Don McPeak-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
Steelers Hall of Fame wide receiver John Stallworth talks to Behind The Steel Curtain on his career, the current state of the team and his upcoming honor as a "Hometown Hall of Famer" in Tuscaloosa's Central High School
Former Steelers wide receiver John Stallworth preaches patience.
Patience with the Steelers' 2-3 start to the season. Patience in the development of younger players on the roster. Patience in overcoming injuries that are marring this team's start more than any one factor.
He can preach patience. Stallworth was a part of the Steelers 1976 AFC Central champion team that started their season 1-4, only to win 10 consecutive games before falling to Oakland in the AFC Championship.
There's still work to be done, Stallworth noted.
"We talked about where we were at that point in the season," he said, speaking of the mentality of the 1976 team after their 1-4 start. "We got together and talked about where we were.
"It wasn't anything more than just focusing on one play at a time. After doing that, we were able to put a few good plays together. Then a few good series together. Then a few good games together. We didn't focus on the next week or even the second quarter. We just took it one play at a time."
Having the defense the Steelers had that season certainly helps. If a comparison is to be made between the 2012 Steelers and the 1976 version, it would be more the reverse. The Steelers have allowed 17, 13 and 10 points in the fourth quarters of their losses to Denver, Oakland and Tennessee, respectively.
Patience, says Stallworth. And some health.
"It's not just guys not being able to bring their talents on the field (due to injury," he said. "It's losing that leadership as well. I think that's been a major factor."
The Steelers lost several offensive players in their 26-23 loss to Tennessee, and on a higher level, have been ravaged by injuries dating back to last season. Add in a new offense, and Stallworth can see why there are struggles on that side of the ball.
"(Ben Roethlisberger) is going to get it," he said. "He's going to get better. The offense will get better."
Roethlisberger was 24-for-40 for 363 yards, a touchdown and his first interception since Week 1. In doing that, he broke Steelers Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw's franchise record for career passing yards.
"They're both great quarterbacks," Stallworth said. "They're both Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. Hats off to Ben and his accomplishment. He is what the Steelers need right now."
Stallworth played with Bradshaw in a different era, and with the dearth of talent the Steelers had offensively, they did many things well.
Stallworth, though, wouldn't have minded a few more shots down the field during that time.
"I wanted to get the ball down the field a bit more than we did," he said. "That was my thing, I wanted the big catch down the field."
Judging by Stallworth's career numbers in a running era, he would seem he would have been even better in today's passing NFL. He stopped short of saying it, but compared his Steelers teams as "knock-you-out-on-defense-and-run-the-football" kinds of groups. Comparing his era to the one Roethlisberger and his big-play receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown enjoy is pretty much apples and oranges.
Still, Stallworth feels he would have done "ok."
"I would have had to be more patient," he said. "Passes are much shorter in this era. Taking those three or four yard passes as part of the offense, and hopefully, catch a pass and turn it into a big gain. I think I could have done that."
Stallworth was on hand to watch Wallace catch a pass and turn it into a big gain. Wallace had a nice catch-and-run of 82 yards, reaching the end zone on the team's longest play of the season. He had one other catch for 12 yards, and dropped what could have been a touchdown pass early in the game.
"Right now, to some degree, missing training camp is tough," Stallworth said of Wallace's performance this season. "You miss a lot from a timing standpoint and getting in right frame of mind. To me, he's missing training camp a little bit. As season goes on he'll certainly get better."
Comparisons of Wallace and Brown - one of the best receiver tandems in the league - to Stallworth and fellow Hall of Famer Lynn Swann are certainly a bit premature. Stallworth is impressed with the talent they have, though, Wallace in particular.
"He's about as exciting as it comes. He gets down field faster than me and Lynn did. As for being the long ball receiver, that's his forte. Swann and I thought we were longball players too, but we couldn't run like that.
"Wallace has potential to get better. That doesn't lessen what he's done, though. He has a lot of talent as a receiver already."
Stallworth spoke in very black-and-white terms. He noted the team made many mistakes in its Week 6 loss, but also spoke simply on the need to continuously improve.
That kind of drive and ambition is what makes Stallworth an endearing figure in SteelerNation to this day. He's still receiving honors for it. Stallworth will be recognized by representatives of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Allstate Insurance Company and the Tuscaloosa, Ala., community during a special ceremony at Central High School.
"It's an honor for my home town, for the people there," he said. "A lot of the positive characteristics in me came from there. I want to walk away from this experience having communicated without a doubt what I believe my hometown meant to me in my development over the years. The work ethic of the people there.
"Coming away from that (experience) with a hope that I can get through difficult times. Acknowledging I can get through those times."
Stallworth is quick to deflect his individual accomplishments as something for which he's solely responsible.
"(Success) can happen no matter what happens or as dire as it looks, you can do what I did in my career. Not patting myself on the back, it wasn't all me, but you can do what you want to do.
"There are lots of naysayers telling you you went to the wrong school or you're from the wrong side of tracks or other things in your background, whatever it is. People will say you can't do something, but you can look at my career and I pray you can come away from that saying, "I can do this."