Next time you read another enlightening analytical breakdown by BTSC's own Paper Champions, take a second and tip your Pittsburgh Steelers cap to Lee Flowers, the outspoken player who brought the term into team history years ago.
Lethon 'Lee' Flowers, originally a fifth round draft pick out of Georgia Tech by Pittsburgh in 1995, joined the Pittsburgh Sports Daily Bulletin for an interview to talk about his life now while reminiscing on his time with team and what being a Steeler meant to him.
Flowers was the Steelers starting strong safety until the team drafted Troy Polamalu in 2003. Realizing the drafting of Polamalu meant his eight year stay in Pittsburgh was coming to a close, Flowers signed with the Denver Broncos. The 2003 season would be Flowers last in the NFL.
Flowers originally made the Steelers roster as a rookie on special teams, just like many other players who had come before and after. It wasn't until an injury to starting cornerback Chad Scott forced Carnell Lake to take his place, that Flowers got a shot at starting. Flowers talked about his head coach, Bill Cowher, not having much confidence in him, but still decided to give Flowers the opportunity to take Lake's spot in the secondary for the first game of the preseason, which Flowers describes as the best of his career. Flowers remained the starter until leaving for Denver.
Throughout the interview, Flowers pays homage to the guys who influenced him in Pittsburgh. He credits Greg Lloyd for his aggression and passion for the game. He points to Lake, Darren Perry and Rod Woodson as the guys who inspired him to dig into film study and the sharpen the mental aspect of his game. He talks about a barely-mobile Jerome Bettis and a soft-spoken Jason Gildon as guys who led by example, not through the media.
He was eventually asked about how it felt to leave the team to join the Broncos.
It was just different. I missed the camaraderie with the guys I pretty much grew up with. We had a stable team for those eight years – a lot of the guys I was drafted with left or retired when I did. It was like leaving your family and I was just a stepchild in Denver.
I’d tell all the guys if I could now that in free agency, if you are contemplating leaving, it’s not going to get any better than Pittsburgh.
It wasn't just his coaches and teammates who he felt made the Steelers organization the best in the league.
For me, being a former Pittsburgh player – I got to play for the greatest fans in the world. Looking back on it, I didn’t understand it as much when I was playing. When you sit back and watch the fans on tv – when you go on Facebook today and see how many fans get ticked off when they lose…
If there were more teams that had fans as passionate as Steelers fans the league would be different. Some good teams can’t even fill their stadiums. I had the honor of playing for the Steelers. We have the best owner of any company in the world – any company, not just football.
It was a pleasure for me to be a part of Steeler Nation.
While fans certainly don't regret the drafting of Polamalu, a unique player with rare athleticism and legendary instincts; Flowers left a legacy behind which has continued to follow the team to this very day -- his paper champions label which he affixed to Warren Sapp's Tampa Bay Buccaneers prior to a regular season matchup.
It lit a fire under us. No one gave us a chance and we manhandled them that game.
I remember too we played Tampa Bay again the next season on Monday Night. And we manhandled them again. The guys in the locker room all supported me because they knew the media was on me about last year’s comments.
So next time you find a devilish smile creep across your face when the Steelers defense makes Sapp eat every word for calling them old, slow or just plain done; thank Flowers. It is Flowers' paper champs quote which has left such a distaste for anything Steelers-related in the Sapp's mouth.