´ Steel Curtain Rising: June 2009

Who gets the game ball for the Steelers win over the Texans?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

ESPN Disses Steelers with "Team of the Decade" Honors

One of the frustrating things of running at site like Steel Curtain Rising is that ideas always outweigh free time to write. Some ideas can simply put it on the back burner until time can be found, other times the moment simply passes you by.

ESPN.com apparently doesn’t have that problem. In fact, they're proactive to a fault. Literally.

More than six months of 2009 remain, yet ESPN.com has sought fit bestow All Decade honors.

Nothing wrong with that, except that if you’ve been following the series, ESPN has snubbed the Steelers.

Alan Fanaca was the only Steelers to make it on offense, and Troy Polamalu was the only player to make it on defense. Should more Steelers have made the team? Probably, but, but Steel Curtain Rising leaves that to others.

The most galling part of the series was to hand the team of the decade title to the Patriots and Bill Belichick.

This isn’t surprising, but unsurprising does not equal correct.

Steel Curtain Rising addressed this issue during the 2008 season when we took Michael Wilbon, a writer whom we have the utmost respect, to task for declaring that “Colts and the Patriots” were the two dominant teams of the current decade.

Conceding that the Patriots had the outside track on the “team of the decade title,” Steel Curtain Rising argued against elevating the Colts alongside the Patriots without also elevating the Steelers.

But that was October 2008.

Since then the Steel Curtain Has Risen Again in the form of Lombardi Trophy Number Six. Yes, New England still has one more. If you apply ESPN’s logic rationally, this fact should compel them to hold off on awarding All Decade Honors. Read on:

When a team wins three Super Bowls in four years and plays in its conferencechampionship game five times in a decade with one season to go, the choices
The last eight words amount to a mighty ironic contradiction, “with one season to go, the choices crystallize.”

Cancel the 2009 season then, because the outcome must be for-ordained.

And that’s the point. The NFL and the NFLPA’s looming labor dispute might endanger the 2010 season, but during 2009 we’re going to have NFL football. Why is that important?

Consider what ESPN offers a little later on:

The difference, though, is the Lombardi Trophy. Cowher and Dungy won one apiece. Belichick won three in an unprecedented four-year span.

(¿Unprecedented? I guess that Dallas’ Super Bowls in 1992, 1993, and 1995 somehow don’t count as winning three in a four year span.)

We bring that point out, because it is impossible for the Steelers to win three in four years, but it is not impossible for them to match the Patriots record of excellence in the first decade of the 21st century.

The Steelers will return all but two starters. They’re led by the youngest man ever to coach a Super Bowl victory, Mike Tomlin, a man who made it clear he was hungry for more, the morning after Super Bowl XLIII.

Winning Lombardi Trophy Number Seven is going to be very, very hard for the Steelers. But they’re going to take their shot at it next year.

And if they’re successful, they’ll have equaled the Patriots.

If that happens, the Patriots will still have plenty of arguments in their favor, but the Steelers at least deserve an equal chance.

ESPN hasn’t given them that, and therefore they’ve undermined the credibility of their “Team of the Decade” honors.

P.S. ESPN also named Bill Belichick coach of the decade. The same Bill Belichick who was caught cheating red handed. Steel Curtain Rising invites Steelers Nation to take up that argument in the comment section.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Max Starks Signs with the Steelers for Four Years

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and ESPN.com are reporting that Max Starks has signed a long-term deal with the Steelers. Stark's contract is for four years and 26.4 million dollars, with a ten million dollar signing bonus.

Prior to the off season, the Steelers had named Max Starks their franchise player, binding him to the team for the 2009 season and paying him $8,451,000 for the year. In spite of that, both Starks and the Steelers have insisted that a long term deal was what both sides wanted.

While many in the media saw prospect as unlikely due to NFL salary cap considerations, an agreement was reached this week. The move will also create about 2 million dollars in extra salary cap room for the Steelers.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Penguins Defeat Red Wings, Win Stanley Cup; Pittsburgh Again the City of Champions!

When the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII we proclaimed that the Steel Curtain had Risen again!

Now with the Pens Stanley Cup victory we can offically say:

Pittsburgh is once again the City of Champions!

A vivid memory of my childhood is seeing the Sports Illustrated cover photo of Terry Bradshaw and Willie Stargell. That was the year both the Steelers won Super Bowl XIII and the Pirates won the World Series.

Talk about being spoiled at a young age. I’d thought that these double championships would be a normal facet of life. (And I didn’t even live in Pittsburgh.) While the Steelers would go on to win Super Bowl XIV the next year, Pittsburgh's next championship would be the Penguins 1991 Stanley Cup title, and of course Super Bowl XL was much farther off.

Although I consider myself a Penguins fan, I don’t pretend to follow hockey (as you might expect, they don’t show much ice hockey down here in Buenos Aires.)

But I also trust that no one will object if Steel Curtain Rising simply salutes the Pittsburgh Penguins on their 2-1 game 7 Stanley Cup clinching victory over the Detroit Red Wings.

Winning any sports championship is a tremendous accomplishment, but a Stanley Cup victory coming four months in the shadow of the Steelers victory in Super Bowl XLIIII is truly special.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Musings on Woodson's Choice of Canton Presenter

You’ll have to take my word for this, but exactly a week ago on Thursday evening as I was walking home from the subway, I’d thought about Rod Woodson’s upcoming induction into the Hall of Fame, and pondered who he might select to induct him into Canton.

Low and behold, the announcement came last Friday morning.

There is every reason to cheer Woodson’s choice, but I had been holding out hope for a few other presenters.

Dark Horse Dreams

The first name that had popped into my head was Rod Rust.


Rod Rust served as the Steelers defensive coordinator in 1989. OK, why would Woodson select him? Well, Woodson has stated on a number of occasions, that Rust was the man who taught him to breakdown film and the man who taught him how to read offenses.

In his only season as defensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, Rust improved the Steelers defense from 28th to 19th. That might not sound impressive, but that same defense, with Dave Brazil at the helm, finished as the number one overall defense in 1990.

Although Rust was one of the game’s best defensive minds (he coached Joe Greene in college) and he certainly would have been a dark horse candidate. But it would have given Rust a chance to be remembered for something else than being the man who led the New England Patriots to a 1-15 season in 1990.

LeBeau Logical?

A far less obscure and arguably more worthy candidate would have been Dick LeBeau, who coached Woodson as a DB’s coach, then as a defensive coordinator, from 1992 to 1996.

LeBeau’s record speaks for itself, and had Woodson chosen him, it may have given LeBeau’s own Canton candidacy a push. LeBeau has been in the league since the 1950’s, as a player and then as a coach, and is the father of the zone blitz. The Steelers made it to the Super Bowl three times with LeBeau as defensive coordinator, one of those with Woodson on the field.

Alas, it wasn’t LeBeau. Tony Dungy also would have been an interesting choice and, while its got to burn Steelers fans’ eyes to read this, Marv Lewis or [OUCH] Brian Billick also would have been valid choices.

Every Reason to Applaud No. 26's Choice

Induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is a hallowed honor, and the choice of presenter is a highly personal one. The player has every right to name the presenter they want to name.

Walter Payton chose his son. Chuck Noll chose Dan Rooney. Dan Rooney chose Joe Greene.

Woodson has selected Tracy Foster his current business associate and long time friend. In fact, they’ve been friends since high school.

Those kinds of lifelong friendships are golden. It speaks volumes about Woodson’s character that he chose his lifelong friend, and from that perspective, we applaud him.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Carolina Cowher

William Laird Cowher stepped down as Steelers head coach over two years ago, but that hasn’t stopped him from making headlines.

Steel Curtain Rising has been late in responding to this. And for good reason.

Twice I sat down to begin writing something with the idea that I would make sense of it only to stop. The more I thought of it, and the more I wrote, one thing became clear -- I can’t make sense of this.

There are any number of easy explanations, but all of them are wanting, at least to this writer’s eyes.

Bill Cowher is just too difficult to pin down.


He arrived in Pittsburgh carrying the moniker of Marty Schottenhiemer’s disciple. Translation: run on first, run on second and, if at all possible, run on third...

  • ...Yet in his first trip to the Super Bowl the five wide receiver set and the phenomenon known as “Slash” characterized his offense.

Beginning with his first game as coach, Cowher succeeded in making the Steelers a contender again. Yet, during those early years, over confidence was his Achilles Heel...

  • ...But by the time he left, his team’s had mastered the “one game at a time” approach.

By the end of both losing seasons of 1998 and 1999 large contingents of his players had quit on him, and quit badly...

  • ...During the 6-10 2003 campaign, Cowher had his players fighting for every blade of grass, down to the final gun in overtime during a meaningless final game.

Cowher broke into the league as a special teams coach, and he was quite proud of that fact...

  • ...Special teams foul ups led directly to playoff losses against Kansas City in 1993 and of course New England in 2001.

During his tenure in Pittsburgh, Cowher came across as the darling of the national media...

  • ...His relationship with the Pittsburgh media was generally tense and often contentious.

Cowher was almost universally loved by his players, and he gave off a giant Teddy Bear aura in the rare glimpses he gave into his relationship with his wife and daughters...

  • ...Non-football players who crossed his path got frosty receptions at best; according to Jim Wexell’s book Steelers Nation, Cowher refused to even acknowledge James Harrison’s parents during a chance encounter in an elevator prior to Super Bowl XL.

The day Cowher stepped down as coach, he reaffirmed his connections to Pittsburgh, reminding everyone that his brothers and parent’s still lived in the city...

  • ...Press reports indicate that the Cowhers couldn't be bothered to have furniture moved from their Fox Chapel House, instead they had it auctioned off.

Although in the late 1990's he openly mused how nice it would be to have the Browns job, early this year Cowher reportedly asked not to be considered for the coaching vacency in Cleveland out of respect for Dan Rooney...

Returning once again to the day Cowher stepped away from the helm, he stated “you can take the boy from Pittsburgh, but you can’t take Pittsburgh from the boy…. Yinz understand what I mean...”

We thought we did.

  • ...Rather than root for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Bill Cowher was front and center during game four of the NHL Eastern Conference Semi-finals revving up the Carolina Hurricanes faithful by setting off their Hurricane siren.

Will We Ever Understand Bill Cowher?

Outside of Steelers Nation, The idea of someone shifting sports loyalties is not a foreign concept. Growing up in the Washington DC area, you ran into loads of people who would say stuff like “I grew as a die hard Buffalo Bills fan, but I root for the Redskins now because, well, you know, I can see their game every week.”

Never made sense to me.

I am the only person in my immediate or extended family who wasn’t born nor ever lived in Pittsburgh, and yet my loyalty to the Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins has never wavered. (OK, confession the O’s are my American League team, but I would firmly back the Bucos should the two ever meet in the World Series again…. Yeah, like that’s gonna happen….)

Pittsburghers, transplanted or otherwise, are loyal to Pittsburgh teams. It’s as much part of the collective DNA as yinz, pop, jumbo, Iron City, and gum bands.

Not surprisingly, much of Steelers Nation is up in arms over Cowher.

I don’t blame them.

But I do not completely share in their ire.

I have long been a Cowher apologist, defending him through those AFC Championship losses. (although initially I thought Rooneys erred in choosing him over Donahue after the 1999 season.)
But how ever much his latest escapade may rub me the wrong way, I am not ready to condemn the man who won 149 games, clinched two wild card berths, bagged 8 division titles, snagged a Lamar Hunt trophy along the way, and brought home One for the Thumb.

But if that’s true, then it’s also true that I cannot take the part of those who dismiss this whole debate as pointless. Because, as I have depicted above, there’s a lot more to Cowher than meets the eye. There's a complexity to Bill Cowher that too frequently gets lost in all of the fire and brimstone, Chin Out, Spit in Your Face bluster.

Sometimes that's been for good and sometimes its been for ill, but it has always been one of the things that's made him so interesting.

Or at least that is as close to explaining this as I can get. If you’ve got your own take, by all means, please leave a comment.

So, what do you think? Leave a comment. All views are welcome, but please, as this is sparking intense debate in Steelers Nation, we only ask that you be respectful of others who have different opinions.