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Rossi: No arguing Colbert's impact on Steelers

| Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert watches practice Thursday, July 30, 2014 at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.

Hanging in there is hard. That's how the Steelers work, though. History has shown they are better off for having ...

“Patience,” safety Troy Polamalu said.

General manager Kevin Colbert is Pittsburgh's least-talked-about architect, though he's arguably its most successful. He has built a legacy that will stand forever, one that has not been witnessed in this region for decades.

He built Super Bowl champions. Nothing matters more in the landscape of Pittsburgh sports.

If not for the 1970s, when the Steelers won four Super Bowls and played in six conference title games, the first 12 years of Colbert's era would rate as the greatest in the city's sports history. From 2000-11, Colbert's teams won two titles and played in three Super Bowls and five conference championship games. Heinz Field was host to 10 playoff games and graced by two likely Hall of Famers Colbert drafted: Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger.

Look, there are reasons the Steelers are equally lauded and envied by those who hold power within the Pirates and Penguins. It's the same reason Pittsburghers who were born long after the 1970s hold the Steelers dearest even when the other teams are blessed with MVPs.

We're in a fifth decade of the Steelers being the best team in Pittsburgh. Not always, but more often than not.

The Steelers remain the best bet to bring a big parade to Downtown, although their current playoff drought is longer than that of the Penguins or Pirates. The reason for that is Colbert, who has the trust of an ownership that never overreacts to a couple of disappointments.

Missing out on the last two postseasons has hurt Colbert. It's a different pain than the one that afflicts his swollen left knee. It's not “devastating” like the one that lingers from a Super Bowl loss to Green Bay. It's not disheartening like the one that sets in when a player fails to “become a good person.”

Missing the playoffs hurts because Colbert never takes for granted that his current season could be his last with his hometown team. His job might seem safe given the Rooney family's famous belief in stability, but Colbert never looks at it that way — and losing this job would hurt.

Three seasons without a playoff appearance shouldn't, and won't, stand for the Steelers. Colbert knows that.

He was raised on the North Side, schooled at North Catholic High School and Robert Morris (when it was only a college). He was soaking up the 1970s glory along with the Pittsburghers who lost themselves in those dynastic Steelers of Joe Greene, who is now Colbert's friend.

Colbert has been here for six Super Bowl celebrations. He is smart enough to know those high times are the exception, but he also believes his job is to give the Steelers a chance to be celebrated every winter.

He has failed on the job the last two years.

His friend, Ray Shero, was recently fired by the Penguins for failing a lot less. Another friend, Neal Huntington, takes a lot more heat when the Pirates are winning than Colbert does when the Steelers disappoint.

At age 57, Colbert could take an early retirement or a less-stressful role with the Steelers. The fact that he hasn't — and won't — has nothing to do with needing to stay in the game but rather what he has witnessed on the St. Vincent fields during training camp.

His franchise quarterback is throwing like one. His difference-making tight end is healthy. His interior offensive line is locked in. His small No. 1 wide receiver is showing signs of taking another big step toward All-Pro status.

It's the defense, though, that has Colbert thinking a seventh Super Bowl is “attainable.” Not quite yet because some parts (cornerback, defensive line) need tweaking, but this Steelers defense is getting there.

What Colbert's been watching the last couple of weeks are defenders with closing speed, the type of which is generated by players with young legs.

The greatest Steelers defenses of Colbert's tenure were infused with younger players who did things faster than veterans who better understood the zone-blitz scheme. Quietly, maybe subtly, Colbert has built one of those defenses for coach Mike Tomlin and coordinator Dick LeBeau to mold.

The defense might not be ready to rock to “Renegade” quite yet, but Colbert has time to get the unit to that point. That's because hanging in there isn't hard for the Steelers.

It's how they win.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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