Pittsburgh Steelers: The NFL's Steel Curtain

Chris YoungCorrespondent IMay 31, 2010

The Steel Curtain was the nickname given to the famous defensive line of the American football team Pittsburgh Steelers during their 1970s dynasty years.

This defense was the backbone of the Steelers dynasty that won four Super Bowls (IX, X, XIII, and XIV). Over the years, the nickname evolved into a reference to the entire defensive squad.

In the 1976 season, the Steelers' defense was a juggernaut, arguably the greatest defense of all time. After the Steelers started 1-4 and lost their quarterback, Terry Bradshaw, the Steelers' defense took over.

In eight of the next nine games, the defense didn't allow a single touchdown, shutting out opponents five times including three consecutive games. During this nine game stretch the Steelers allowed a total of two touchdowns and five field goals. The defense also allowed an average 3.1 points per game and the team had a 22 points average margin of victory. Eight of the Steelers starting eleven defensive players were selected for the Pro Bowl, and four were eventually selected to the Hall of Fame.


"Mean" Joe Greene

Throughout the early 1970s he was the most dominant defensive player in the National Football League. He is considered by many to be the greatest defensive lineman ever, and was the cornerstone of the legendary “Steel Curtain” defense.

That defense is what led the Steelers to their four Super Bowl Championships.

In 1969, Greene was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the fourth pick of the NFL draft and later became the NFL's Rookie of the Year.

In Super Bowl IX, Greene became the first player ever to record an interception, a forced fumble and fumble recovery in a single Super Bowl.

Greene was elected to 10 Pro Bowls (1969-1976, 1978, and 1979) through his 13-year career with Pittsburgh.

Greene unofficially totaled 181 games, 78.5 sacks (unofficially, as sacks were not an official statistic until 1982), and 16 fumble recoveries.

Greene was honored to be selected to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and the NFL’s 1970’s All-Decade Team.

Although the Steelers do not officially retire jersey numbers, Greene's No. 75 has not been issued since his retirement, and is understood to be "unofficially retired."

"Mean" Joe Green was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.


L.C. “Hollywood Bags” Greenwood

L.C. Greenwood was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969, in the 10th Round.

In 1971, he became the starting left defensive end. Greenwood was the second of the four members of Pittsburgh's famous Steel Curtain defensive line.

Greenwood was a six-time Pro Bowler (1973-1976, 1978, and 1979) and was named to NFL All-Pro teams in 1974 and 1975. He also was named to the 1970’s All-Decade Team.

Furthermore, he led the Steelers six times in sacks, with an unofficial career total of 73.5.

According to records kept by the Steelers, Greenwood's highest single-season sack total was 11, which he reached in 1974.

He had 14 fumble recoveries in his career, including five in 1971, which tied for the NFL lead.

His Super Bowl play was also exceptional.

In Super Bowl IX against the Minnesota Vikings, he batted down three passes from Fran Tarkenton. In Super Bowl X against the Dallas Cowboys, he sacked Roger Staubach four times. Greenwood played in all four of the Steelers' Super Bowl victories in the 1970’s. Unofficially, Greenwood had five sacks in the four Super Bowl appearances.

Greenwood has stated that while he would be honored if he were to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, he would not be upset if he didn't make it in, feeling that the Steelers already in the Hall (in particular, "Mean" Joe Greene) represent the entire team's accomplishments.

In 1991, Greenwood was named to the Super Bowl Silver Anniversary Team and in 2007 he was named to the Steelers All-Time team.


Dwight “Mad Dog” White

Dwight White was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1971 in the fourth-round to play defensive end.

Dwight played in all four Steeler Super Bowls in the 1970's. He has the distinction of leaving a hospital bed to come to Super Bowl IX and score the first points of the game by tackling for a safety in the Viking end zone.

He also has the honor of scoring the first safety in Super Bowl history.

Steelers' owner Dan Rooney called White "one of the greatest players to ever wear a Steelers uniform" and he was named to the Steelers All-Time team in 1982 and again in 2007.

White was voted to two Pro Bowls (1972 and 1973), and his sack total, 46, is seventh in team history. From 1972-75, White had 33.5 sacks and he capped that era with three sacks against Dallas in Super Bowl X.


Ernie “Fats” Holmes

Ernie Holmes was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Eighth Round of the 1971 NFL Draft.

He won two Super Bowl rings (IX and X) while being part of the Steel Curtain.

Multiple Steelers players from the era have publicly stated that Holmes was as good as Joe Greene.

The Steelers credit him with a career total of 40 sacks from 1971-1977, eighth on the franchise's all-time list.

This includes team-high totals of 11.5 in 1974 (including a stretch of six consecutive games with a sack, which ties him with Greene and Greg Lloyd for the longest such streak in team history) and 8.5 in 1975.

In 1973, the defense ranked 8th overall, giving up 210 points; 37 interceptions, three defensive touchdowns, 18 fumble recoveries, and 55 total turnovers for the season. Their best game that season was against the Houston Oilers, nine turnovers, 83 total yards, and one touchdown.

In 1974, the defense ranked 2nd overall giving up 189 points; 25 interceptions, two defensive touchdowns, 22 fumble recoveries, 47 total turnovers for the season, and two shutouts. Their best game was against the Cleveland Browns, seven turnovers, 218 total yards, and gave up three field goals.

In 1975, defense ranked 2nd overall giving up 162 points; 27 interceptions, 10 fumble recoveries, 37 total turnovers for the season, and one shutout. Their best game was against the San Diego Chargers, four turnovers, 146 total yards, and shut them out.

In 1976, defense ranked 1st overall giving up 138 points; 22 interceptions, 24 fumble recoveries, 46 total turnovers for the season, and five shutouts. Their best game was against the San Diego Chargers; five turnovers, 134 total yards, and shut them out.

Throughout those four years that they all played the majority of their games together the defense became one of the best defenses, if not, the best defense ever. The four of them truly were the anchor of the Steel Curtain.

The nickname was originated for only the front four, L.C. Greenwood, Joe Greene, Ernie Holmes, and Dwight White. Since the 1970's, the Steel Curtain has become a term used to describe the entire defensive unit of that era.

Many great players helped solidify the nickname, “The Steel Curtain," including Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Andy Russell, Mel Blount, and J.T. Thomas.

Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood are the last surviving members of the Steel Curtain.


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