Good read from the enquirer. Nice to see somebody in that city is not in denial.....
Model franchise forged with few sparks
Pittsburgh reflected in workmanlike approach
BY PAUL DAUGHERTY | PDAUGHERTY@ENQUIRER.COM
The gentleman was bent by the years. His white hair was scattered atop his head; he wore a cardigan sweater. An unlit cigar clung to his lips. He was emptying ashtrays in the lobby of Three Rivers Stadium.
The rookies sat in the lobby, awaiting an audience with the coach, Chuck Noll. They could see the four Super Bowl trophies. They were familiar with the names of the famous: Bradshaw, Lambert, Greene, Harris, Blount and so on. It was 1980, a year after the last of the Pittsburgh Steelers' four Super wins of the '70s.
One of the rookies was Tunch Ilkin, a guard who was born in Turkey and grew up in Chicago hating the Steelers' success. The other was Nate Johnson.
"Hi, fellas," the old guy in the cardigan said. He had a big, expressive, map-of-Ireland mug. "How ya doin' today?"
To which the rookie Nate Johnson replied, "Who are you, the janitor?"
"Heh, heh," the old guy said. "I do a little bit of everything around here." Then Art Rooney dumped the contents of a small ashtray into a large ashtray and put the whole mess of ashes in a sack.
Has there been a better franchise in the history of pro sports than the Pittsburgh Steelers, bought for $2,500 in 1933 by Art Rooney? More precisely: Has any franchise been able to live its philosophy and its attitude - its Way, if you will - any longer or more successfully?
The New England Patriots provide the flavor of the day. We praise their coach, even as he's caught cheating. We adore their dimpled QB with the outrageous passer rating and the gorgeous girlfriend. We admire the way the Pats find players who fit what they do, year after year, players like Corey Dillon and Randy Moss, who willingly ditch their difficult personalities to play for a winner. We want to be the Patriots when we grow up.
Compared to the Steelers, New England rides on training wheels.
You hate the Steelers, of course. You will boo them today. You'll clash with their proud and obnoxious fans. By 4 o'clock, a few of you will have been arrested. But you'll still envy their team. Everyone does, or at least has reason to.
Some NFL teams have approached Pittsburgh's success: Dallas, Oakland, Green Bay, the 49ers, an occasional flash from Denver, Washington and the Bills. None has sustained it. The Steelers' closest rival, in terms of winning consistently with its own, unique approach, is the New York Yankees. No one would confuse Art Rooney with George Steinbrenner.
The Steelers are no mystery. Since they started winning in the early '70s, they run and they stop the run. They hit you in your mouth. "Year in and year out, they're ready to fight," says Willie Anderson.
It seems to work. Since 1971, they've had exactly seven losing seasons.
Take it a step further: What other organization in pro sports more purely inhabits the character of the city it represents? "No flash," says Ilkin, now a Steelers radio guy, formerly 13 years on the offensive line in Pittsburgh. "Hard work, tough, simple, no nonsense. It's a reflection of the community."
Pittsburgh isn't what it was. The steel mills are mostly gone. When I was a kid visiting relatives up there, we'd sometimes drive after dark to a bluff above the mills lining one of the three rivers, I forget which, and watch them pour steel. Sparks danced high into the night. It was like the Fourth of July, without the Sousa music.
That's done now, but the character of the town remains. "The heritage of all these different cultures and their work ethic" is how Ilkin puts it. Ilkin was a fan favorite in the 'Burgh, partly because he has a wonderful, tough, ethnic-sounding name. How could you not like a lineman named Tunch?
"It's a working-class city. The Steelers pride themselves on being a working-class team," said Ilkin, and while you can dispute that now, given the millions tossed like salad at a vegetarian party, the attitude authored in the '70s still exists. Dan Rooney, Art's son, lives in the house where he grew up, a few blocks from Heinz Field. Often, he walks to the games.
The Steelers have strayed from themselves a few times, with mixed results. They got to the '95 Super Bowl with a big assist from Neil O'Donnell's arm, and in 2002, they rode the comet that was QB Tommy Maddox from an 0-2 start to the playoffs.
The following year, the Steelers again emphasized the pass. Bill Cowher replaced Jerome Bettis with quicker Amos Zereoue. Pittsburgh went 6-10. In '04, the running game returned and the Steelers averaged 34 minutes a game in possession time.
Even now, the Steelers neglect their identity at their peril. Rookie coach Mike Tomlin took heat all week after a 31-28 loss at Denver in which the Steelers threw 21 passes in the first half, against the league's worst run defense. Chances are favorable that won't happen today.
"I remember hearing John Facenda's voice," Tunch Ilkin said of the man who provided the narration for NFL Films for many years. "There are 27 teams in the National Football League. And there are the Pittsburgh Steelers." There are 32 teams now, but the sentiment stands. The old guy in the cardigan would be proud.