June 17, 1994, was a busy day for sports writers.
Through the events of those 24 hours, sports became must-see TV. Just take a look at the major events of that day:
• Soldier Field in Chicago plays host to the start of the World Cup, the first American-hosted World Cup.
• Arnold Palmer enters his final round at the US Open, a tournament he was known for dominating throughout his legendary career.
• The Major League Baseball player strike is a raging issue.
• Last but certainly not least, the OJ Simpson police chase throughout the Los Angeles freeways and suburbs.
What about our Pittsburgh Steelers? Without mandatory OTAs or minicamps going on at the time, there was nothing to report on. I would imagine the coaching staff and company were still going over the devastating loss to the San Diego Chargers in the 1994 Playoffs or possibly realizing how much of a bust their 1994 first-round pick, Charles Johnson, would turn out to be.
Sports were in the news for reasons right and wrong. But in the United States, right and wrong does not matter as much as the news matters. That’s what June 17th, 1994 was for professional sports. It was a day full of news and that’s how we like it.
So with a day so historic that we must look back on it 20 years later, what’s happened since? Professional sports continues to boom on a yearly basis. But we’re here to talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers. So let’s review the past 20 years.
A 20 Year Review
It’s been a very busy 20 years for the Steelers. In this timeframe, Pittsburgh has appeared in four Super Bowls, defeating the Seattle Seahawks in 2005 and the Arizona Cardinals in 2009 and losing to the Dallas Cowboys in 1995 and to the Green Bay Packers in 2010. Between the AFC Central and the AFC North, the Steelers were able to win their division an impressive ten times.
In the last 20 years, Pittsburgh was able to rack up 27 Associated Press First-Team All-Pros. Left guard Alan Faneca led all Steelers during this period earning a First-Team All-Pro title six times in his career. The Steelers were able to don a helmet in the Pro Bowl a total of 76 times. Safety Troy Polamalu led with eight appearances during this timeframe. Dermontti Dawson, Class of 2012, and Rod Woodson, Class of 2009, earned their gold jackets in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, giving Pittsburgh 22 Hall of Famers total.
These players did more than just make All-Pro and Pro Bowl teams, they also rode off into the sunset as legends. There may be no more satisfying story for Steelers fans than "The Bus" Jerome Bettis. Jerome Bettis was acquired by Pittsburgh after a so-so start to his career with the St. Louis Rams. He quickly blossomed in black-and-gold as a power runner with unmatched downhill speed for a running back his size. After the disappointing end to the 15-1 season in 2004, many believed it would be the end for "The Bus". Then-rookie Ben Roethlisberger made a promise to Bettis that he would get Jerome his ring the next year. "Big Ben" came through on that promise and in Detroit, his hometown, the next year, "The Bus" made his final stop after a 21-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. Jerome Bettis would retire as the second-highest rusher in Steelers' history with 10,571 yards and 78 touchdowns.
One of the most prolific "jack-of-all-trades" wide receivers left our game just three seasons ago. Hines Ward, a 1998 third-round draft pick, played fourteen seasons in a Steelers uniform. He was a quick receiver who was never afraid to put his body on the line. Whatever was needed from him, he would do. Ward would retire after 2011 as Pittsburgh’s leading receiver in all areas. With 12,083 yards, 1,000 catches and 85 touchdowns, Hines Ward will undoubtedly be donning a gold jacket in the coming years.
Talking about some players, the statistics just do not do it justice. For Troy Polamalu, just ask Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco (twice) and Kerry Collins (also twice) how good #43 is. The highlights are endless and Troy Polamalu had as much of an effect on the last 20 years for Pittsburgh as any other player in black-and-gold.
The biggest impact may have come from Ben Roethlisberger. The 2004 first-round draft pick made his debut filling in for the injured Tommy Maddox in Baltimore in Week 2 of 2004 (fun fact: I was there!) in a 30-13 loss. From there, Ben would lead the Steelers onto 14 straight wins before losing to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship. The rest is history. Three AFC Championship victories and two Super Bowl rings later, Ben Roethlisberger has become the greatest statistical quarterback in Steelers history. The debate is still out if Ben is the absolute best compared to Terry Bradshaw’s four Super Bowl victories but that’s an argument for another time. "Big Ben" set the rookie season record for QB rating (98.1) and completion percentage (66.4 percent). He broke the franchise career completion record in 2011 with his 2,090th completion. He also broke the franchise passing yards record in 2012 with 29,844 yards. Finally, he broke the franchise career passing touchdown record in 2013 with his 213th touchdown. All three numbers are still growing and all three franchise records were previously held by Terry Bradshaw.
What about those coaches? Only two head coaches in 20 years is something to be proud of (only three in 45 years in even better). Head coach Bill Cowher led the Steelers to familiar heights in 1995 when Pittsburgh made its way back to the Super Bowl. However, it would take 11 more years for the Steelers to reach another Super Bowl and this time, they capitalized. Bill Cowher during this timeframe racked up 117 wins, six division titles, and two AFC Championships. He retired in 2007.
Mike Tomlin was quickly hired in January 2007 and made an immediate impact. An AFC North title in his first year and a Super Bowl title the year after are quick ways to make an impression on Steelers fans. Fast-forward to today, Tomlin has three AFC North titles, two AFC Championships, and one Super Bowl. After two straight years of missing the playoffs in 8-8 seasons, the pressure is on for Mike Tomlin to deliver this season.
So after 20 years, the Steelers have had quite the eventful time. There has been no shortage of change, a lot of smiles and some disappointments. But Pittsburgh enters this next 20 years with a lot of hope. The team is younger and may just be faster than ever before. So here’s to the next 20.