Happy belated holidays everyone, but without further adieu, let’s cut to the chase. There have been many and I mean quite a few arguments and questions in reference to what Pittsburgh Steeler team qualifies as the greatest. Was it the “Mean” Joe Greene crew from the Studio 54 “psychedelic shack” disco era of the ’70s or is the Lil Wayne, PovertyNeck Hillbillies squad of the current millennium the best of all time?
I must first say that the times of the ’70s will almost get my vote automatically. I was bad but the Steelers were badder. I was a “playa” but the Black and Gold were players. My hair was black and my waist size was 32 inches, ditto for the men of steel. I could walk into a club and all the ladies heads would turn to look at me and my hedge-sized “fro,” puffing on a cigar, sunglasses slightly down on my nose, knowing that they realized that I was the one that they saw when they were daydreaming. Sorry boys, I win that one.
There can and will always be credible and valid arguments for both eras in regards to claiming supremacy. If I was choosing from my heart, I would choose the boys with full-flowing capes and fish in the heels of their shoes and some with their hair cut into the shape of a Mohawk arrow. The ’70s crew also had a quarterback with a southern drawl who was one of the craftiest players I have ever seen. He played dumb, all the way to the bank. When you take a careful look at who has played the quarterback position since the NFL was founded and forget about the stats, Steelers Hall-of-Fame QB Terry Bradshaw had the presence and aura of a man who was determined and destined to win. There will probably not be another like him and hey, don’t forget he called his own plays.
Now let’s not forget that the primary reason that the Pittsburgh teams of the ’70s were able to basically remain intact was because the concept of free agency was in its infancy and in a semi-indentured servitude sort of way, there was not, at least in comparison to today’s game, a lot of team to team movement by the performers unless of course they were traded to another franchise.
The players of today have a few more obstacles to overcome in order to achieve and maintain excellence on a consistent basis. Some of the issues that owners and players face are salary cap issues as well as salary issues. As soon as a player attains greatness some vulture-type agents and free agency sit on the fence awaiting. Rule changes that definitely favor the defensive performers of the past are now solidly in place such as no head slapping by the defensive line. Also, it is a no-no for the defensive back to contact a receiver beyond five yards—that leaves out bump and run. Also, don’t forget strict enforcement of the “roughing” the passer rule and the “questionable” calling or non-calling of offensive holding.
The Steelers won Super Bowl XL with Antwaan Randle El, Joey Porter, Chris Hope, Larry Foote and Dan Krieder. All of the aforementioned are plying their trade with other franchises or are out of football. They all were victimized in some way by the cap or the numbers game in general. If this were the ’70s there is a distinct possibility that a few, if not all, of the players previously mentioned would still be sporting black and gold.
It is now 2009. I am now far, far away from being a “playa” but the Black and Gold remain players. My hair is now salt and pepper (more salt than pepper). Currently, my waist is more than a foot past my glory days of 32 inches. Now when I walk into church all of the ladies heads turn to me now and ask, Aubrey are you losing weight? I will not lie in God’s house. I just say I do not know. I haven’t weighed myself lately. Now it seems perfectly clear that I am now the one who is daydreaming.
The goldfish have now long departed from the plexiglas heels of former Steelers running back John “Frenchy” Fuqua, but the boys of steel haven’t changed all that much. The quarterback that leads the squad of the new millennium may not have a cheek full of chewing tobacco but still has the same swagger and look of defiance when he steps under center. The temperament of current outside All-Pro linebacker James Harrison reminds me of the late Black and Gold defensive tackle, Ernie Holmes, minus the Mohawk, convertible cruiser, firearm and the state trooper helicopter buzzing over head.
Safety Troy Polamalu brings back memories of safety Donnie “the torpedo” Shell, who by all accounts was truly a surface to surface missile with the kamikaze seek and destroy mentality that Pittsburgh never loses.
One thing is perfectly clear. Since the “Emperor,” former Steelers legendary head coach Chuck Noll patrolled the sidelines, the team has established two things, consistency and tradition. Whether it is the ’70s, ’80s or ’90s or now, for the past 40 years the Pittsburgh franchise has maintained and promoted the need for the system, not self. There is almost never a need for a Pittsburgh Steeler but there will always be a call for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The system and teamwork will always remain at the forefront of this organization.
Sometimes things change but ultimately remain the same. I truly hope that you are with me ladies and gents. Are you ready for some football? If you aren’t…too late.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)