vote for most undervalued member of the Steelers by sportswriters, I think Smith would win it. But, based on the way his teammates reacted to his Pro Bowl snub, they understand what he means to the Steelers' all-world defense.
Casey Hampton - Hampton is simply unmovable in the center of the Steelers defensive line, a freakish force of nature.
Unfortunately for him, defensive linemen are measured by sacks and a 3-4 nose tackle isn't going to build his fame in that way.
But, if you want to know why nobody can run against the Steelers and some teams don't even try, start with Hampton and Smith and their modern version of the steel curtain.
The Ravens' Haloti Nagata seems to be getting more glowing press coverage than Hampton these days but I'll take our big guy any Sunday.
Ike Taylor - Taylor might be the most underrated cornerback in the league. All he does is shut down the other team's top receiver week after week. Randy Moss? Terrell Owens? Chad Johnson? Larry Fitzgerald (OK...maybe not quite as successfully)?
Taylor has lined up across from them week after week and more than held his own. It is the Steelers' confidence in Taylor that allows them to be more aggressive with their safeties and linebackers.
In Taylor's case, he doesn't get the recognition he deserves because his hands are made out of steel. If his hands don't improve dramatically, he will never receive the recognition he deserves.
But that doesn't mean he isn't an elite NFL cornerback. While he is already a legend in his own mind, that isn't necessarily a bad thing in a cornerback.
Heath Miller - Miller is an outstanding tight end. He can block and can catch. But, unless the Steelers become a much more pass-oriented offense, which is certainly a possibility given their challenges running the ball this past year, Miller will not have the numbers to ever enter the Hall discussion, not when some of his contemporaries, like Gonzalez and Gates, are putting up such monster numbers.
Like other players on the team, I wouldn't even consider trading him for those guys but at the end of the day, it is usually a numbers game.
Miller has more than validated the first round pick the Steelers spent on him and is one of the best tight ends they've ever had, but it is hard to imagine a scenario where he has a Hall of Fame career.
Still, he does have the honor of being recognized as one of the few clear cut upgrades from the 70s squads. Miller or Bennie Cunningham? I'm going with Miller.
James Farrior - He is a tackling machine and an outstanding leader. But, the Steelers defensive alignment is not really conducive to inside linebackers putting up the absurd kind of numbers Hall of Fame voters look for.
Farrior is one of those guys, though, that plays his heart out every week and seems to truly love the game. His discipline and reliability free up Lebeau to wreck havoc with the outside linebackers.