Back in 1992 Bill Cowher took over as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers and with his second pick of his first draft he selected a huge middle linebacker out of Clemson University in Levon Kirkland.
Kirkland came onto the scene in 1993 as a second year player forcing four fumbles, recovering two and taking one back for a touchdown. For the next seven years of his career, Kirkland would be a staple in the defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers. His 6'1" 270 lbs. frame mixed with unbelievable speed for his size made him an amazing athlete that dominated the middle of the field. Not only was he crucial in any play that went through the middle, but he also was great at finding the ball carrier and forcing turnovers.
We take a look back at some very cool moments from Kirkland's highlights.
Intercepts John Elway 1997 AFC Championship
The first drive from the Denver Broncos in the 1997 AFC Championship started with fireworks as Levon Kirkland covered Shannon Sharpe over the middle and jumped John Elway's pass to force the first turnover of the game. Kirkland was in his prime at this time and arguably the leader of the defense. If sound could be attached to this GIF, you would hear a loud roar from Steelers fans in Three Rivers Stadium whom were excited to see such a great start to the game.
Sacks John Elway 1997 AFC Championship
Pittsburgh would play catch-up in the second half of that same game, but the defense held strong to give the offense multiple opportunities to take the lead back. On a crucial third down in Steelers' territory, Kirkland got a sack that changed the field. His speed was always deceptive because of his size and that is evident here. Notice the right guard's futile effort to even slow down Kirkland on his path to the sack. While number 99 was never a premier pass rusher, it was certainly in his bag of tools.
Forced fumble vs. Washington Redskins 2000 (last game at Three Rivers Stadium)
The Pittsburgh Steelers were in a playoff chase in the 2000 season as the team was in preparation to move to Heinz Field as its home stadium in 2001. They needed a big win in the last home game that would ever be played at Three Rivers Stadium, home to the team since 1970 and a place of many great memories for Pittsburgh fans in both football and baseball with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Steelers would put a nice touch on the final game with a beatdown of the Washington Redskins in which Kirkland would also play his final home game for the franchise. His forced fumble kept the team in prominent position to win the game and have a shot to make the playoffs going into the later weeks.
Still involved in football
Kirkland went on to play for the Seattle Seahawks and the Philadelphia Eagles before his career as a player in the NFL would end. He would bounce around colleges as a coach and recruiter for various universities in the south, including his alma mater of Clemson. He recently came back to the NFL in the opportunity of a coaching fellowship for the Arizona Cardinals for the 2015 season and looks to continue a career with the sport for years to come.