The genesis of The Helmet began in 1994, the year I was married. In one of my "Steeler conversations" my wife and I talked about how neat it would be to start collecting autographs of all-time great Steelers. I knew that time was slipping away from the Steelers’ dynasty of the 1970s and that autographs from real old-timers would become harder to acquire. That Christmas she gave me the perfect gift, an authentic Steelers’ helmet. The journey began.
The Helmet is not in mint condition, nor can it possibly be having now traveled about the country in quest of each signature individually. You will read about some of the interesting situations The Helmet has been put through. The Helmet is now like a vintage pick-up truck: in great condition, not pristine mint, and with the character of toughness and usage. Of course, I could never claim The Helmet to be the Mecca of Steelers autographed items, but frankly, it’s hard to imagine its equal.
There’s not always an interesting story to accompany each signature; many were obtained rather routinely after purchasing a ticket at a sportscard show and waiting in line. I actually have short write-ups for each signature, but in order to take up less of your time, I will just list the following:
Rod Woodson, The Inaugural
Surely a future Hall of Famer, Woodson was drafted by the Steelers and played 10 of his 18 years with us. A prolific defender and All Pro regular, Woodson intercepted 71 passes in his career and, as a non-offensive player, scored a remarkable 16 touchdowns. Woodson was the first signature on The Helmet, acquired Sunday, March 19, 1995. I felt a little stupid asking him to sign a "small" signature, but felt it necessary. With a blank helmet, most athletes believe they are doing you a favor by signing large. I told him there would be many others to follow him and he smiled and obliged. His autograph set the tone.
Ray Kemp, Original 1933
A small piece in the Plain Dealer in August of 1998 pointed out that a fellow named Ray Kemp was the last remaining living original Pittsburgh Steeler (founded in 1933). I didn’t know at the time that Kemp was African-American, the only Black on the team and one of only two in the NFL 14 years before Jackie Robinson. I was excited to learn he was living in nearby
Dan Rooney, The Owner
I read in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Mr. Rooney was going to speak at
Terry Bradshaw, The Toughest Quarterback Ever
Terry Bradshaw came from Louisiana Tech, where his career before the Steelers was good enough to earn him a place in the College Football Hall of Fame. His induction was Saturday, August 17, 1996 in
Byron White, Supreme Court Justice
Byron "Whizzer" White, a United States Supreme Court Justice, was drafted by the Steelers in 1938. He only played one year for the Steelers (then known as the Pirates), since his higher aspiration of studying as a Rhodes Scholar in
Bill Dudley, The Amazing Athlete
One of the most talented athletes ever to play for the Steelers, "Bullet" Bill Dudley ended up in both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. Drafted by
John Henry Johnson, a Chance to Say "Thanks"
Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987, Johnson was drafted by the Steelers in 1953, but didn’t play for them until 1960. He was a fullback, practically extinct nowadays, and could block, receive, run inside and out. A four-time Pro Bowler, I best remember Johnson on that October night in 1964 when, watching my first-ever Steeler game on television, he piled up 200 rushing yards and three touchdowns against the rival Cleveland Browns. He came to
Lynn Swann, Amazing Grace
When Swann got into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001, it was not because he racked up unusual regular-season statistics. Perhaps no receiver has ever performed his craft with more grace than Swann, and he always came up huge on the NFL’s biggest stage. His nine-year career with the Steelers (drafted in 1974) included four Super Bowls, one of which he became the first receiver to ever win the game’s MVP Award, by compiling 161 receiving yards against Dallas (Super Bowl X). He also scored touchdowns in Super Bowls XIII and XIV. Swann attended the College Athletic Directors Convention on June 16, 1998 to speak about Big Brothers and Big Sisters, his post-career passion. Being an Officer of that organization, I and The Helmet had access to the VIP Room where he "gracefully" signed his name.
Mike Webster, Iron Mike
You can’t blame Chuck Noll for waiting for the fifth round of the 1974 Draft to select Webster; after all, he was busy drafting Swann, Stallworth and Lambert ahead of him. Webster became the fourth Hall of Famer in that class, unprecedented in NFL history. Webster played 15 years with the Steelers, a franchise record to this day. He played in nine Pro Bowls and started 150 straight games. Webster attended the National Sports Collectors Convention on August 7, 1997, the year of his induction, to sign autographs.
Ernie Stautner, The Lone
The only Steeler to ever officially have his jersey (#70) retired (though unofficially we have not seen the likes of #12 Bradshaw, #32 Harris, #58 Lambert and #75 Greene) was drafted by Pittsburgh in the third round of the 1950 draft. For the next 14 years, his entire career was played in
Ernie Holmes, The Steel Curtain
One of the best front four defenses in NFL history, the Steel Curtain won four Super Bowls (Holmes was replaced by John Banaszak and Steve Furness for the last two). Their 1976 record is legendary. Giving up only 138 points during the entire season, the Steeler defense pitched five shutouts over the last nine games, gave up only three points in two other games, to end the season better than anyone in modern history. During the 1976 Super Bowl against the Vikings, the Steel Curtain allowed just 17 yards rushing and zero points (
On February 9, 1997, Sears Department store in
Other Steelers greats who have signed The Helmet include:
Sorry if this piece is too long. I tried to shorten it as best I could.