I recently posted on a thread about Limas Sweed getting another tryout with another NFL team. I simply stated that I didn't think Limas was a quality NFL athlete and was met with a plethora of accusations calling me mean spirited and other amusing adjectives because Limas is a "good kid who tries hard." It's nothing personal about Limas, just my informed opinion. The Limas love that flows through the pages of BTSC is amazing to me but understandable. You see there is no real formula behind having a "favorite player" They just are. So in the first part of the series I will go through some of my favorite Steelers of all time. (Limas Sweed is not on my list) The list is purely personal preference. It has nothing to do whether these players are "good kids" or "trouble makers" I just happen to always like these guys on the field and rooted for them. Feel free to add you favorites to the list or post a story why you didn't like my favorites. I promise not to take it personal! And beware because the next in the series is least favorite Steelers (Limas may be on that list so stay tuned) so start your lists! And lets not get our black and gold panties in a bunch. This is for fun during the slow times. :-)
JACK LAMBERT; Lambert epitomized the Steel Curtain defense in the 70s. His toothless snarl and legs pumping before the snap fired up the entire fan base. Next to Steel Curtain Defense in the dictionary is a picture of the “front four” AND one of Jack Lambert…When Jack Splat tossed Cliff Harris (is still a punk) to the ground after Harris taunted Roy Gerela and Lambert played the rest of Super Bowl X in a controlled rage his legend was forged. I still remember Lambert being the first Steeler into the end zone to meet Lynn Swann after his 64 yard 4th quarter TD bomb from Bradshaw. As Bradshaw was laid out concussed it was Jack Lambert who hoisted Lynn Swann like a Lombardi and carried him off to the Steelers sideline. Lambert stuffed future Hall Of Fame RB Tony Dorsett in XIII and intimidated Wendell Tyler in XIV repeatedly chasing him from the game. Tyler inevitably won Lambert’s respect by continually coming back for more. The Rams fought late into the Lombardi evening that night even holding a 19-17 lead and driving in the 4th quarter. A Lambert interception near the Steelers goal line set the stage for 2 Bradshaw bomb’s into the night sky that found their way into John Stallworth’s arms for victory. Who would have thought that turf toe would end the career of one of the toughest I ever saw play the game?
GARY ANDERSON; After the Steelers dynasty crumbled the Steelers were sad sack. From 1985-1991 the Steelers made the playoffs one time. It was in the midst of playoff exile in Pittsburgh that I left my hometown for a shot at success in the Hollywood Hills. During that time the NFL was evolving into big business…Thankfully…Living on the mean streets of Los Angeles there were no Steeler games to be seen or heard. Occasionally there would be a radio broadcast or the Steelers would be playing the Raiders out west and they would be televised. By 1987 satellites were transmitting games around the world for the likes of the big networks. Energetic and tech savvy entrepreneurs around California (and other places I’m sure) began pirating the signals and showing football games in their drinking establishments in the early hours of Sunday morning. During that time it was tough to buy a Steelers game jersey and wear it to the “Steelers” bar. Firstly, said player would probably be jettisoned by the following year. Jersey’s were expensive even in 1987. Secondly, said player was usually horrible more Sunday’s than not and one could be left wearing a “Harvey Clayton” “Lorenzo Freeman” or “John Rienstra” game jersey all afternoon being pelted with peanuts. Anderson’s #1 could be worn proudly week after week and year after year. Mr. Automatic was just that…”Click” as we called him around the Steeler bars in the 818. “Just turn him on and he works!” That #1 Anderson jersey was probably the best Steelers investments I made during that 7 year period. In one of the most thrilling seasons in Steelers history a 1989 band of misfits and overachievers battled the AFC powerhouse Houston Oilers to a 23-23 tie at the end of regulation of the 1989 AFC Wild Card Playoff. With Houston driving for the winning score in OT, Rod Woodson torpedoed Lorenzo White with what Myron Cope called a “heavenly hit” and recovered the fumble. Moments later Gary Anderson kicked a 51 yard field goal and the Steelers had an improbably 26-23 victory that rivaled the 2005 win at Indy for its utter amazing ending.
MERRIL HOGE & BUBBY BRISTER; The only oasis in the desert of losing from 1985-1991 was a team of misfits and overachievers led by brash and fiery Bubby Brister in 1989. Brister lacked athletic acumen but possessed heart, guts and a will to win. In July 1989 Brister brashly wrote “Playoffs ‘89” on a locker room black board. He then won the starting QB job and led the Steelers into the playoffs where unsung Merrill Hoge ran roughshod on the Houston Oilers gaining 100 yards on 17 carries in a 26-23 upset. The following week at Denver Hoge had the Orange Crush gasping for air trying to pronounce his name. Hoge ran for 120 yards on 16 carries and only the magic of John Elway allowed the Bronco’s to escape 24-23. Bubby and Merrill remain friends to this day and speak of that 1989 season with reverence. The 1989 Pittsburgh Steelers were my all time favorite Steeler team that DID NOT win the Championship.
ROD WOODSON & GREG LLOYD; Blitzburgh. Cowher Power. When Chas “The Emperor” Noll got on with his life’s work, unknown Pittsburgh kid Bill Cowher assumed the reigns of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cowher brought in genius Dick LeBeau and a stable of other future NFL game changers and set into place a zone blitz that forever changed the NFL. Woodson and Lloyd couldn’t be much different. Woodson was the All American sprinter who was a #1 draft choice. Rod Woodson was the greatest athlete ever to play for the Steelers defense to this point and maybe ever. He was the precursor to Troy Polamalu. He was a coordinators nightmare. And offensive coordinators and special team coaches (as a punt returner he was rivaled only by Deion Sanders) had to plan for Rod Woodson. His heavenly hit was one of many career game changing plays. Greg Lloyd followed in a long line of great Steelers linebackers. Lloyd was a 6th round pick who spent the first years of his short career nursing injuries and trying to win a roster spot. But Lloyd was cut in the Jack Lambert mold. Ferocious, mean and relentless, Lloyd was a silent leader. More like a silent assassin. His nasty disposition and penchant for playing all 60 minutes were legendary in Pittsburgh. Like Lambert (and Joey Porter later) he struck fear into the opposition. You were always glad he was on your team. His career was short but filled with hard hits and game changing plays.
BARRY FOSTER; Foster didn’t last long. The two plays that will go down in my mind when I think of him are not pretty. On a kickoff in San Francisco during his rookie year he was unsure of the kickoff rules and he let a kick roll to a stop inside the Steelers 10 and didn’t pick it up or fall on it. The 49ers stormed down the field and recovered the football like a 70 yard onside kick. The other was in 1994 AFCCG when Neil O’Donnell inexplicably attempted to throw the ball to Foster at the 1 yard line on 4th and 3. Yet in 1992 Foster was an absolute beast and ran for over 1600 yards. That 1992 Steelers team took the league by surprise from the opening win against Houston when Cowher called for a fake punt through the season’s last month when Bubby Brister replaced an ailing Neil O’Donnell and led the Steelers to two HUGE close victories that gave the Steelers home field advantage throughout the 1992 playoffs. O’Donnell ultimately blew that seed just as he would make sure none of the Woodson/Lloyd Steelers got a Championship ring. Still, Barry Foster ran tough and ran hard and when you run the ball, good things happen. He was always a favorite.
JEROME BETTIS; As Lambert is the face of the Steelers defense, Bettis is the face of the Steelers offense. When you run the ball good things happen. And from the time the Steelers acquired Bettis in a draft day trade through the last bus stop at XL Bettis was all things good. Sure, there were disappointments along the way. Chan Gailey failing to force Shanahan’s hand in the 1997 AFCCG when the Bronco’s couldn’t stop the Bus, taking a pain injection in the groin and missing a playoff game against Baltimore and never getting it going in 01 or 04 against the Pats* defense that probably had the defensive calls on tape. Probably the biggest Bettis moment was the fumble at the goal line against Indy in 2005. I remember what was going through my head in the seconds after Bettis fumbled and I watched Ben Roethlisberger twist and turn to make what would end up being a game saving tackle. “I can’t believe all the years I cheered for you Bettis, and defended you against all the critics that said Bettis wasn’t a big game player” At that moment I was disappointed in Jerome. I am happy that the defense held and Vanderjagt went wide right. Because my last memory of the Bus will be Jerome getting and holding the Lombardi on stage with Cowher after all of the inglorious endings prior. But if not for Big Ben…
FAST WILLIE PARKER; After wandering the NFL desert for 26 years in search of the elusive “one for the thumb” here the Steelers were. Pittsburgh was stuck in a dog fight against a big underdog in XL. I didn’t breathe the entire first half. I don’t even remember the Stones performing at halftime. Suddenly the second half started with the Steelers in 2nd and 10. More nerves and psychosis. Counter 34 Pike. Parker bursts through the line and into the secondary. In an instant he is gone. Sitting stoic amongst the crew for several hours I suddenly leap from my spot on the couch…“Run!” I scream at the top of my lungs rattling the glass in the kitchen. At that instant I finally breathed again. As Parker dove into the end zone for a splash down, 26 years of NFL agony was over. I knew I would see my beloved Steelers win another Lombardi before they plant me in a hole. As an adult I truly could appreciate what I had seen and what the Steelers had accomplished. The fact that I always rooted for Parker, the undrafted free agent who didn’t even play in college, made it all the sweeter. In 2008 during the march to the “Sixburgh” Parker came up big again. First he turned in a 146 yard game with a pair of TDs against San Diego in a divisional playoff game and then was the top rusher at Super Bowl XLIII. Parker always played hard, never tweeted and when he got the ball in the second half of a Super Bowl game he took it to the house and didn’t fumble away his chance.
JAMES HARRISON & TROY POLAMALU; Like Woodson and Lloyd they couldn’t be much different. Troy was a star at USC and a number 1 draft pick. Harrison was an undrafted free agent cut by numerous pro teams before catching on with the Steelers. Both are chiseled in the mold of Champions and both were integral to the 3 Super Bowls the Steelers have played for post 2004. Polamalu is a game changer in the vein of Woodson. We are watching a Hall of Fame career in progress. His blitz’s, pre-timed leaps pre snap over the line of scrimmage, his relentless pursuit, his punishing hits and the way he zigs and zags after the interception are legendary. The fumble recovery on Favre that he took for a TD at Green Bay in 05 was pure excitement. The TD INT return off Flacco in the AFCCG in 2008 that iced that game was pure clutch. That INT that was stolen in Indy in 2005? Highway robbery I say. There are just too many highlights to list. And James “Deebo” Harrison? How can a franchise continually find ferocious LBs like Lambert, Lloyd, Porter and now Harrison? Again, the highlights are numerous in Harrison’s case. His first start came in a game against the Browns when Joe Porter got into a fist fight at the 50 with the Browns team and was ejected before the national anthem. Harrison had 3 sacks that day. His tackling of a drunken Brown fan that ran onto the field in Cleveland was a classic moment in the rivalry. The 100 yard TD in XLIII is simply the greatest play in Super Bowl history.