Sometimes you find the inspiration for your next off season article, and other times the inspiration finds you. Maybe even smacks you right between the eyes. Two separate incidents this week gave me a nudge in the right direction.
First, I was scrolling through Facebook and noticed it was Greg Lloyd's birthday. That instantly brought a plethora of great memories flooding back about one of my all-time favorite Pittsburgh Steelers. Later that day I saw a picture of the linebacker group from the Blitzburgh defense of the 1995 Super Bowl team on another Steelers website. The picture accompanied an article wondering how such a dominating defense seems to have been largely forgotten in the annuals of NFL history. Some historians may have forgotten, but Steelers Nation remembers all too well.
I feel it is beyond debate that the linebacker quartet on those Blitzburgh defenses was the most talented group in league history. All four individuals possessed Hall of Fame talent and played like it at various points in their careers, even if only one is presently enshrined in Canton. The other three either had their careers cut short by injury or have somehow failed to tickle the election committees fancy as of yet. The fact their years together as a quartet were few and they failed to win a championship together has resulted in them being underappreciated in my opinion.
Kevin Greene was the pass rushing specialist with the flowing golden locks and the motor that never stopped. He was JoJo the Jungle Boy jacked up on JuJubes and Jolt Cola who was always looking to powerslam the QB. If Hulk Hogan and Tarzan had a love child, it would have been Kevin Greene. His bust that currently resides in the Hall of Fame solidifies the fact he was one of the greatest pass rushers to ever slip on a helmet. His time in Pittsburgh was brief, but spectacular nonetheless.
Chad Brown was the youngster of the group, but in no way a weakspot. Brown was the best all around athlete of the four, and the most versatile. He could play the inside and outside positions with seemingly equal effectiveness, a feat he would pull off multiple times throughout his career. He excelled against the run, in coverage, and as a pass rusher. His youth and well rounded game eventually drove his value out of the Steelers price range.
Levon Kirkland was the thumper of the group. It was often said that nothing that big should be able to move that fast. It was always humorous to see the look on the ballcarriers face as Kirkland would maneuver through traffic and run them down. It must have been akin to a deer realizing the grizzly bear had run it down right before impact. This can't be happening, right? To put Kirkland's size and movement skills in perspective, his weight was always reported to be somewhere between 280 and 300lbs. He was heavier than defensive tackle greats like John Randle and present day DPOY Aaron Donald, but unbelievably excelled as a inside linebacker. How good was Levon? He was selected as a member of the NFL 1990s All Decade Team.
Greg Lloyd was undoubtedly my favorite player of the decade. There were far too many great players on offense and defense during the Steel Curtain years for me to pick a favorite, but Lloyd owned the 90's and my admiration. I owned his jersey and his 'I wasn't hired for my disposition' tee shirts. He was the enforcer on the Blitzburgh defense and a master of intimidation. He was the one man that Dan Marino admitted he feared on the football field. Another time he hit Brett Favre with such ferocity, during a preseason game no less, that Favre would later say it was the hardest he had ever been hit. Similar to Jack Lambert years prior, many of Lloyd's own teammates respected his demeanor but feared his expectations. Lloyd's game was far more than fear and intimidation however. He was arguably the best outside linebacker of his era, sandwiched between two season ending knee injuries.
Lloyd excelled at making tackles for losses and stripping the football. The strip sack was one of his specialties. He always seemed to make one of these momentum shifting plays at the most opportune moments. Kevin Greene says that Lloyd deserves to be in the HOF, and I have no doubt that had his career not been shortened by the aforementioned devastating injuries his bust would be sitting right there next to Greene's. Even though the length of Lloyd's career doesn't meet the Hall of Fame requirements, his brilliance and impact on the Steelers should never go underappreciated. I look forward to the day his name will reside in the Steelers Hall of Honor, where it belongs.
I am sure that I may be biased, but I try to stay objective. I can't recall that level of excellence for a 3-4 linebacker crew in my lifetime, nor do I remember hearing about one either. What do you think, BTSC community? Am I forgetting someone?