Debunking the 70's Steeler's tainted steroid era myth

In the wake of events such as Deflategate coming to fruition and the infamous realm of sports that is affiliated with cheating and the keeping of the integrity of the game intact popping up its little head again, many people have tried to question the legacy of teams that would commit major acts of cheating including denouncing the legacy of QB Tom Brady or HC Bill Belichick.

There's even a new website known as "" which attempts to cite evidence of cheating in every NFL team's history. They are thorough despite at times coming off as a joke site and the general definition of cheating is questionable at best(apparently James Harrison's fined hits are considered cheating by their standards) and seems strongly biased towards the Patriots saying that apparently, Tomlin's sideline gaffe is somehow astronomically bigger of a deal than deflategate or spygate. You can look for the site if you want but I'm not going to post a link because I'm not sure yet if they're actually worth endorsing.

In order for the background of cheating in the NFL to be more open, many people turn to other events of cheating in NFL history which leads us to perhaps the supposed "Steeler version" of Spygate or deflategate: Steroidgate. The reasoning for this fan post is so Steeler fans can get the record straight on their defense of their team and not assume that people like Joe Greene or Jack Lambert were nothing more than Barry Bonds before Barry Bonds.

For those who are unaware or need their memory refreshed, the Steeler dynasty of the 70's which won four super bowls and featured eight hall of famers faced various scrutiny from critics in the 80's who cited possible steroid use from the Steelers particularly the offensive linemen,specifically Steve Courson who was a Steeler for five years who later came out and admitted he used steroids and accused his former Steeler teammates of also using them. Courson died in 2005.

To make this very clear to everyone: Yes, Steelers in the 70's more than likely did use steroids but the most important part is understanding the context of the era and the actual use itself to the point that you would actually question whether or not they were really "steroids".

1. There is no evidence that the drugs actually enhanced the performance of the players in any meaningful way. According to Pro Football Reference, the recorded weights and heights of the Steeler players was not any different in any serious way in relation to those of the rest of the league. It's also obvious in the statistics in relation to other great teams of that era like the Cowboys and Raiders, that the Steelers were not "astronomically better" than their opponents. There was an obvious middle ground.

2. Besides Courson who is now dead, the only general accusations against the Steelers referencing steroids were by former players Fran Tarkenton and Jim Haslett.

-Tarkenton is quoted as saying "We’re playing the Steelers in the Super Bowl in ’75 or ’76, and I’m warming up with my center, Mick Tingelhoff, who’s an eight-time all-pro, Tarkenton said. "He’s my roommate … he’s about 6-2, 245 … we’re on the field warming up, and I see these Steeler offensive linemen with their sleeves rolled up, and they’ve got these bulging muscles....Later, we found out it that you know, it was Mike Webster and these guys were juiced … Steve Courson … these guys were juiced … all of them. We talk now about (former baseball stars) Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. But how about the Steelers of that era? Did that make a difference? Yeah, it made a difference. It increased their performance."

-There are various things wrong with this quote. First, Tarkenton says he saw Courson in the super bowl in 1975. Courson was actually still in college in 1975. Second, Tarkenton says he saw Mike Webster in the super bowl and thought he was so big that he could've been roided up. While it's true that when Mike Webster died, substances pertaining to steroids were found in his body, Mike Webster didn't even play in the 1975 SB and was only listed at 238 pounds which is less than Tarkenton's teammates weight for Tingelhoff.

-Also think about the source. Fran Tarkenton isn't exactly shy for ludicrous comments.

"Tarkenton is the greatest of all time, says Tarkenton.......I feel like I can outplay any of the quarterbacks that ever played".

3. Jim Haslett "It started, really, in Pittsburgh. They got an advantage on a lot of football teams. They were so much stronger (in the) '70s, late '70s, early '80s. They're the ones who kind of started it."

-The problem with this quote is Haslett is wrong on where steroids actually started. Steroids actually started in San Diego in 1963 when strength coach Alvin Roy introduced them to the Chargers. Roy later ended up working for great coaches on great teams with the Cowboys, Raiders, and Dolphins along with the Steelers. So in reality, the Steelers did not start the steroid craze in the 70's. They just happened to be easy targets for fools like Haslett and Tarkenton because they were the most dominant team of that era.

-Nearly every NFL team from that era has some kind of steroid incident including but not limited to the Falcons, Colts, Bears, Bills, Broncos, Packers, Vikings, Jets, Oilers, Giants, 49ers, Cardinals, Redskins, and Buccaneers.

Haslett ironically later apologized for his steroid comments.

-So you have the words of a dead man, a man who regrets his comments, and a Skip Bayless impersonator who happened to play QB. Not exactly a Wells report filled to the brim with damning evidence that stains the entire dynasty as a fraud.

4. -There are very few accounts of Steeler players actually using PEDs willingly in a cheating manner. While Mike Webster was a high profile case, the rest only include unknowns of little value. Terry Bradshaw admitted he used them for healing and injury care but didn't recognize their performance enhancing traits. Andy Russell admitted he used an amphetamine early in his career because he had been led to believe they built up his energy when in reality they made him play worse. Ironically, he actually stated that HC Chuck Noll discouraged such drug use despite admitting he himself used them which contradicts Courson's statement. We all know Jack Lambert as being fairly undersized so it's highly doubtful he was a steroid user. At no point were any Steeler players(even the ones accused) ever recorded as having abnormal weights or heights brought on by steroids.

-The truth is if the Steeler players used steroids, it was at worse relegated to a couple backup offensive linemen who didn't even spend much time with the team. Plus, as stated before by the weights and heights, it wasn't enough to make any meaningful impact on the field and likely was more so a "Ill give this a try" moment as opposed to a rampant problem in locker rooms. Unlike the deflategate case, there isn't even an "integrity of the game" issue because it wasn't even illegal. There's no "mission to cheat".

-The worse possible case is what happened to Mike Webster but the majority of reports believe that his death more than likely had to do with concussions than with steroids. This also applies to any of the dozen+ Steelers who have died since the 70's as well in case you want to ignorantly assume that every dead Steeler was automatically a roid junkie(like ESPN Magazine did a couple years back).

5. This might be the strongest point possible which refers to the understanding of the era. Not only were steroids not illegal, but people weren't even sure of what they actually did.

- Think about this. This was a time when concussions didn't exist in people's mind and brain damage was nothing more than "getting your bells rung". So let's say you have a star QB who is playing with a concussion in the 70's. Despite having a concussion, he plays really well and more likely was a huge contribution to your victories. By todays standards, he shouldn't be on the field and your team is ergo; breaking the rules. Is that cheating? Of course not because you don't even know you're doing anything wrong. Just like steroid users don't even know they're doing anything wrong because all they know about a drug is other people's speculations. Not to mention the peer pressure brought on by other people using it because it wasn't even illegal.

-Imagine if one day, we found out that Tylenol is somehow a performance enhancing drug. Does that mean every NFL player who took Tylenol when they played up to that point is now a cheater? Steroids in the 70's were nothing more than Tylenol pills or "deer antler spray".

So in conclusion, the next time any opponent's fan calls the Steeler's dynasty fake, just shove this down their throats. This is hardly a calculated conspiracy that makes one question the entire legacy of a franchise a la Spygate and Deflategate. Make no mistake, there are no asterisks next to 4 of our 6.

The opinions shared here are not those of the editorial staff of Behind the Steel Curtain or SB Nation. These posts are not approved in any way by the editorial staff of this web site.