ESPN.com is running a division-by-division “best ever series” at the moment, and their take on the AFC North provided some interesting food for thought.
James Walker, who covers the AFC North for ESPN, selects the Steelers 1975 team as the best ever.
Personally I would lean toward the 1978 team because it was the most complete – Rocky and Franco could still dominate on the ground and Bradshaw struck deep to Lynn Swann and John Stallworth downfield. On the defensive side of the ball, the 1975 version of the Steel Curtain was stronger, but the 1978 Steelers defense was still the best in the game.
But Walker makes strong arguments for the 1975 teams, and I have no reason to quibble.
The bigger issue is the honorable mentions that get tacked on at the end. Each team in the series gets one “Best” plus three honorable mentions. Walker awards honorable mentions (in order) to the Steelers XIII, XIV, and IX, and Super Bowl Squads.
But he mentions nary a word about the Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII.
And that is a mistake.
Ranking the Steelers Super Bowls
Any ranking of the Steelers Super Bowl squads has got to list either Super Bowl X or Super Bowl XIII as one and two. It really is that simple.
And there’s a strong argument for ranking the Super Bowl IX squad number three, if for no other reason that this was a group with a dominate defense, a crushing running game, and this group of Steelers was only broaching the heights of its greatness.
But who comes in fourth is a more difficult question.
Walker ranks the XIV squad 3rd, and while winning the fourth Super Bowl was impressive, why does it get automatic preference over the two more recent Super Bowls?
Most in Steelers Nation will probably rank the 2005 Super Bowl XL team last in the group. If forced to rate them, that is probably the rating I would give them. And perhaps that is a mistake, as that team had a championship caliber defense matched by a balanced offense. It also won 4 straight road playoff games to get its Lombardi.
Rightly or wrongly, even if you ignore all of Mike Holmgren’s sour graping about the officiating, the Steelers Super Bowl XL squad will suffer from the fact that they neither put on a dominate nor dramatic performance in the big game itself.
I invite any reader who wishes to advocate on behalf of the Steelers Super Bowl XL squad to leave a comment stating their arguments.
I’ll concentrate on making the case for the 2008 Steelers.
The 2008 Steelers vs. the 1979 Steelers
First, why rank the 1979 team below the 1974 team?
In addition to the reason cited above, the 1974 Steelers vanquished the Oakland Radiers, a fellow Super Bowl Champion from that era, en route to the title game and then defeated the perennial Super Bowl contender Vikings, and their Purple People Eater defense, in the Super Bowl itself.
The 1979 Steelers squad has no similar victories notching its belt. Certainly, Bum Philips and Earl Campbell were formidable opponents, and the Rams were a good team from that era, but neither could be considered as great.
It is impossible to compare teams from different eras with 100% objectivity, but any analysis must begin with a look at the players.
The 1979 team had nine Hall of Famers. How many potential Hall of Famers did the 2008 team have? Troy Polamalu, hopefully Hines Ward, and perhaps Ben Roethlisberger assuming he keeps his pants on. And on the surface, that should settle the argument right there.
But many of the Steelers future Hall of Famers were already in decline in 1979. Like the 2008 team they finished their regular season with a 12-4 record, and like the 2008 Steelers, they followed up their Super Bowl victory finishing 9-7.
But the 2008 Steelers played one of the toughest schedules in league history. They did so after weathering a blistering series of injuries that ravaged their offensive line and forced them to start their fourth string running back in the season defining week 5 contest against Jacksonville.
And if the 2008 Steelers lacked the dynastic quality of their 1979 forbearers, that is a simple function of the era in which they play. The 2008 Steelers had their backs pressed to the wall so many times during the year, and each and every time they responded.
Vince Ferragamo came off the bench to play a phenomenal game for the LA Rams that day in Pasadena, but no one will ever confuse him with Kurt Warner, and Ferragamo had nothing on the order of a Larry Fitzgerald at his disposal.
The 1979 Steelers were a great team. But the 2008 Steelers deserve to be considered a notch higher when establishing a pecking order among the Steelers Super Bowl Champions.
But this is just the opinion of one voice in Steelers Nation. All who have a different take are welcome to leave a comment and voice their views. Let the debate begin.
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