What Being a Pittsburgh Steeler Truly Means

Derek ReedCorrespondent IApril 16, 2009

For over 75 years men have been gearing up to take the field for Pittsburgh's football club. They have shined in greatness and at times tasted bitter defeat, through it all they wore their colors boldly.

They realized they are not just playing for each other but for an entire city, proud and hard working; they remain humble in a franchise that knows winning.

Embracing this bond with the people of Pittsburgh and fans across the country is what make these men true Steelers, not a contract signature.

So when does a player enter in to the fraternal bonds of black and gold immortality?

There are some players, for instance, Santonio Holmes grew up a Steeler fan and had a Terrible Towel on draft day. It was that kind of heart and pride that helped the rookie put a finishing nail in the 2006 season with a 67-yard game-winning touchdown to win the teams final game in Cincinnati.

It was the will to play above himself and catch the game winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII in triple coverage with 36 seconds left while keeping his feet in bounds. Some are born Pittsburgh Steelers.

Then there are those who take some time before considering themselves a part of the family. Terry Bradshaw might not have become a true Steeler until Oct. 21, 2002, nearly 20 years after he retired.

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On that night, the Steelers organization honored Terry Bradshaw during halftime for his valuable contributions to the team. What took so many years for him to come back to Pittsburgh was the long time dissociation he felt from the city, especially how they ridiculed him so severely in his early years.

A diagnosed depressant, he never felt the love that the fans or his coach, Chuck Noll, tried to offer.

During a reception the night before the game he publicly made amends with his coach, hugged him, which moved Chuck Nolls to tears.

Even on the eve of his halftime ceremony, Terry nervously asked friend and Steelers PR director Michele Rosenthal how the fans would treat him. Rosenthal answered, "Hey Brad, forget it, the fans are gonna love you."

When Bradshaw finally took the field in Pittsburgh for the first time since that day he retired the crowd took to their feet and erupted in thunderous applause. Terry confessed he had no idea just how much he meant to the fans. On that night, Terry Paxton Bradshaw became a Pittsburgh Steeler.

As touching a story as that is, there are still those who will never understand the pride of Pittsburgh.

Talent, ability, and potential defined former Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress. Unfortunately, the stoic attitude instilled in ever Pittsburgh athlete never burned bright in him.

His cocky attitude were the least of the problems. Burress lost his way when the two ugliest letters in team took precedence, "M" and "E." Believing he was worth more, Plaxico Burress signed with the New York Giants after the 2004 season for a salary similar to the one he had in Pittsburgh.

The fact is Burress forgot what it meant to be a Pittsburgh Steeler, maybe he never knew what it meant in the first place. Either way, the fans response was simple.

If you don't want to be here then get out, we don't want you, we don't need you!

But what about those lucky players who find it along their way? James Harrison is just that man.

Few would believe that the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year was previously cut from the team not once, not twice, but three times. Maybe his discouragement in the early years was justified.

However, something changed in James during 2008; he was smiling more and stopped looking like a stone cold killer during his interviews. For all intents and purposes, he began to enjoy himself more and for the first time he appeared glad to be here.

His 100-yard Super Bowl interception return was epic, as was his slamming of a Browns fan who ran on to the field in 2005; each for different reasons.

When the team returned to Pittsburgh for the championship parade they decided to have Harrison hold the Lombardi trophy for the duration of the procession. In rare form, he shouted team chants when he made his way to the podium.

If his recent six year, $50 million contract extension wasn't enough to validate him as a member of the team, the 2008 season was. There was no specific moment when James Harrison embraced the Pittsburgh family, it just came to be with time.

If there was ever a better way to describe the bond between the city and the team, it was spoken in these words.

"How fortunate I was to play for the Pittsburgh fans, a proud and hard working people who love their football and their team. If I could start my life all over again, I would be a professional football player, and you damn well better believe I'd be a Pittsburgh Steeler."

- Jack Lambert, HOF

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