For many years, while growing up as a Steelers fan in the 1980s, I dreamed of having my own official jersey
However, from the time I started following the team as a seven year old in 1980, the closest I came to having my own Steelers jersey was during my midget football season of 1984, when I got to pick out a number from the pile and selected No. 75 (talk about nerve and arrogance).
It wasn't until 1987, when I convinced my grandmother to buy me a Steelers jersey for Christmas, that I would finally realize my dream.
Unfortunately, the Steelers teams of the mid-to-late 80s didn't present many players who would be cool to honor by wearing their replica jersey at school or while out playing a game of touch football.
I suppose I could have just picked a number of one of the Super Bowl legends of the then recent past, but for whatever reason, I wanted a player from the "current" group.
Receiver Louis Lipps, No. 83, would have been the ideal choice a couple years earlier, when he totaled 104 receptions for roughly 2000 yards in his first two seasons. But in 1986 and 1987, Lipps played in only 17 games and caught just 49 passes. He would have a career resurgence over the next four years and rack up 205 catches from 1988-1991, but in December of '87, the days of "Louuuuuuuuu!" looked they might be a thing of the past.
Revisionist history might tell you that cornerback Rod Woodson, the future Mr. 75 Year Anniversary Team, would be a no-brainer. But '87 was No. 26's rookie year, and he only played in eight games after holding out.
There really weren't many other choices, other than maybe Gary Anderson, but since I weighed over 200 pounds in high school, wearing a kicker's jersey would have made me a target for ridicule.
Thankfully, the Steelers have always had great linebackers, dating back to the late 60s. And despite a three year playoff drought starting in 1985, Mike Merriweather, No. 57, rose above the malaise that was the 1980s in Pittsburgh and became a Pro Bowl outside linebacker, carrying on the rich tradition established by the likes of Jack Ham, Jack Lambert and Andy Russell.
A third round draft pick out of Pacific in 1982, Merriweather was a three time All-Pro selection and a three time Pro Bowl participant, who accumulated 31 sacks in six seasons--including a whopping 15 in 1984--along with 11 interceptions and two touchdowns.
Merriweather was one of the few bright spots on a team that had just gone 21-26 over the previous three years. Therefore, he would be the choice for my first Steelers jersey.
When I opened this present on Christmas morning in 1987, up to that point, it was my favorite gift ever.
I would wear this jersey to school once a week all throughout the remainder of my freshman year; it was fun, and the kids commented on it, giving me at least a little cache.
There weren't too many people walking around the streets of Pittsburgh, wearing a No. 57 jersey, so, in a lot of ways, I felt very original and ahead of the curve.
Unfortunately, as the 1988 campaign approached, it became clear that Merriweather, still under contract, was going to hold out of training camp, hoping to force a re-negotiation.
But the Steelers didn't give in to the demands of Franco Harris, a Super Bowl legend, when he held out of camp just a few years earlier, and they weren't about to give in to Merriweather's.
Merriweather never did report to camp and continued to hold out during the regular season, as Pittsburgh would finish with an abysmal 5-11 record (the team's worst mark since Russell was in his prime, back in 1969).
As for Yours truly, I was mocked and ridiculed by high school kids who wanted to know where Merriweather was, even though I had long-since stopped wearing his jersey.
If I have the timeline correct in my mind, my grandmother, by this point, had already scraped off the "Merriweather" portion of the jersey, and she may even have taken the numbers off, too. I suppose, as a symbolic gesture, I could have had her put "Ricketts" on the jersey, since Tom Ricketts, an offensive lineman out of Pitt, was the player the Steelers drafted with the pick they acquired for Merriweather. But this would have opened me up to even more mocking, since Ricketts barely made his mark in Pittsburgh and was off the team after the 1991 season.
I'm not sure if I ever wore that jersey again, and I have no idea what happened to it, since it hasn't been in my possession for quite some time.
Thankfully, about 20 years after the Merriweather fiasco, my uncle bought me an authentic Hines Ward jersey in 2006.
Would you believe I've never been ashamed of wearing No. 86's replica jersey?