Tales of their exploits have been permanently etched into our collective memories. Some of us have been blessed to have witnessed their greatness in person or at home yelling encouragement at our television screens. Some fans have learned about these legends via the internet or through the captivating retelling of stories passed down by family members. Regardless of the sources, these memories and images have cultivated our love for the game of football.
Greatness always leaves an impression and makes an impact. The most dominating defenses of the past fifty years are all part of an extremely exclusive list. The Steel Curtain dynasty of the 70's, the '85 Chicago Bears, and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens are in a league of their own. We could debate the pros and cons of each defense trying to determine who deserves the top spot, but that is another article for another day.
For this article we are going to focus on a singular similarity all these defensive behemoths have in common, particularly the superstar linebackers manning the middle for each.
Jack Lambert was the heart of the Steel Curtain. He was so much more than the snarling, snaggle-toothed madman in the middle of the Steelers defense. His instincts were beyond compare, to the point he seldom took a false step in the wrong direction. He was the enforcer that refused to allow his team to be intimidated. Mean Joe Greene was the foundation, but Lambert was the outspoken alpha. There would never have been a Steel Curtain dynasty without Jack Lambert.
The 1985 Chicago Bears defense was the perfect storm that utilized the evil genius of defensive guru Buddy Ryan to steamroll through a totally unprepared and out-manned NFL, all the way to the lone Lombardi Trophy in the franchise's history. Along the way we were treated to quite a few expected and unexpected entertaining developments; the greatness of Walter 'Sweetness' Payton, William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry, and the Super Bowl Shuffle. Even with all those story lines, the suffocating defense easily took top billing. A defense expertly led by Mike Singletary.
The epitome of constant motion and intensity, his feet were pumping up and down pre-snap like he was auditioning for a role in a remake of Flashdance. He was a cerebral assassin, consistently barking out defensive adjustments to his teammates, other times he was simply barking at the opposition. Mike Singletary was a Hall of Fame player, and the Bears would have never won their title without their unquestioned defensive leader.
The 2000 Baltimore Ravens defense literally carried their mediocre offense to the Super Bowl title. Their starting quarterback was the underwhelming journeyman Trent Dilfer, for Pete's sake. Their defense was loaded with Hall of Famers Rod Woodson and Ed Reed among others, but the unquestioned standout was the legendary Ray Lewis.
Ray Lewis was one of the greatest players I ever had the displeasure to witness. I always base my evaluations of a player within certain parameters, but one of the biggest is when I have immense respect for the player's game even though I despise the actual player. Ray Lewis was always that guy for me. I had a sense of dread every time the Steelers had to go up against a Lewis led defense, because he was so disruptive and always threw a monkey wrench into the Steelers best laid plans. Lewis never shied away from a collision and he lived for contact. Love him or hate him, you had to respect his game.
I took us on a trip down memory lane to say this: This season's Steelers defense has an opportunity to be something special. Maybe even along the lines of the Big Three previously mentioned. For this to transpire, the Steelers need Devin Bush to become their next superstar inside linebacker.
The Steelers paid a hefty price to acquire Devin Bush's services because they are fully aware of the importance of the position. Bush has every attribute necessary to be a absolute force in the modern game. He has the speed, agility, and the instincts required to excel in today's NFL. An under publicized aspect of Bush's advantageous abilities is his genetics. The son of a former NFL player, and the godson of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers legend and Hall of Fame LB Derrick Brooks, Bush has a impressive support system blessed with a vast pool of knowledge from which the young man can draw understanding and inspiration from. The importance of this reality shouldn't be overlooked.
Bush has some huge shoes to fill at the position, and not just the huge shadow cast by the legendary Jack Lambert. The Steelers have been blessed with some tremendously talented individuals at the position, with Ryan Shazier being the most recent standout. However, unlike his predecessors, Bush is the only one I can recall that was hand picked and placed in the center of the defense, viewed as the missing piece of a potentially championship level group.
Similar to a young Ben Roethlisberger, considered the missing piece on a Super Bowl contending team from the moment he was selected, Bush has an enormous amount of pressure resting on his shoulders.
After watching his standout rookie season, and taking into account his talent and pedigree, I believe he is just the man for the job.