"Something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past."
This is one of the definitions I found online describing "legacy," something Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey has inherited from other great Steelers centers that proceeded him.
By signing him to a six-year deal today, the Steelers brass is showing their confidence in Pouncey after he missed 15 games last year due to injury. They are also saying that they want Pouncey as the offensive line's cornerstone for the rest of the decade.
The Steelers are surely hoping that Pouncey will use the next six years forging a legacy as the next great linemen in the franchise's rich history.
Mike Webster set the standard for not only centers but for any linemen in the 1970s and '80s. He unseated veteran Ray Mansfield for the starting job in 1976 and paved the way for Franco Harris and Rockey Bleier to become the second pair of teammates to each rush for over 1,000 yards in a season. Two years later, Webster began his streak of eight consecutive Pro Bowl seasons while also anchoring the Steelers offensive line in Super Bowls XIII and XIV. Webster was known for his almost mythical weight lifting sessions and peerless dedication to his craft.
It took a special talent like Webster to replace a player like Mansfield, a well accomplished player in his own right that manned the position for a decade that included consecutive Super Bowl starts. Gary M. Pomerantz wrote in his book "Their Life's Work" that Mansfield would routinely tell a friend that he didn't see any legitimate competition for his job at the start of each training camp. But after seeing Webster work out, Mansfield knew right away that he had finally found his superior.
Webster ran with the torch passed on from Mansfield for 15 seasons in the Black and Gold while earning a place in the Hall-of-Fame in 1997. Webster's legacy was later continued in Pittsburgh by another devastating center that would also have his career immortalized in Canton, Ohio. That center was Dermontti Dawson, who arrived in Pittsburgh in 1988 during Webster's final season with the team. After a season under Webster's wing, Dawson took over the starting job in 1989 and would start every game for the next 10 years.
A model of consistency and dependability, Dawson was among the team's main fixtures during the Steelers run of six straight playoff appearances and four consecutive division championships in the 1990s. An intelligent athlete, Dawson's athleticism was often overlooked, as he often led the way for his running backs on pitch outs and sweeps.Dawson was unquestionably considered the best center in the game in the '90s as he earned six straight All-Pro selections from 1993-98. Upon his retirement in 2000, many around the game were putting Dawson in the conversation among the greatest centers of all-time.
While he wasn't quite the caliber of Webster and Dawson, Jeff Hartings did etch his own place in Steelers lore. At 32-years-old, Hartings earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors as the Steelers went 15-1 en route to the AFC Championship Game. Hartings was a Pro Bowler again in 2005, starting every game while anchoring the Steelers line during the team's run to Super Bowl XL. Hartings impact was surely felt by Ben Roethlisbeger, who was a rookie during Harting's All-Pro season.
Hartings retirement following the 2006 season left a void at the position not filled until Pouncey arrived out of Florida in 2010. Like his predecessors before him, Pouncey made an immediate impact. He earned Pro Bowl honors in 2010 as the Steelers advanced to Super Bowl XLV. It was the first of three consecutive Pro Bowl berths for Pouncey that included being named an All Pro in 2011.
It hasn't been all glory for Pouncey, however. He has already sustained two substantial injuries during his time in Pittsburgh. He has also faced scrutiny for several questionable posts on his Twitter account.
The Steelers brass has apparently gotten over the latter while also displaying confidence in Pouncey's durability going forward. For me, what will really determine whether or not Pouncey is one day mentioned with the likes of Webster and Dawson comes down to consistency and team impact. It's well documented what great leaders Webster and Dawson were; as a five year veteran, it's now Poucney's time to be a team leader on and off the field.
The importance of a great center is often overlooked when talking about pivotal positions on football teams. Ask the Cowboys what Mark Stepnoski meant to the Dallas' celebrated offensive lines of the the'90s, or the Steelers of that era what Webster meant to the them in the '70s. If Pouncey can elevate his game to the level of those great centers while also showing improved maturity and leadership on and off the field, great results should follow. And what that, the legacy of great Steelers linemen will continue.