I see your true colors, shining through. I see your true colors and that’s why I love you. So don’t be afraid to let them show. (from the song ‘True Colors’ by Cyndi Lauper).
Hey everbody, 72 hours ago the Pittsburgh Steelers faced the Cincinnati Bengals and sent them packing back to Cincy, “teefless.” The Bengals finally showed their “true colors.” This was a contest that was hyped, hyped and more hyped, you dig…This was supposed to be a clash between a “pride” of young, hungry cats from the jungle pitted against a group of old grizzled hunters who had lost their edge. The 2011 Steelers were supposed to be at an extreme disadvantage because their sense of smell, hearing, vision and all of the elements that make great hunters and sportsmen were declining rapidly.
This was billed as the last Safari, the final chapter in the book of the great “Bwana.”
There is one thing that I wish to make perfectly clear. We can change our cleats, clothes, buy a new car and exhibit the external components that the world sees to define you on a daily basis but there is one component that cannot be changed; our genes.
The Steelers have created a different sort of “Genome” than the rest of the NFL. There was one point in the career of legendary Coach Chuck Noll that every player on the field was drafted by the Steelers. The league fines them, has less than “stellar” officiating and at times seems to implement a few other questionable practices and all the men of Steel continue to do is win, win, win.
In 1969 when “The Chief” hired Noll to be captain of his vessel he unknowingly hired a mad scientist who was far more interested in linking individual components together as opposed to whether he personally liked them or not. His primary mission in the laboratory was to design a system. His secondary mission was to get the materials on which to build his system. Hey y’all you can’t build a 100 story skyscraper out of mud. Okay, I take that back, you can but just don’t invite me for lunch at the penthouse suite because I tell you now, I ain’t coming. Now as I was saying Noll was more than just a coach concerned with wins and losses, he was concerned with the Steelers “machine.” He identified and utilized the body types and psyches that were needed to function at a high level within his system.
The Steelers evolved from mediocrity to greatness not because all of their athletes were superior, although many of them were. They attained and sustained greatness because they developed a system that emphasizes the “whole.” There were many athletes that were far more gifted than some of the athletes drafted by Noll but he knew early on that it doesn’t matter about the $20,000 paint job that your car has if it is broke down; looks can be deceiving. Steelers management does not care what the outside world thinks. They truly believe that they can take a Yugo, plug it into their system and a Cadillac might develop.
The Bengals have not been short on talent over the years but what they have been lacking is a clear cut direction and purpose. The Steelers understood that they had to lose for a few years to create a legacy of victory and accomplishment that would last for decades. In 1969 the Steelers were a blank canvas waiting for the colors of victory to be applied. Charles (Picasso) Noll was the one with a palette of “true colors” waiting to leap over onto the canvas of the NFL and create his own masterpiece. He didn’t try to imitate and emulate other systems; he created his own because he knew that the guy who sells the “Get Rich with Me” book is the only one that becomes rich.
When the Rooney family hired the two young coaches that succeeded Noll, they made sure that Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin understood one thing; they could tweak the system a bit but they were not going to reinvent the wheel. With the Pittsburgh Steelers you have to blend in from the inside or you will be watching from the outside.
Let’s visit the “zoo” and focus on ex-Bengals Chad Johnson, oops I meant Chad Ochocinco or is it Chad Givemedinero. This ex “cat” can’t even focus on who he is. Oh, pardon my misstatement; the point is that he is a bit too focused on who he is. Wherever he goes it will always be about, me, mini-me and me.
We can’t leave ex-Bengals QB Carson Palmer out of the mix. He was also infected with the “mini-me” syndrome. With Pittsburgh it is us, us, us or you’re on the next, bus, bus. In an era of corny blazers, suits and ties, Noll’s players sported capes and plexiglas shoes with live goldfish in the heels. Noll knew that happy individuals made a productive, less stressed team. All I can say is, many teams have tried to imitate but few can duplicate the Pittsburgh Steelers.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: email@example.com or 412-583-6741. Bruce is also the NFL/AFC North analyst on the “Odd Couple Sports Show” streaming live on Fox Sports radio; WCWA 1230am, Toledo, Ohio, Wednesdays from 11-11:30 a.m.)