As a Steelers fan and fan of the NFL in general I have always had a great interest in the draft since it was first televised on ESPN in the early eighties. It is my off season football fix because I don’t follow any other sport as I save it all for the NFL season and the Steelers. This coming week I will watch the full 7 rounds of draft coverage by both ESPN and the NFL Network. I am not privy to any Steelers inside information. Like the rest of Steeler Nation, I do however know the Steelers philosophy: resigning current players, building through the draft and signing a few low to mid level free agents. But I never can tell what the Steeler brass is thinking about individual players. Many players come available in free agency or the draft and I hope the Steelers sign or draft them. I am almost always disappointed.
With the upcoming draft beginning with round 1 on Thursday April 25 the fans, media and the NFL experts are all making their predictions or mock drafts. I however make no predictions about any player going to any team. All I care about is who the Steelers should take. My approach to the Steelers draft is based off of what I have seen during a game, heard and read and then my gut instinct tells me who I want for the Steelers. Then I just begin hoping the players I want are available for the Steelers and they draft them. I also hope they don’t draft certain players the experts are targeting for the Steelers. It is a ongoing tug of war in my mind.
This years draft reminds me of the 1988 draft when I was hoping and I mean hoping the Steelers would draft middle linebacker Chris Spielman out of the Ohio State University. My gut instincts were screaming this was the Steelers guy. At Ohio State he displayed everything we as fans wanted from a Pittsburgh Steeler. The Steelers were going through their worst period (1985-1988; 26 wins 37 losses) in the 42 years since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970. In an amazingly stroke of luck the Steelers had drafted Rod Woodson the year before when no one had expected him to drop all the way to #10. I was thinking how these 2 special players, Woodson and Spielman would turn around the dismal Steelers team.
When the Steelers took defensive end Aaron Jones at #18 from Eastern Kentucky I was crushed. I just couldn’t believe they didn’t take Spielman. What were they thinking? I just didn’t understand it and to this day I still don’t. For whatever reasons Spielman lasted until the 29th overall pick and went to the Detroit Lions as the second pick in the second round. According to a USA Today article in April of 2009 ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper considered his draft report on Chris Spielman as one of his all time biggest mistakes. Kiper said this about his then scouting report on Spielman, “a decent-to-good player. I thought he was a fourth- or fifth-round pick. Had a great NFL career,” Kiper says. “Chris always tells the story: When he woke up at 3 in the morning, he’d look at a picture of me he put on the wall and would do 300 sit-ups, 300 push-ups. It motivated him to say, ‘This moron, this idiot, said I couldn’t get it done.”
Spielman spent 8 seasons in Detroit, leading the team in tackles the first 7. For his career, Spielman racked up 1181 tackles in 148 games, averaging 92 per season. Season after season, he was known as one of the hardest working and the hardest hitting players in the game. Former NFL star Bo Jackson once said this about Spielman “Man, that’s the hardest any white boy ever hit me”. Spielman played 10 years in the NFL and was named to the Pro Bowl 4-times and named once as First-Team All-Pro. (In a 5 year Steelers career Aaron Jones played in 67 games, 22 starts, 9.5 sacks, 114 tackles)
More importantly than being a great player was that Spielman was a great player with great character. Chris Spielman’s career statistics are certainly impressive but what was off the charts were his immeasurables. Spielman was a great leader of men, he led by example on all things football: on the field, in the locker-room and in the weight room. Spielman led with his voice, his drive to succeed and his passion to play the game was second to none and never questioned, he had a will or spirit that could not be broken, he was one of the toughest players in the game, he played through pain, always came to play, he was a hitter, he was a disrupter and played with instincts, intelligence and a high motor. Spielman played with heart and guts – which is the way he lived as a person. Spielman’s character was never more evident when after 2 seasons in Buffalo; he took a year off of football to spend time with his wife, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. If you doubt what I am saying watch the NFL Films series called “A Football Life – Chris Spielman” which regularly plays on the NFL Network.