The Steel Curtain, a nickname given to the front four defensive line of the 70's Steelers team of the decade. Joe Greene, Dwight White, L.C. Greenwood, and Ernie Holmes together made up the greatest defensive line in Steelers' history and arguably of all time in NFL history. The unit was named by a local high school 9th grader in 1971, Gregory Kronz. He won a radio contest to name the front four and his was the name chosen from 17 contestants that sent in The Steel Curtain as the nickname. The term was a play on the phrase "Iron Curtain" popularized by Winston Churchill, describing the boundary between Western Europe and Soviet-Controlled Eastern Europe during the Cold War.
The Steel Curtain went on to become one of the most renown defensive fronts of all time. The four men were featured on the cover of Time magazine in December 1975, with the subtitle that referred to them as "Half a Ton of Trouble". Each player had his own personality and nickname, "Mean" Joe Greene, Dwight "Mad Dog" White, L.C. "Hollywood Bags" Greenwood, and Ernie "Fats" Holmes. All Steeler fans, regardless of age, know or have learn of these men, and they have earned their mark in the Steelers Annals.
Fast forward 35 years to August 2010, Dick LeBeau is giving his Hall of Fame speech and makes the following comments: "people always ask me, Coach, what's the perfect 3-4? Who would be the very ideal people at each position? I said, Well, really, truthfully, you start with Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, and Brett Keisel on the defensive line. Really, seriously. Not only they great players, they're totally unselfish. In the 3-4 your linemen have to be a little unselfish because you know everybody is going to talk about the linebackers and the safeties anyhow all day." This was a typical Coach Dick LeBeau move taking his moment in the spotlight and turning that spotlight onto his most unheralded players.
In the mid to late 2000's the Steelers had another small dynasty run, making the super bowl 3 times and winning twice. Just like in the 70's, it all started with the defense. Unlike the 70's defense where the defensive linemen were household names, the 2000's defensive stars were LBs (Joey Porter, James Harrison, James Farrior, Lamarr Woodley) and a long-haired Tasmanian Devil-like safety (Troy Polamalu). The true unsung heroes of this defense were however the defensive line.
Steeler fans and true football fans know that without the defensive line trio of Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, and Brett Keisel, the Steelers defense would not have been the dominant force that it was in this generation. This defensive line didn't put up the sack numbers or get the recognition of the Steel Curtain line of the 70's, but they were just as essential to the triumph of their team's success. There was no cover of Time magazine, they didn't get the pro bowl appearances (18 to 7) or the all-pro votes (11-0), but the team does not win two super bowls without them.
Aaron Smith, Casey "Big Snack" Hampton, and Brett "Da Beard" Keisel will not ever be voted into the Hall of Fame (even though Hampton and Smith were among the best at their given positions). They never won defensive player of the year or led the NFL in any defensive category. They just did their job magnanimously and never in the national spotlight. The threesome thanklessly took on the offensive lines and blockers tying up two and sometimes three singlehandedly while enabling the linebackers and safeties to make the big , flashy plays. Although they didn't win the awards, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu more than likely don't win their DPOY awards without the front trio's unyielding work in the trenches.
Smith and Hampton are both gone and it seems that Kiesel is unfortunately on his way out the door. Everyone wants to blame our defensive decline on many things (Harrison's departure, Woodley's injuries, Coach Lebeau's complex defensive schemes), but isn't it ironic that the decline has coincided with the departures of Smith and Hampton. I love Steelers defensive football and I love the Steeler linebackers, but this line was the defenses' heart and soul on their most recent super bowl runs. The Steelers have always seemed to be able to replace their great LBs with other great LBs (Lloyd & Greene, Gildon & Porter, Harrison & Woodley), but this defensive line is going to be as hard to replace as the original Steel Curtain was decades before them.
So as it looks like "Da Beard" will be following Smith and "Big Snack" out the door, please take the time to properly honor these men. The three of them together was as close to the second coming of the Steel Curtain as we will probably ever get to see. Henceforth, I recognize this trio of men as "Steel Curtain the Sequel" and I hope you Steeler Nation will do the same. As their time has come and gone these men merit our commendation as the excellent defensive line that they were because they will not ever receive their due diligence outside the Steeler Family.