I was driving in the car recently when Led Zeppelin’s iconic “Kashmir” came on the radio. Many of you know the song, with its signature power guitar riff mixed with Moroccan musical influences. Rolling Stone magazine recently ranked it the fourth greatest Zeppelin song of all-time (behind “Black Dog,” “Stairway to Heaven” and “Whole Lotta Love,” for those who are interested).
Any self-respecting sports fan who has lived in southern New Jersey for as long as I have knows it for a different reason. “Kashmir” was the walk-up song for former Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley. Utley’s brand of hard-nosed baseball endeared him to locals long before he famously bellowed “World f**king champs!” into the microphone before a throng of delirious fans at the Phillies 2008 championship parade. That profanity cemented Utley as a Philly legend. His walk-up music, however, is just as memorable.
Among the team sports, the concept of walk-up music is unique to baseball because it provides a moment -- the brief walk from the on-deck circle to home plate -- where a player is featured individually. Relief pitchers also get the opportunity for a “walk-up” of sorts when they jog to the mound from the bullpen. There are no such equivalents in football, basketball or hockey. When Ben Roethlisberger comes onto the field to start a drive he does so with ten of his teammates. When Sidney Crosby hops over the boards and onto the ice for a shift he may, at times, do so alone. But he does this while play continues and is never “alone” enough to be featured.
The closest thing I can think of in a team sport to the equivalent of the walk-up -- when all action is stopped and the spotlight shines on a single player -- is when a basketball player shoots free throws. In theory, basketball players could select their own music to play in these instances. But they are not announced to the crowd at the foul line the same way baseball players are when they come to bat. In baseball, the walk-up song is both identity and introduction.
This got me thinking. What if, for the sake of conversation during a fairly uneventful week when the draft is over and meaningful football is still a couple of months away, football did feature walk-up music? What if there was a scenario during a game, or even beforehand, when players had the opportunity to be introduced like baseball players are? What songs would provide fitting “walk-up” music for some of our favorite Steelers? Here are my personal choices for six current players.
James Conner, “Long May You Run” by Neil Young
With a shout-out to our BTSC friends north of the border, let’s give “Long May You Run” to James Conner. The song was written by Young as a tribute to his favorite car, a Pontiac hearse he nicknamed “Mort” and drove from Toronto to Los Angeles in 1965 where he met Steven Stills and eventually formed the band Buffalo Springfield. The hearse kicked the bucket a short time later but not before providing Young plenty of quality miles. Metaphorically speaking, let’s wish the same for Conner.
Young is a testament to longevity himself (he’s been cranking out tunes for over 50 years) and seems a good inspiration for our feature running back. Conner’s health seems inextricably linked with our success in 2019. He got off to a fast start last season but was banged up and eventually missed three games down the stretch. The Steelers wound up 31st in both rushing attempts and rushing yards per game. Though they are unlikely to become a run-first offense with Ben Roethlisberger still at the helm, a better run-pass balance would serve them well. With an emerging Jaylen Samuels and rookie Conner-clone Benny Snell Jr. likely in the mix, the Steelers may evolve to more of a running-back-by-committee approach that could save some of the wear and tear on Conner so he is healthy come playoff time. Long may James run, indeed.
Artie Burns and Bud Dupree, “It’s Now or Never” by Elvis Presley
This pair of former 1st round picks have arrived at their do-or-die moments in Pittsburgh. Dupree will earn a little over $9 million this season after the Steelers picked up the fifth and final year of his rookie contract. He registered 42 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 2018, which are nice numbers for a role player. For a 1st round pick earning $9 million a year? Not so much. Dupree will have to significantly increase his production or his time in Pittsburgh is likely over.
The good news for Dupree is the Steelers failed to spend a high draft pick on the edge position last month, meaning there is no in-house candidate ready to take his place should he produce another mediocre season. This could leave the door open for him to be re-signed at a reasonable contract. For Artie Burns, that is not the case. The Steelers bolstered the cornerback position by signing Steven Nelson in free agency and drafting Michigan State’s Justin Layne in the 3rd round. Burns, whose fifth year option was refused by the team in April, will have to push hard to see the field. With three quality corners already in-house (Nelson, Joe Haden and Mike Hilton), Burns will have to compete with Layne and 2017 3rd round pick Cam Sutton for playing time. If he can’t work his way into the regular rotation, this is surely his last season in Pittsburgh.
For Bud and Artie, then, Elvis’ refrain rings loud and clear.
Ben Roethlisberger, “Paid in Full” by Eric B & Rakim
The past couple of off-seasons have been good to Roethlisberger. Two years ago, he won a power struggle when the Steelers declined to renew the contract of offensive coordinator Todd Haley, with whom Roethlisberger had rarely seen eye-to-eye, and installed Roethlisberger’s close friend and former quarterback coach Randy Fichtner in Haley’s place. This year, general manager Kevin Colbert publicly asserted the Steelers faith in Roethlisberger, calling him the unquestioned leader of the team, then shipped disgruntled receiver Antonio Brown, with whom Roethlisberger had also feuded, to the Raiders. Following that, Roethlisberger got a $68 million contract extension that will keep him in Pittsburgh until at least 2021. Paid. In. Full.
None of this comes without expectations, of course. For all of Roethlisberger’s accolades -- three Super Bowls, two titles, top ten in history in a host of passing categories -- the Steelers are just 3-5 in the playoffs since losing to the Packers in Super Bowl 45. Roethlisberger has lost playoff games to quarterback counterparts Tim Tebow, Joe Flacco and Blake Bortles over that time. Steeler fans expect better. Big Ben doesn’t need another title to cement his legacy. But without one, many will question whether giving him both the power and the money was worth it.
Mark Barron, “Enter Sandman” by Metallica
After recent free agent flirtations with Jon Bostic and Morgan Burnett, both of whom I really liked when we signed them and both who were gone after one year, I am tempering my expectations for Barron. I like Barron a lot and I think he’s a great fit for what we’re trying to do on defense. But he needs to stay healthy and he needs to produce, neither of which is guaranteed.
One thing I know about Barron for sure, however, is this: the dude can hit. His highlight film is littered with plays like this one, which he made during his time in Tampa:
For me, then, Barron could become the Sandman, providing a physical presence at the second level and a guy who can tackle in the open field. Paired with Vince Williams and Devin Bush, each of whom are physical players as well, the Steelers could have three linebackers who can really bring the wood. Opposing ball-carriers who fail to lower their pads or keep their head on a swivel need beware, lest they be sent, as Mr. Hetfield proclaimed, “off to Never Never Land…”
David DeCastro, “Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap)” by AC/DC
Offensive linemen toil in relative anonymity, doing the grunt work to pave holes for running backs and keep quarterbacks clean, while rarely being recognized for their efforts. Just about everyone in America knows who Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Big Ben are. How about Terron Armstead, David Bakhtiari and Jason Kelce? They were Pro Football Focus’ highest graded offensive linemen for 2018. Most of us wouldn’t know them if they showed up at our door for dinner.
In the mid-1990s, legendary coach Howard Mudd (a perfect OL name, incidentally) started a de facto club for offensive linemen and line coaches called the “Mushroom Society.” Mudd took the name because, as per his logic, “You grow mushrooms by keeping them in the dark, feeding them (manure), and expecting them to produce.” Mudd’s society recognizes what so many football fans do not - it may be dirty work, but offensive linemen are some of the most important players on a football team.
No Steeler epitomizes the mushroom mentality more than David DeCastro. DeCastro isn’t exactly dirt cheap, as the famous AC/DC song implies, but his 6 year, $58 million contract ranks 31st in the league in average salary per year among current offensive linemen. For a guy who has made four Pro Bowls and twice been named 1st Team All-Pro, that’s as close to cheap as it gets.
There you have it. Walk-up songs for some of our current Steelers. Who else deserves walk-up music, and what songs should they be assigned? Entertain us in the comments below.