Hines Ward will punch his ticket to the Hall of Fame if the Steelers win this year's Super Bowl.
If the Steelers complete their wild ride and win this year's Super Bowl, it will mean a lot more than the franchise's seventh Lombardi trophy.
It will also mean this team is officially a dynasty, comparable even to the fabled 70s Steelers who won four Super Bowls.
And, it will also mean that at least three, and probably four, Steelers have punched their ticket to the Hall of Fame.
In today’s era, any team that records three Super Bowl wins in a decade time span is a dynasty. The Cowboys did it in the 90s. The Patriots did it early in the last decade. The Steelers are poised to join them this year.
Once a team is a dynasty, players become much more appealing to Hall of Fame voters.
The four Super Bowl wins in the 70s pushed a lot of Steelers into the Hall of Fame who would not have made it had they played for a lesser team. Players like John Stallworth and Lynn Swann come to mind.
The Hall of Fame is loaded with busts of those 70s Steelers while the only slightly inferior Cowboys of that period got far fewer invitations to football’s shrine of immortality.
How many Steelers off this year's team will be locks for the Hall of Fame with a Super Bowl win?
Roethlisberger and Polamalu are arguably well on their way to Canton already. Ward and Harrison, as borderline candidates due to the fact so many Hall of Fame voters are statistics-focused, would benefit significantly from one more ring.
One more Super Bowl victory would guarantee Roethlisberger a spot in the Hall of Fame. Only now is Roethlisberger truly being valued outside of Pittsburgh for the greatness that has been on full display since his rookie season.
The Steelers fortunes changed the day he took over under center, and the team has not looked back even for a second. The prevailing belief Roethlisberger was along for the ride during the Steelers' 15-1 regular season his rookie year and during their first Super Bowl run the following season was always a myth.
Only one quarterback who has won two Super Bowls, Jim Plunkett, is not in the Hall of Fame. No quarterback who has won, or even played in, three Super Bowls is not in Canton. If the Steelers win this year’s big game, the discussion on Roethlisberger’s Canton credentials is over.
Like Roethlisberger, Polamalu would lock in his Hall of Fame reservation with one more title. He is the most exciting defender in the NFL, a high energy player who makes plays all over the field. He is one of those rare defenders so good offenses build their entire game plan around him.
With two Super Bowl rings and a few highlight reel plays in the playoffs, Polamalu is well on his way to the Hall. But, a third Super Bowl win would seal the deal in the event his career were to be cut short at some point down the line.
Nobody wants that third ring more than Hines Ward, the ultimate Steeler who has epitomized Steelers football for his entire career.
While he is in the downward slope of his career, playing a strong second fiddle behind young sensation Mike Wallace, he is still tough, plays his heart out on every play, and inspires everyone around him to be better. Ward may be the best blocking wide receiver in the history of the NFL, and he remains the heart and soul of the team.
Ward should already be a lock but would probably miss out on the Hall of Fame due to his numbers significantly trailing some of his contemporaries, like Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens, due to the Steelers run-first offenses.
But would anyone in their right mind take Owens over Ward? Ward makes his team better while Owens makes his team a dysfunctional mess.
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. And he is playing like he realizes it, recognizing the window of opportunity is rapidly closing in on him with Father Time knocking on the door.
Mike Tomlin may jokingly call him “old man” after the games, but Ward still plays with the same fiery intensity he has shown from day one.
Like Ward, James Harrison needs one more ring to punch his ticket. He was a special teams ace on the 2005 Super Bowl team and the dominant defender on the 2009 Super Bowl team. He has an NFL defensive player of the year award to his credit and played to that same level this year, even as he became the poster boy for the NFL’s crackdown on tackling.
What will hurt Harrison is his career started late, which means his stats, like Ward’s, will trail some of his contemporaries. But, a third ring would nullify that problem.
And all that bad publicity Harrison is getting this year? It will probably help him after his career is over and will actually build his image in voters’ eyes.
Harrison 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. And he is a complete player who is equally devastating against the pass and run.
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. He was arguably the best defender this past week during the divisional round of the playoffs.
There are a number of other veteran Steelers whose legacy would also benefit from another title, although they likely would fall short of Hall of Fame consideration unless they cashed in a couple more times. Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton fall into this category, assuming Smith returns for the Super Bowl.
Being a Steeler sometimes means getting less credit than you are due because of the role you play. Smith, Hampton and Heath Miller are all near the top of their position, but they rarely receive the accolades they deserve outside Pittsburgh.
Because of how good the Steelers have been against the run over this stretch, Hampton has a shot. He has been the rock in the middle of the line for both Super Bowl wins. And, while he no longer has the speed to chase Eddie George down the line and hammer him like he did early in his career in a playoff matchup, he is still an unmovable force in the middle of the line.
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, instead eating up blockers so that other players get to make the sacks. But, if you want to know why nobody can run against the Steelers and some teams don't even try, start with Hampton as the keystone to their modern version of the steel curtain.
Some of the younger Steelers have showed a tremendous amount of talent but are too early in their careers to project out that far. Players like Lamar Woodley, Mike Wallace, Lawrence Timmons and Maurkice Pouncey fall into this category. Still, a Super Bowl ring will not hurt their cause as they continue to build their resumes and all will benefit from playing with a franchise quarterback at the top of his game for at least five more years.
While these individual accolades will always take a back seat to the team's and city's goal of winning championships, Steelers' fans have grown accustomed to seeing their gridiron heroes inducted into the Hall of Fame on a regular basis. One more Super Bowl win will ensure this parades does not come to an end any time soon.