Growing up in the DC area, I would watch the occasional Redskins game, root for them when it was convenient, but I never really felt like a part of the Burgundy and Gold. It wasn't until 2004 that I really started paying attention to football. My dad loved to push people's buttons, so he rooted for the Cowboys. After the Steelers beat the Cowboys that year, he wouldn't stop talking about how overrated Ben Roethlisberger was and how much he hated the Steelers. Maybe I got it from him, but I started rooting for the Steelers to get under his skin. What I didn't know was how that would grow into a love and passion for this team.
I began to follow the Steelers closely, and I was drawn in by everything; and when I say everything, I mean that the Steelers had everything you could ask for in a team. I learned a lot about who they were and their rich history that got them here. The dark ages from the 1930s-60s. The incredible dynasty of the 70s under Chuck Noll, and the continued success under Bill Cowher. It was immediately clear that this team was built on defense. The team had some mean, terrifying players in Joe Green and Jack Lambert. Pittsburgh fans seemed to love that nasty attitude. Yet, they had lovable characters as well like Lynn Swann and Franco Harris. I saw these same characters in the modern day team that I began to love. Joey Porter and Casey Hampton struck fear in opponents while you couldn't help but love Jerome Bettis and yourself. But you, Hines, you were different.
As I began to watch Steelers games, it was hard not to notice you. You were in your prime, a Pro Bowl receiver and a fixture on the Steelers offense. But you embodied everything about the Steelers. You embraced their toughness and tenacity on defense and brought it to the offense. You would catch a pass over the middle, take a vicious hit that would send most receivers to the sidelines, get up with that ever-present grin of yours, and crack somebody's jaw on a block the next play. You brought the old-school mentality to an evolving modern game. It was you who led me from a casual fan to a diehard Steeler.
Perhaps more than any of that though, it was your love of this family that struck me. I'll never forget your tears for after the 2004 AFC Championship. They were not selfish tears over losing the game, they were tears of sadness for Jerome as the team couldn't get him to the Super Bowl. Year after year, you embraced new, young players at your position. You taught them how to be good receivers, how to be good teammates, and how to be good men. Not all of them embraced you the way you embraced them, but you always put the family first. It is this that I admire and respect most about you.
With news of your possible release, I cannot feel anything but sadness to see you leave. You were the bridge for this team to transform from the old-school to the air-it-out NFL we see today. I hope you never forget that while you may play for another team, you will never leave the Steeler family.
Good Luck and Best Wishes,