Steelers Historical Strong Defense: White, Green, Holmes, Greenwood

Honor Warren Wells TheTorch@dbintayaelSenior Writer IINovember 29, 2009

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 29:  Willie Parker #39 of the Pittsburgh Steelers makes a touchdown reception against Michael Huff #24 of the Oakland Raiders during an NFL game at McAfee Coliseum October 29, 2006 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Robert Laberge/Getty Images

During the same years the Pittsburgh Steelers were building "The Steel Curtain," America was building a defense for dropouts and push-outs in urban schools.

Those years saw the high school dropout rate for African-American males climb to an alarming high. There was a crisis because of a lack of presence of role models. Organizations like the National Urban League got involved in education, mainly to help reduce the dropout rate in urban communities.

Defenses needed to be built in American education. Young men needed to be herded off the streets and back into the classrooms. The legislation that would fund the dropout prevention programs, which was America's defense for an emerging problem, was called the Emergency School Aid Act (ESAA).

As the project director of a Houston Area Urban League ESAA project, I was told to hire four strong men who could help find the dropouts and encourage them to return to high school, and to identify those who were potential dropouts.

I found four good men to implement the project. One of them, I distinctly remember, was a relative of Dwight White, a defensive player with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The name of Dwight White's relative was Bob White, and he had been a probation officer. He was perfectly suited for the job.

The other man I hired was an ex-U. S. Marine who wanted to help young people.

Mr. White constantly talked about his relative Dwight. I was curious and Mr. White would share with us, the experiences of Dwight White, "Mean" Joe Greene, Ernie Holmes and L. C. Greenwood.

Each NFL player stands out in my mind for a different reason.

Dwight White stood out because he was the relative to a man who worked as a counselor in the program I directed.

"Mean" Joe Greene stood out because of his performance on the football field and his name.

Ernie Holmes stood out because he attended Texas Southern University, and he was known for his intensity on the playing field. His name stands out in my mind even more now because he fathered one of the promising young mathematicians in the United States, Dr. Rod Holmes.

There were really four outstanding defense players with the Pittsburgh Steelers at that time. I made no connection with the fourth player.

Here is what an interesting chapter in history looks like in 2009. Ernie Holmes who passed away, at 59 years old, in a car accident somewhere between Houston, Texas and Beaumont, Texas is the father of a young mathematician who has made history.

I work with Ernie Holmes' son.

Dr. Rod Holmes, the second African-American man to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Houston, must have put up a powerful defense to negotiate his way to the end of a historical accomplishment.

He was mentored by Dr. Willie Taylor, the first African-American man to receive his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Houston.

Is it possible that the wisdom of his father, the great defensive player with "The Steel Curtain" rubbed off on the son, Dr. Rob Holmes?

The determination, persistence, and passion you need for football is also needed in intellectual endeavors. Perhaps the powerful attributes of the father were passed on to the son, giving him the coping skills to wedge forth and get a Ph.D. in one of the most challenging areas in mathematics, functional analysis? I think so.

Does the tradition of building and having a powerful defensive team continue in the current Pittsburgh Steelers team?  Probably so.

Traces of genius stood out in the career of Ernie Holmes. In one quote we see:

"Holmes, drafted out of Texas Southern, was part of a defense that held Minnesota to 17 yards rushing and 119 total yards in the 1975 Super Bowl. The Steelers won their first title, 16-10. They were back a year later, beating Dallas 21-17 for the championship.

"The 1976 Steelers defense was one of the best in NFL history, shutting out five opponents -- three in a row -- during a nine-game, season-ending winning streak. The Steelers allowed only 28 points during those nine games, an average of slightly more than a field goal per game.

"He was devastating and would just destroy the opponent across from him," Russell said. "Sometimes I had to remind him to tackle the guy with the pigskin. He was a brilliant player. He played all with his heart."

"He used his head, too. Besides "Fats," he was also known as "Arrowhead" because in 1974 he shaved his head, leaving only an arrow-shaped pattern of hair on his skull.

"I asked him, 'What the hell did you do that for?'" longtime Steelers director of communications Joe Gordon said. "We were getting ready to play the Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium. He said, 'That's to point me to the quarterback.'"

What stands out is the comment "He used his head" and "he was a brilliant player."

So, the four men who often bragged about the brilliance of L. C. Greenwood, Joe Green, Dwight White and Ernie Holmes were good role models. Perhaps they saw the merit and power of a good defense.

And, the four men who took part in "The Steel Curtain" set a model in place for those times by being one of the best NFL defense squads in NFL history.

Out of that pool of talent was birthed one of America's promising mathematicians. It looks like Dr. Rod Holmes inherited the brilliance and heart of his father. It is no small feat to be one of the few African-American men to get a Ph.D. in functional analysis.

Brilliance can be in the genes, however, it may manifest itself in different ways. Ernie Holmes showed his on the playing field while his son shows his in intellectual pursuits.

Now there is a story telling about what Ernie Holmes did, and how he approached Gene Upshaw of the Oakland Raiders. Holmes forewarned Upshaw that the Steelers defense was, let's say, stronger and more fierce than the Raiders.

Well, a game is coming up on Dec. 6. Is there a "Ernie Holmes" making his way to a "Gene Upshaw"? Is the Oakland Raiders team being forewarned about the tactics and strength of the Pittsburgh Steelers?

A historical encounter is captured in this quote:

"To motivate his teammates, Holmes purposefully strayed into the Raiders' warm ups to tell star lineman Gene Upshaw before the January 1976 AFC Championship Game what the Steelers would do to him and Oakland.

"The Steelers went on to win 24-13. But at a team Christmas party, Holmes surprised everyone by dressing up like Santa Claus and handing out toys."

It's 33 years later. In 2009 is there a Steelers defensive player who will "stray into the Raiders' warm ups" and tell the Raiders' star lineman what the Steelers will do to him and Oakland on December 6?

I conclude by saying that out of the personal heritage of Ernie Holmes has come an outstanding young mathematician, Rod Holmes.

More broadly, then, we can say that out of the franchise heritage of both the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Oakland Raiders should come forth with a "Ernie Holmes" and a "Gene Upshaw."

Who will win the game on Dec. 6, 2009? I will leave it up to you, the readers, to give predictions.


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