After the Steelers announced their plans to have a Hall of Honor (HOH), there were debates about who should get in and when.
Obviously, the countless Hall of Fame players will be among the first to have their names immortalized by the Steelers organization.
But along with those greats already enshrined in Canton, the Steelers HOH will now give props to some legends who may already have waited too long to enjoy such an honor. I'm talking about a handful of players from those great 1970s teams like L.C. Greenwood, Larry Brown and Donnie Shell.
As for those more-recent Super Bowl teams, will Alan Faneca ever make it to Canton? How about Hines Ward?
Faneca's induction seems like a pretty sure bet. When it comes to Ward, unfortunately, he may forever be a victim of the continuously moving goal posts represented by receiving statistics in today's pass-happy NFL (offensive linemen may not enjoy super-stardom during their careers, but one thing they don't have to battle after their playing days is statistical comparisons).
But, hey, even if none of the previously-mentioned players ever get enshrined in Canton, they have a Black-and-Gold honor to look forward to some day soon.
Even if the Steelers hadn't decided to open a Hall of Honor, legends like Shell, Ward and Faneca would always enjoy a connection with fans because they were among the greatest players in franchise history and contributors to championship glory.
That's the great thing about belonging to a Super Bowl team or teams; you'll always have a special place in history.
And you don't even have to be HOH-worthy.
A great example from those ‘70s teams would be former defensive lineman John Banaszak who played seven years in Pittsburgh and was part of three Super Bowl winners. He might never get inducted into the Steelers Hall of Honor. But he'll always have a special connection to this organization and many of its fans because of his important contributions to Steelers glory.
As Banaszak said during the America's Game episode that chronicled the Steelers’ run to Super Bowl XIV in 1979, "I'll always be a part of the history of the National Football League."
No matter what happens for the rest of Banaszak's life, he can look at those three priceless rings and feel a great sense of satisfaction.
Brett Keisel and Ike Taylor, two important contributors to the Steelers’ most-recent Super Bowl victories, also are great examples of players who may never be immortalized by the organization, but who always will retain a special connection to it, the city and the fans.
Unfortunately, there are some players who never got to contribute to championship teams, this despite being quite good at the game of football.
Can you think of a more heavily-decorated Steeler than former cornerback Rod Woodson?
During his 10 seasons in Pittsburgh, Woodson was named First-team All-Pro five times; made the Pro Bowl seven times; was named the 1993 NFL Defensive Player of Year; was voted onto the NFL's 75th Anniversary team in 1994; and, obviously, is now in the Pro Football of Fame thanks to his first-ballot induction in 2003.
Woodson (in my opinion, the greatest defensive player I've ever seen don the black and gold) doesn't need another honor. He probably didn't need any championships, either (even though he won a Lombardi as a member of the Ravens back in 2000), because his career transcended them.
Things were a little different, though, for former Steelers safety Carnell Lake.
If you don't remember the 1990's today, you might only know Lake as the Steelers' secondary coach. But make no mistake, during his playing days, Lake was a stud (or “a beast,” as the kids say today).
A converted safety after playing linebacker at UCLA, Lake made his second of four Pro Bowls with the Steelers in 1995—and he did this after selflessly switching to cornerback at mid-season, following the severe knee injury Woodson sustained in Week 1.
Lake had a career to be proud of, including being voted to the 1990's All-Decade Team. But despite making it to Super Bowl XXX following the '95 season, he left Pittsburgh without a ring.
Carnell Lake deserves to be a Steelers Hall of Honor inductee, and there's no doubt he will be one day.
But at least Lake came close to championship glory and was a part of the third-greatest era in franchise history.
What about the great players from the pre-championship days?
We think of Hall of Fame running back John Henry Johnson and defensive tackle Ernie Stautner, whose career was so dominant that, besides being enshrined in Canton, he was the only player in franchise history to have his number (70) retired before Mean Joe Greene joined him in 2014. But it's hard to name many all-time greats that were a part of the organization before Chuck Noll took the reins as head coach in 1969.
But that doesn't mean there weren't some great Steelers players of yesteryear.
Statistically speaking for many years, Elbie Nickel was the greatest tight end in franchise history, posting 329 receptions for 5131 yards and 37 touchdowns in a career extending from 1947 to 1957.
Unfortunately, Nickel spent his career in Pittsburgh during an era of Steelers futility during which he never came close to enjoying championship success and the enduring connection with fans and the organization that accompanies it.
What about the team's least-successful decade since it first became defined by Super Bowl success—the 1980's?
Players like receiver Louis Lipps, offensive tackle Tunch Ilkin and kicker Gary Anderson were among the greatest NFL players at their respective positions. But unfortunately for them, their prime football days happened a decade after their team's greatest era. That meant they were stuck smack-dab in the middle of the mediocre period that often follows an era of championship success.
It's one thing to have a Hall of Fame career (or maybe even a mediocre one) that includes championships and glory, but it's another thing to have a career so remarkable that it transcends championships.
Then there are players who had solid-if-not-spectacular careers during periods when championships proved elusive. While Hall of Fame recognition might never be a reality for these former players, it's nice to know that some will be immortalized by the Steelers organization, if not by the NFL at large. This will ensure that people always will know just how special the time was when they wore the black and gold.