I was born a Kansas City Chiefs fan. I was five when they won Super Bowl IV on January 11, 1970. They were good for a year or two after that but began a slow decline into a miserable existence by the mid-1970s forcing many of us young football fans to alternate fandoms. Me? Like many, I turned to the Pittsburg Steelers under Coach Chuck Noll.
The Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty of that era held tremendous appeal to a 10-year-old, football-loving, lower-middle-class kid from Kansas City, Kansas. They played aggressive and physical defense that earned the nickname, The Steel Curtain. They had an effective offense built on the legs of their running back Franco Harris and the arm of Terry Bradshaw. Most important to me, however, was the fact they beat the hated Oakland Raiders in several high-profile games, including the Immaculate Reception game (a life-changing event for this kid!).
Franco Harris passed away today at age 72. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Franco and the Steelers recently due to the NFL’s plan to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception game. It’s a sad day for this 58-year-old “kid”. Not only has another childhood sports hero died, but one who also appeared to have been as great of a human as he was a football player. I never met or saw Franco in person, yet I feel we lost a favorite uncle.
That’s a great compliment to Franco and his Steeler teammates. They were Everyman’s Team. They were tough-as-nails and blue-collar. The team, like Franco Harris, wasn’t loud or outrageous as a general rule. They did their job and won football games with class and honor.
The Pttsburgh Steelers, with another team of virtual nobody’s, are in the Super Bowl again. I heard something astounding about the Steelers the other day on ESPN Radio. Since 1975, the Steelers have had only seven sub .500 (losing) seasons. That means over that 35 year time period, in an age where the very league they participate in (THE NFL) legislates parity and a organization quality cycle, the Pittsburgh Steelers had winning seasons 80% of the time. That is a remarkable success rate that goes far beyond the raw athletic talent on the field.
How do they do it? (Here are the humble opinions and observations of Coach Hays) A. Plan
The Steelers ownership have a vision of what they want to accomplish. They paint the picture of what their vision looks like and post it on the wall for all in the management to see. They then sit down and decide how they want to go about the business of attaining the goal. In other words, they develop the personality of what their team needs to be. Once they know what they want to do and how they want to go about doing it, they take their picture of their goal vision off the wall and cut it up into pieces, much like a jigsaw puzzle. B. Personnel
The Steelers ownership goes about finding the people that fit each piece of the big picture puzzle. First the outside frame pieces are found and assembled, the right general manager, a top flight scouting staff, the right head coach, offensive and defensive coordinators and position coaches. Now, the magic begins. The aforementioned group watches hours of film, performs thousands of scouting visits, hundreds of interviews to find, select and sign the individual athletes that fit perfectly, like a glove, into each of the puzzle pieces. Once each piece is found, the often undervalued ability in the NFL to coach each of these pieces into a proper “fit” in the puzzle picture occurs. Finally, the goal and vision picture is now ready to assemble from the pieces. Personnel Note: 37 men on the Pittsburgh Steelers 53 man roster for the Super Bowl are homegrown draft picks or un-drafted free agent signings. Here is a list of their first round draft choices of the past decade. Impressive. 2001 Casey Hampton (DT) 2002 Kendall Simmons (G) 2003 Troy Polamalu (DB) 2004 Ben Roethisberger (QB) 2005 Heath Miller (TE) 2006 Santonio Holmes (WR) 2007 Lawrence Timmons (LB) 2008 Rashard Mendenhall (RB) 2009 Ziggy Hood (DT) 2010 Maurkice Pouncey (C) C. Performance
Through the course of the season, the organization goes about the business of working through the peaks and valleys of a 16 game NFL season in order to hang the picture back in a place of esteem on the wall. In the case of 2010-2011 season, that place of esteem is a return to the Super Bowl.
Calm and steady, moving forward one step at a time. Every man does their job on every play. Blue collar, hard hat, lunch pail, sprinkled with a healthy dose of Pittsburgh attitude. That is the Steeler Way.