THE FORGOTTEN DRAFT: 1971
In these somewhat heady days following the season's first pre-season game, featuring strong performances by the most recent draft class, I read with interest on another site, yet another piece extolling the unprecedented accomplishments of the draft class of 1974. There's no doubt that the '74 draft was unprecedented and will remain, with a quadrant of future Hall of Famers, the gold standard to which all other draft classes are held, the best ever.
The 1971 draft, though not producing the multiple Hall of Famers as did 1974, exceeded the ’74 class for the sheer quantity of eventual starters selected. Consider:
*Seven of the twenty-two players that started both Super Bowls IX & X were products of the '71 draft.
*Five of the twenty-two Steelers owning four Super Bowl rings were drafted in '71
*Eight members of the '71 draft played for the initial Super Bowl winning team
*Eleven '71 draft selections played at least two years with the Steelers
The Steelers first pick was Grambling wide receiver Frank Lewis, who led the '74 Super Bowl Steelers in receiving. Future Hall of Famer Jack Ham, a linebacker from Penn State via Johnstown’s Bishop McCort High School fell to the Steelers in the second round. The Steelers hit a veritable jackpot with a pair of fourth round selections in USC offensive lineman Gerry (Moon) Mullins, who was in the starting lineup for all four '70s Super Bowls, and Dwight White, a defensive end from East Texas State. A training camp phenom, White was asked by a TV reporter to describe his pass rush technique. "Basically, I just try to off the cat," said the baby-faced rookie. The fifth round brought Kansas tight end Larry Brown, eventually moved to tackle by the Steelers, but not before registering the final touchdown of Super Bowl IX. With their 3rd choice in the 8th round, the Steelers took yet another defensive lineman, Ernie Holmes from Texas Southern. And in the 11th round, Mike Wagner, a defensive back from Western Illinois, was selected.
Non Super Bowl starters included Steven Davis, of Delaware State, the third-round selection, who gained 246 yards for the Steelers' initial Super Bowl addition in '74. The Steelers 2nd & 3rd picks of the 5th round stuck around the team for two and three years, respectively. Ralph (Stones) Anderson, a safety from West Texas State formed a "Sticks & Stones" safety tandem with Glen Edwards, prior to the "Knotty Pine" nickname for the safety that started Super Bowls IX & X. Melvin Holmes, an offensive lineman from North Carolina A & T, stayed with the team through the '73 season.
Another draft pick of note was 6th round selection Craig Hanneman, a guard out of Oregon State, who would play defensive end in the NFL. Hanneman’s pro career was hardly noteworthy. He left training camp his rookie year in an effort to win back the heart of his girlfriend who had broken up with him, driving cross-country from Latrobe to Washington State (it was a futile effort, as I recall). He did earn a roster spot in ’72 and lost contain when rushing the passer in the Divisional Playoff versus Oakland, allowing slow-footed Ken Stabler to run 30 yards for a 7-6 lead with one minute remaining, setting the stage for the greatest play in NFL history. After one more season with the Steelers, Hanneman played for the Patriots in ’74 and ’75 where he made his only 3 NFL starts.
Craig Hanneman though, is best remembered, at least by this writer, for his statement to the author Roy Blount, Jr., who spent the 1973 season with the Steelers. “We’re all crazy fuckers,” Hanneman told Blount, “we’re all about three bricks shy of a load,” thus immortalizing the title of, in this writer’s opinion, the greatest sports book of all time.
The 1971 Pittsburgh Steelers Draft, not the best ever, but damn tough to beat.