NFL.com released the list of preliminary “modern-era” nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame yesterday. As a Steelers fan, I excited when read over the list since there were six people on it who had ties to the franchise during their professional playing and coaching careers.
Jerome Bettis, Running Back
The 1993 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year was supposedly “finished” when the Steelers acquired him in a “Draft Day” trade back in 1996. Apparently the St. Louis Rams believed that then-rookie Lawrence Phillips was a better option for them at the running back position. I think we all know how that worked out for St. Louis. Pittsburgh on the other hand received a re-energized Bettis who proved to be the best running back this franchise has trotted out on the field since Franco Harris left town. “The Bus” rushed for 10,571 yards and 78 touchdowns during his 10-year career with the Steelers, made four Pro Bowls (1996, 1997, 2001, 2004) with the team, and made his final stop as a Super Bowl-champion after the 2005 season.
Kevin Greene, Outside Linebacker
Although his career with the Steelers lasted only three years (1993-1995), Kevin Greene’s awesomeness as a pass-rusher will not be forgotten by those who saw him play in Pittsburgh. The addition of the veteran Greene in 1993 to a linebacker corps which already had Levon Kirkland and Greg Lloyd made “Blitzburgh” one of the best defenses of the entire decade. The former Los Angeles Ram tallied 12.5 sacks in his debut season with the Steelers, a league-leading 14.0 in 1994, and 9.0 during Pittsburgh’s A.F.C. Championship-winning campaign of 1995.
Gary Anderson, Kicker
While he will always be most famous for his missed field goal in the 1998 N.F.C. Championship Game, Gary Anderson was a model of consistency for the Steelers during a rough-patch of their team’s recent history. Anderson made three Pro Bowls (1983, 1985, 1993) during his 13-year career with the franchise (1982-1994), won the 1989 AFC Wild Card game at the Astrodome in overtime with a 50 yard field goal, and is currently ranked second in terms of the most points scored in league history (2,434).
Bill Cowher, Head Coach
Many questioned how the Steelers would be able to replace Chuck Noll after the 1991 season came to a close. Noll had been the franchise’s only head coach since 1969, and the team has missed the postseason in six of the previous seven years. Undeterred by the task at hand, Pittsburgh’s brass found a successful and stable replacement in the form of Bill Cowher. All Cowher did was lead the Steelers to postseason appearances in 10 of his 15 seasons with the team, win 149 games during those 15 years, and help the team notch “the one for the thumb” with a victory in Super Bowl XL.
Buddy Parker, Head Coach
“Bleak” is an appropriate adjective to use when one talks about the fortunes of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1933-1968. Yet from 1957-1964 head coach Buddy Parker helped the lowly franchise achieve a measure of success. A two-time NFL title winner in Detroit (1952 and 1953), Parker helped the Steelers to a 51-47-6 record during his eight years with the team. Parker also built one of the best rosters in team history up to that point with the likes of Bobby Layne, Ernie Stautner, “Big Daddy” Lipscomb, Buddy Dial, and John Henry Johnson. Unfortunately, Parker’s best chance at an NFL title in Pittsburgh was crushed when the Steelers lost the final game of the 1963 regular season to the New York Giants. Had the 7-4-3 Steelers won, they would have advanced to their first NFL title game in team history.
Tony Dungy, Cornerback and Assistant Coach
The only person on this list who both played and coached for the Steelers, Tony Dungy was a defensive back for the team from 1977-1978, the team’s defensive backs coach from 1981-1983, and the defensive coordinator from 1984-1988. While he was much more known for his coaching exploits, Dungy actually led the 1978 Super Bowl-winning Steelers with six interceptions. After his playing career ended in 1979, Chuck Noll gave Dungy his first shot to coach with the Steelers and Dungy did not disappoint as an assistant from 1981-1988. After his stint in Pittsburgh, Dungy went on to become a successful head coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts from 1996-2008. And after so many years of falling short of a title with both teams, Dungy finally helped the Colts win Super Bowl XLI after the 2006 season.
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