When one thinks about when and where the Steelers and Chiefs paths’ have crossed in recent years, one important event always sticks out in my mind: The 2003 N.F.L. Draft. Because Pittsburgh will be playing Kansas City on Monday Night Football, I thought that it would be fun to take a look back at one of the most important Draft Day Trades in recent franchise history.
2002 & 2003’s Draft Needs
To understand how and why Pittsburgh made the move up the Draft Board on April 26, 2003, one must first understand and remember what had occurred the previous season.
With Comeback Player of the Year Tommy Maddox leading Pittsburgh’s high-powered Offense, the Steelers fought back from a 1-3 record to finish 10-5-1 in 2002. Not only did the Steelers claim the newly-created A.F.C. North that year, they also beat Cleveland 36-33 in one of the most exciting postseason games in franchise history.
Yet as exciting as Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress, Rookie Antwaan Randle El, and Amos Zereoue were to watch in 2002, the Defense was a completely different story. Even today, I can still remember vividly how much Pittsburgh’s Defensive Backfield struggled through that season.
I can still see Tom Brady as he shredded the Secondary with his short and efficient passing attack on the opening Monday Night game as he displayed to the world how to attack Pittsburgh’s stout Defense. I remember Rich Gannon coming close to an N.F.L. record for Completions in a game against Pittsburgh’s Secondary the following week. Although the Week 10 Tie against Atlanta was fun to watch, Michael Vick was an absolute monster and recorded over 300 Yards of Total Offense and 2 Touchdowns to lead a 17 point comeback in the 4th Quarter. A calcified Jeff Blake even torched the Secondary for 336 Yards and 2 TD’s in the season finale.
After being absolutely destroyed during the postseason against the Browns (led by Kelly Holcomb) and Titans through the air, changes needed to be made in Pittsburgh’s Defensive Backfield if the team was ever going to take the “next step.” One of the primary areas of concern was the Safety position. Both starters, Brent Alexander and Lee Flowers, were entering their early thirties and appeared to have lost a step or two. Plus, veteran Mike Logan was a solid backup and Special Teams player, but not the “future” at either of Safety positions.
With their need for help in the back-end of their Secondary, the Steelers had a player in mind in the 2003 Draft Class which had the potential to turn things around. Unfortunately for G.M. Kevin Colbert and the rest of the Steelers’ brass, they were stuck with the 27th selection in the 1st Round, a selection which put them far outside of the area in which the specific player they wanted would likely be available.
The 2003 Draft & The Deal Between Pittsburgh & Kansas City
The Steelers desperately needed a trading partner in case the player that they wanted slipped to an area of the draft board where a potential trade was possible. Thankfully for Colbert & Co., they found a ready and willing party in the then-emerging Kansas City Chiefs. With the 16th overall selection, the Chiefs were in a prime position for a team like Pittsburgh to trade with and acquire multiple picks in the process. If a specific player fell to their spot, Kansas City could agree to a deal and help their franchise with the addition of multiple selections to add to their emerging roster.
Whether it was luck or downright fate, something special happened on that first day of the 2003 N.F.L. Draft “Steeler Nation.” The top Safety prospect of that entire Draft Class fell all the way down to the Chiefs spot at #16. What was deemed an appropriate spot for the Steelers to trade up to and acquire the player they wanted, a deal was executed between Pittsburgh and Kansas City’s Front Offices. The Steelers and Chiefs swapped their 1st Round picks, and Pittsburgh sent their 3rd and 6th Round selections to Kansas City for the rights to that all-important 16th overall pick so they could select that Safety they needed to help to fix their Defensive Backfield.
Who was that Safety you might ask? Well, it was none other than future Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu.
As awesome as that Steelers move up the board from #32 to #25 to acquire Santonio Holmes was in 2006, the bold move to trade up and acquire Polamalu will still stick out in my mind as one of the best Draft Day decisions of the Colbert Era (outside of Big Ben of course). To be fair to the Chiefs, they were not exactly swindled themselves in the deal as they used their 1st Round selection on Running Back Larry Johnson. Although his career ended pretty ugly in Kansas City, Johnson still had a two year window in which he was one of the best, if not the best, Running Back in the entire League when he racked up 40 Total Touchdowns during the 2005 and 2006 seasons. Nevertheless, Polamalu has become a Hall of Fame caliber player in Pittsburgh during his 10-year career and should be considered as one of the defining players at his position during the modern era of football. So let us give thanks “Steeler Nation,” as we should be somewhat grateful to the Chiefs for allowing Polamalu to be selected by our favorite organization.
Stats Courtesy of: Pro Football Reference.com