The Steelers will officially retire Mean Joe Greene's legendary No. 75 jersey Sunday night at Heinz Field in a ceremony to be held at halftime of an important matchup against Baltimore.
Greene's number, one that hasn't been worn by any player--preseason or regular season--in the 33 years since his retirement from the NFL following the 1981 season, was an absolute no-brainer to be the first one from those dynastic 70s teams to be so honored.
There will be others from that group, no doubt, but Greene's arrival in Pittsburgh marked a clear demarcation between those "Same Old Steelers" of the team's first four decades and the era of the Super Steelers. Not only that, but through his drive, leadership and, of course, awe-inspiring talent, old No. 75 made it his mission to change the meaning of "S.O.S" and give it a positive connotation, one that demanded championship success.
Super Bowl eras often produce such fruits, and the fact speaks volumes that nobody would blink if any of the other nine Hall of Fame members from those 70s teams had his number retired in the near-future.
And surely there will be future arguments and debates about which player from those 2000s Super Bowl teams that produced two world championships deserves to have his number immortalized next to Greene's No. 75 and Ernie Stautner's No. 70.
Speaking of Staunter, the legendary defensive lineman played 14 seasons in Pittsburgh (1950-1963) and, during an era that didn't see the team even sniff the kind of championship success it would have years later, he rose above the malaise to appear in nine Pro Bowls. He was clearly the most dominant and consistent football player the team ever employed up to that point, and perhaps that's why, as stated on his wikipedia page, the Steelers immediately retired his number in 1964.
It's nice to see players whose careers didn't coincide with championship success get honored and celebrated by their team and fans. And Staunter clearly represented something glorious for a franchise that, to repeat, had little to celebrate in its, even by then, fairly long history.
But again, championship eras rightfully garner the most praise and celebration. And the majority of players who are on those teams reap lifelong rewards from fans and are eternally immortalized. Even the average player lucky enough to be on a championship team can forever go to the reunions, see his face on old Super Bowl highlight shows and, of course, look down at his hand and see an awesome ring.
Just like Staunter, not every great player gets to enjoy his post-career days by polishing a huge championship ring. Sadly, sometimes luck and timing play a part.
Speaking of all-time greats, maybe there was no better cornerback in NFL history than Rod Woodson, who played in Pittsburgh for 10 awesome seasons.
"If you tell me Rod Woodson is your top defensive back of all time, you will get no argument from me because he certainly merits that."
That's a quote attributed to the legendary Dick LeBeau in the summer of 2009, just weeks before Woodson would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Here's another quote from the same Post Gazette article: "He, in my opinion, might be the greatest athlete that Chuck Noll ever drafted. And that's saying a lot when you think of all the Hall of Famers. This guy was special."
That quote was from Mel Blount, one of the aforementioned nine Hall of Famers from those 70s Super Bowl teams and a man who might know a thing or two about defensive backs.
Thankfully for Woodson, unlike Stautner, he did manage to play on many playoff teams in his 17 year career and appeared in three Super Bowls.
And he has his own championship ring to polish and admire for the rest of his life.
Woodson played his prime years with the Steelers, years that included 38 interceptions; 10 touchdowns (five interception returns, one fumble return and four kickoff/punt returns); seven trips to the Pro Bowl; the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1993; and inclusion on the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team in 1994. But he never could bring the Steelers their "One for the Thumb" during his career with the team that spanned from 1987-1996.
The Steelers made the playoffs seven times during Woodson's career in Pittsburgh and even advanced to Super Bowl XXX following the 1995 season (their first trip since 1979). But it was Dallas who went home with the Lombardi after a heartbreaking 27-17 loss.
Woodson tore his ACL in Week 1 of that season, but remarkably managed to rehab the injury well enough to appear in the Super Bowl in sub-packages.
That was an almost unheard-of feat at the time and a testament to Woodson's drive and winning spirit.
As a player whose career overlapped with the beginning of NFL free agency, Woodson was eligible to ply his trade elsewhere following the 1996 season, which he did, signing a deal with the 49ers before moving on to the Ravens the following year and helping them win the Super Bowl in 2000.
Woodson would play for the Raiders in the twilight of his career and appeared in his third Super Bowl in 2002 before calling it quits after the 2003 season.
Despite his serious knee injury and his advancing years, Woodson went on to intercept 33 more passes and appear in four more Pro Bowls after leaving Pittsburgh (this time as a safety).
Chairman Dan Rooney has said the Steelers have avoided retiring numbers because there are just so many that could be honored, the team might run out. This is true, but it isn't as if anyone ever wears 12, 32, 47, 52, 58, or 59, anyway; and with so many receivers now electing to wear digits in the teens, if No. 82 or No. 88 were unofficially retired, it probably wouldn't matter much.
Also, defensive backs and running backs can choose numbers ranging from 20 all the way up to 49. (I think you know where this is leading.)
Much like Stautner, who had the misfortune of coming along before those Super Bowl teams, Woodson had the bad timing of coming along after. But make no mistake, just like No. 70, No. 26 was a champion during his time in Pittsburgh.
This might be some serious outside-the-box thinking, but maybe, instead of selecting Franco's No. 32 or Bradshaw's No. 12 as the next number to officially be retired, Woodson's No. 26 would look great next to 70 and 75 in Steelers immortality.