Pittsburgh Steelers: Top 10 Most Overblown Debates in Steelers History
Naturally, these hair-raising and borderline scenarios incite debate amongst the Steelers Nation, including an occassional "call to arms" against other fanbases.
No franchise is immune.
From "Music City Miracles" to debates involving Brett Favre and Bart Starr, sports are a platform tailor-made for controversies.
Nothing goes without scrutiny.
Unfortunately, we live in a sports culture of excuse-makers, whiners and debaters who are willing to make the routine seem wrong.
Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but all Black and Gold supporters know the agony of hearing something counter-intuitive to the obvious. I'm sure Steelers fans have heard, "Santonio didn't get both feet down."
Surrounding loyal fans is a yield of envious fans whose cause is to justify their own perspective with superficial analysis.
Sometimes, even the seemingly obvious events get blown out of proportion, and even the most diehard fans lose sight of the truth in these events. The brainwashing surely runs deep, especially with the P.T.I. phenomenon. Everyone loves a good debate and a controversial opinion.
Even the "experts" are paid to take opposite stances with one another, all the while convincing a viewing public of their professional accuracy, like a defense attorney for the State of Pennsylvania vs. Ben Roethlisberger.
Naturally, the charges indicted upon him are "not breaking the plane of the goal line in Super Bowl XL," statute 6.7.3B of the anti-Steelers handbook labelled "Nix Number Six."
Seahawks fans argue to this day about that trial, as if the court of public opinion is going to convince the NFL to reopen the case.
Regardless of how annoying an opposing opinion can be for the self-assured, there's a beauty to point and counterpoint. It's the beauty of sports. It's the conversation of sports.
Heck, outside of the athletic events themselves, it IS sports!
But a few of these cockamamy debates need to be nixed themselves!
Whether amongst themselves or against other fanbases, here are the top 10 most unnecessary debates related to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
10) Is Hines Ward a Dirty Football Player?
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Annoying to the opposition? Yes
Physical? You betcha!
Dirty? I see no evidence to indicate that Hines is anything but a ferocious blocker and dedicated student of the entire football game.
He's not dirty, but he is violent. Appropriately violent.
Today's prototypical NFL receiver has the spoils of spread formations and pass-first offensive strategies, an element not nearly as pronounced even as recently as 15 years ago. Rule changes in the late 70s that disallowed contact with receivers beyond five yards, the "Mel Blount Rule," opened up the passing attack.
Immediately following the alterations, the West Coast offense gained popularity, and the San Diego Chargers enjoyed the lucrative adjustments for their Air Coryell attack.
Unlike players of the past, regimented on the fundamentals of the game, today's wide receivers vary in their ability to play offense beyond route running and ball retrieval. You can harldy blame defenses who are not intimidated by the physicality of egocentric pass catchers more focuses on their next contract than a third-down run play.
Like an improvement on the gladiators of the position, pioneers who played in the "day of the run," Hines Ward dedicates himself to the full craft of football.
Just because Hines breaks the mold and does it with such force, does not make him dirty.
The wide receiver entered the league in 1998, and nobody had a concept for a receiver that could block with such physicality.
As Ed Reed and others have learned, there is a price to pay for letting your guard down. When you underestimate the opponent, and that man is Hines Ward, you have only yourself to blame.
While fans argue that his play is dirty, it's worth mentioning that the receiver is rarely flagged outside of penalties of regularity (holding, etc.).
No cheap shots.
Just physical football.
Here is a great reason for opponents to keep their head on a swivel: receivers are allowed to play football, too.
Hines Ward is a wide receiver made for the Steelers—a football player.
Laying it all on the line and not the fastest or most powerful man on the field, Ward's fiery ferocity still makes him an irreplaceable talent.
9) Neil O'Donnell Was an Interception Machine!
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How often do I say his name and hear somebody blurt, "Interception Machine!" The origin of this perception is obvious.
In a single game, the above statement would be true. Actually, in the biggest game of his career, that was reality.
For a career, O'Donnell could possibly be the best protector of the football in the game's history.
For one game, Neil O'Donnell nearly single-handedly cost the Steelers an opportunity to defeat the Dallas Cowboys, which would thus have prevented a dynasty.
Many fans argue it was the Cowboys game to win either way, but as the Steelers settled to the task in the final three quarters of the Super Bowl, it was Dallas being outscored and outmatched. In fact, minus those interceptions, the Steelers outscored the Cowboys 17-0, after "America's Team" took an early lead. And who knows how those other drives may have ended up?
All excuses aside, the dynasty deserved to be delivered as Neil O'Donnell threw two of the most hideous passes in NFL history, and the Cowboys never allowed Pittsburgh to take the lead.
Lost in the magnitude of his epic meltdown was a stellar Pittsburgh career. After the mess that was Bubby Brister and Mark Malone, O'Donnell provided some much needed stability to the position, protecting the football and making a number of clutch, albeit forgotten, throws.
While his two aforementioned interceptions haunt his legacy, the reality is that O'Donnell is one of the finest quarterbacks in the history of the game at protecting the football.
In fact, Neil did a great job of NOT throwing interceptions in Pittsburgh. (Though not in Pittsburgh while IN Arizona, I grant that...)
His interception rate was 2.1 percent of passes, second all time behind only Aaron Rodgers. Fans marveled at Tom Brady's amazing streak without a pass intercepted, but O'Donnell had a better statistical career in that regard.
The Super Bowl loss is painful, but Neil O'Donnell was still a very good, if not great, quarterback in Black and Gold.
Outside of his worst game, his record spoke for itself. The team would have fared much better with him at the helm in the following seasons. The franchise would learn with his departure how costly a quarterback who ACTUALLY throws a lot of interceptions can be.....
8) Spygate Cost Pittsburgh!
Spygate was one of the most overblown sports scandals of the century.
In sports, it is common practice for teams to examine and scrutinize their opponents signals. Coaches constantly use play charts to cover their mouths, change their signals to avoid interception and take note of the signals being used by others.
In the NFL, it is illegal to have defensive signals on videotape, and the Patriots paid a hefty price with fines, levied within the organization and upon coach Bill Belichick, for these recordings. Whether or not other clubs have participated in similar violations is unknown, but New England participated in wrong-doing.
Yet, the complexity of signals, varying and interwoven, almost certainly prevent the interception of specific plays and audibles, only benefiting the "cheaters" with advance notice of pending formations. This can be discerned from the defensive personnel on the field and their idiosyncracies as much as any signal.
However, even this explanation against the impact of Spygate is second rate against the weight of Bill Cowher's testimony, concurring on the rules violations by New England, but admitting to also examining signals in a manner not addressed in the ambiguously written NFL rules governing the common practice.
The reality is that there is no all-telling compass for intercepting plays, especially related to signals. If there were, Josh McDaniels (also noted for violating these rules) would still have a job in Denver and the Patriots would have lost a lot of steam by now. Yes, those most skeptical will reference that they have not won a Super Bowl, but in an odd way, this supports the notion against Spygate.
There's no signal that you can intercept to prevent player execution, including Eli Manning's eluding a sack and David Tyree's miracle catch.
Watch the video above.
On nearly every play in the NFL, somebody has the benefit of single coverage. What signal do you propose should be intercepted to defend the pass seen at 6:02?
The answer doesn't lie with placing additional defender over the top, as my question isn't with the play-calling—but the execution. He who executes wins the battle of playcalling.
Later in that same game, Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception at the end of the half to give the Patriots a 24-3 lead.
Already bordering on ridiculous, the ignorance of those who truly believe this scandal directly resulted in the dynastic run of the New England Patriots ends with four vital facts:
1) This issue does not account for the success of New England's defense.
2) The use of signals does not account for the bulk of signals being changed, having variations and being marked by a lack of specificity.
3) Defenses are not stagnant!! Those variations (mentioned in part two) would become constant, as a defense that notices their opposition in favorable formations will adjust and change their scheme to fit the situation.
3) A perfect Brady pass is a perfect Brady pass, and the amazing quarterback continues to confound the Steelers through the present day.
7) Kurt Warner Didn't Fumble To End Super Bowl XLIII
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Many experts have gone back to the video to witness a favorable scenario for Larry Fitzgerald during the potential "Hail Mary" play to end Super Bowl XLIII.
If Kurt Warner had the opportunity to throw a pass downfield, they argue that the Cardinals would have had an excellent chance to pull off the miracle.
This enrages critics who insist the Cardinals passer did not fumble, but the evidence is in plain sight—he fumbled.
Of those who debate this fact, there are many that do not understand the mechanics of a throw.
When you pass the football, there is a point as your hand drops back with the ball that your elbow cocks slightly, appearing as if to come forward. However, as the arm is still going backwards, the fumble is only avoided if the football comes forward with your arm during the act of throwing.
Also, the motion of the quarterback's body can be deceiving, causing the arm to appear to move forward spatially while it still goes backwards relative to the rest of his body.
With these considerations to help govern the play, it is clear that the football spirals out of his hand prior to his arm moving forward. Watching his hand closely, you can see it drift backward, the ball come loose, and subsequently, his hand moving forward.
6) The 70s Steelers and a Steroid Scandal
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"That's because it wasn't illegal then," Haslett said. "That was my point. You had so many people using them because they were legal. I talked about it to show how far our league has come. We have the best policy anywhere on steroids."
Jim Haslett made a generalized comment regarding the use of steroids in the NFL and its origins with the 1970s Steelers. In an effort to clean up the mess from public outcry, he elaborated on his intended point (see the quote above). Yet, the damage was done.
The public had their first ammunition with which to point at the greatest era in Pittsburgh sports history and pull the trigger.
First and foremost, Haslett's tunnel vision was sadly damning to a franchise that dominated the league for a full decade. He commented on his use of the drug in Buffalo, preceding his time in Pittsburgh, followed by more prevalent use in the Pittsburgh locker room.
His presence in that locker room and use of performance enhancers does not correlate with an origin for the habit or a base of operations. Because he witnessed it occurring, that does not mean it started there or only happened there.
He just happened to be there.
Secondly, the NFL had no policy regarding steroids at the time, and many players used them. It was a wide-spread league phenomenon. And it was perfectly legal.
At least the former player and coach had the decency to elaborate on his original suggestions after the damage was done, finally marrying common sense with his mouth about an era dominated by steroid-using athletes.
It is not uncommon to encounter ex-players who estimate nearly half of NFL athletes used steroids during the time.
The most regrettable part of Haslett's statement was that the public exposure it received did not give him any cause to indicate those players who refused to use them, of which there were many.
In fact, his association of the Steelers with simply physicality and brute strength was simply off-base, as a great deal of speed and agility also separated them from their opposition.
Haslett took a league-wide habit and isolated it to one locker room, giving himself a moment in the spotlight that the Steelers did not need to share with him.
5) Heads or Tails?
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There is a common belief held by Steelers fans that official Phil Luckett cost the team a win in Detroit after he "misheard" Jerome Bettis's call of "tails" during the overtime coin toss.
It seems simple enough. One pre-selected player calls heads or tails while the coin is in the air, and they have the option to receive the football if they guess correctly.
The coin toss came up tails, and for a moment, the Steelers breathed a sigh of relief...until Luckett announced Detroit to have won the toss.
A confused Bettis pled his case to no avail, and the Steelers lost at the Silverdome on Thanksgiving, 19-16.
While there is always the possibility of a different outcome with any change in circumstances, blaming the coin toss for the loss that sent the Steelers into a five-game losing skid to end 1998...well, that would be inaccurate. There's no reason to assert that the team wouldn't have lost the game even if they'd won the toss.
In fact, they were fortunate to even be into overtime.
The team's lone touchdown came on a deflection of a Kordell Stewart pass that landed perfectly into the arms of Will Blackwell for a 24-yard scamper into the end zone.
Even with this stroke of good fortune on their side, Pittsburgh struggled to maintain offense all day. Both running games stalled miserably, leaving the game in the hands of the two quarterbacks.
The day looked similar on both sides, with a difference of five yards and one turnover between the two signal-callers.
Yet, looking inside of the numbers reveals a large gap between the two performances.
Stewart's 1998 campaign was miserable, and his performance in Michigan left Steelers Nation with reason to be thankless. In his standard style from any season not '97 or '01, Kordell barely completed 50 percent of his passes.
During the holiday contest, he averaged a measly 5.7 yards per pass attempt.
On the other side, Lions quarterback Charlie Batch performed well enough to win, completing 17-of-27 passes with a touchdown, avoiding turnovers and averaging 7.88 yards per attempt.
Down 13-3 in a game going Pittsburgh's way, Batch took Detroit on his shoulders, doing most of his damage in a 15-minute span of the third and fourth quarters. The Steelers had to rally to tie the score, 16-16, to force the extra session.
Distracted by the controversy, anyone with a feeling for the momentum of the game realized that Detroit was going to score on their opening possession.
Great teams find ways to win, and the 1998 Steelers were not a great team. They weren't even a good team.
One of my biggest pet peeves has always been fans who complain about a team not getting the ball in the overtime format, which was recently amended to change for the playoffs.
These fans are only making excuses, as though either team hadn't put their chips on the extra game time by winning in regulation. With three vital phases of the game, your team is assured the opportunity to do its job in at least two of those phases, barring a kick return for a touchdown. Having forfeited the option of winning in regulation, it's the job of whatever phase takes the field to get the job done.
In other words, your defense should hold the opposition if you lose the toss, or your team does not deserve to win.
The Steelers defense allowed Charlie Batch and the Lions to drive down the field, a theme that dominated the game's second half.
4) Ben Roethlisberger Holds the Ball Too Long
An elusive quarterback with a knack for making big plays, Ben Roethlisberger is obviously confident in his ability in the pocket.
Despite his successes, he has his detractors, even after two Lombardi Trophies and three AFC Championships.
Some fans believe Ben is unable to make quick reads against NFL defenses.
Others believe he is hesitant, taking unnecessary sacks and losses.
Roethlisberger's ability to avoid sacks and make big plays downfield are dangerous strengths, and fans should not be so quick to judge his habits without looking at the bigger picture.
Historically, yards per passing attempt is one of the most key statistics associated with winning NFL championships.
Ben's inordinately high average per attempt largely derives from his adjustments with receivers and ability to extend plays, creating downfield throwing opporunities that are lost with most quarterbacks.
You have to take the good with the bad, and with his size and talent, Roethlisberger's good has outweighed any negatives.
"Holding onto the ball" is a simple matter of semantics. Another way to describe his style is "extending plays and forcing the action."
His success speaks for itself.
3) Mike Renfro's "Catch" Cost the Oilers a Trip to the Super Bowl
The 1979 AFC Championship Game saw the Oilers being humiliated at Three Rivers Stadium, the eventual dynasty of Pittsburgh defeating Houston in blowout fashion, 34-5.
With vengeance on their minds, the Steelers finest division rival of the late decade returned to the site of their disappointment. This time, they would display more championship mettle than a season earlier.
Trailing 17-10 late in the third quarter, quarterback Dan Pastorini threw a beautiful pass to the corner of the end zone, which was caught by Mike Renfro. Replays showed the result was a Houston touchdown, but officials ruled the play as incomplete.
Incensed to this day about the mistake, Houston fans vitrolically debate that the blown call changed the complexion of the game, denying them the opportunity for a victory and Super Bowl berth.
In reality, the referees missed the call.
Additionally, and also in reality, the Oilers would give up 10 unanswered points to Pittsburgh after settling for a field goal.
Great teams aren't always great. They're just great when they have to be. Obviously, in the face of adversity, the Oilers leaked fuel faster than B.P.'s "Deepwater Horizon."
In a rematch of an absolute blowout, the score miraged a dominating Steelers effort.
Houston was outgained by 125-plus yards, outdriven by 11 first downs (22:11) and outrushed 162-24.
In actuality, the contest was most marked by Earl Campbell's average of under one yard per rush, erasing Houston's biggest weapons and ensuring a fourth AFC Championship for the Men of Steel.
2) Immaculate "Deception?"
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 spiralled 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 the corpse of Al Davis cannot change whether he wants to or not:
It is what it is.
1) Bad Officiating Changed the Outcome of Super Bowl XL
The referees didn't throw the interception immediately following an ill-time holding penalty.
They didn't miss two field goals.
They didn't botch clock management.
....and they didn't throw a lollipop interception with an opportunity to take a 21-3 lead either.
They did, however, correctly call offensive pass interference. The regularity of an infraction (or penalty for that infraction) does not negate the violation.
They also correctly called the Roethlisberger touchdown run, the tip of the ball grazing the imaginary plane that runs up from the goal line as Ben is descending to the turf.
Critics mention that he pushed the ball over after he hit the turf, dismissing the notion to all who are aware that they know anything about football.
What Roethlisberger did while he was on the ground (epiphany forthcoming for many)...had nothing to do with the call or the play!
Lots of tears and excuses couldn't erase one key fact.
The Steelers, for their quarterback's struggles, found a way to win Super Bowl XL, and the Seahawks, responding to adversity with the heart of a baby kangaroo, hopped around and complained like incessant amateurs, belly-aching as though porcupines were in their pouches.
All of the whining could not erase the perfect execution of the game's defining play, a reverse pass from Antwaan Randle El to Hines Ward. It could not muddy Ben's savvy on a key second-quarter situation, not running past the line of scrimmage to allow Ward an opportunity a play at the football near the end zone.
Yet, this isn't about that game. Or is it?
Let's face it. The rain in Seattle has not been the only precipitation falling since February 2000. Puddles of tears put smirks on the faces of the Nation, and the first meeting after the game resulted in a 21-0 shutout.