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Steelers teams of past, present linked by pedigree

| Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011

Mahogany shelves are filled with neatly lined books. Pictures that cover an adjacent wall also tell the history of the Steelers.

But what makes the second-floor room at Steelers headquarters one of the most unique libraries on the planet: Six Lombardi Trophies are displayed in a row, and they have the same effect as a six-car pile-up on the Parkway.

"I don't ever walk by without looking at them," Steelers receiver Hines Ward said. "I just stop, and you look at being a part of this history, of being a part of this organization. It's a special feeling to be a part of this."

If the Steelers win another Lombardi Trophy next Sunday in Dallas, they will have to confront the welcome problem of where exactly to put it. Room in the space reserved for NFL dynasties may also have to be found if the Steelers beat the Green Bay Packers at Cowboys Stadium.

A Steelers win would give them three Super Bowl titles in six years. A victory over the Packers would also stir talk about whether this current group ranks with the 1970s teams that won four Super Bowls in six seasons.

Such a question makes for good bar-stool banter. But it misses the point, one that is made by something as simple as Steelers legend Franco Harris showing up for a charity event run by Ward.

The Steelers' past and their present are not in competition with one another.

"One thing that I always wondered and always hoped for: Will they keep what we built going• They have, and that makes me so proud," Harris, the MVP of Super Bowl IX, said. "I always tell people that it's not us and them. It's one big family and it's just evolution. It's not us against them because they're just our younger generation and we're a part of them, and they're a part of us."

Personnel prowess

The Steelers of the 1970 were built with some of the best drafts in NFL history, including the '74 one that netted four future Pro Football Hall of Famers.

The success of this current group can be traced, in part, to the fact that the Steelers have not missed on a first-round draft pick since 1999. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and strong safety Troy Polamalu are among the players that the Steelers have taken with their top selections during that time.

"The two keys have been the defense and the quarterback during the period of time," former NFL general manager Charley Casserly said of the Steelers' current run.

What has also set the Steelers apart during a the salary cap era: They have had an uncanny knack for identifying core players to keep and not overpaying their own free agents.

"You don't ever see them make bad decisions on players they give money to," said Casserly, now an NFL analyst for several TV networks.

That has allowed the Steelers to enjoy as much success in the 2000s as any team, including the New England Patriots.

The two are the only franchises to win multiple Lombardi Trophies this century. The Steelers are one win away from tying the Patriots for the most Super Bowl victories during that time.

New England won its three titles in a four-year period but that run may have been tainted by the "Spygate" scandal — and still lingering questions about how much the Patriots benefited from illegal videotaping.

"In the last 10 years we've been to five AFC Championship Games, and the two times we didn't go to the Super Bowl (the Patriots) cheated so we could be looking at a whole lot more if that didn't happen," nose tackle Casey Hampton said of the Steelers' Super Bowl victories. "You never know what could have been."

Figuring out the Steelers' place in their era — as well as in history — will have to come after Super Bowl XLV.

"We've got to finish the job," Hampton, a first-round draft pick in 2001, said. "You can't compare yourselves to the '70s team since we've got two and haven't won another one. If we win it, then we can start talking about that. When you're that close to history you want to reach the goals and do the things that they did."

In an attempt to make history the Steelers frequently draw on their own — and specifically what the teams in the 1970s accomplished and the bar that they set.

"I like it when (coach) Mike Tomlin talks about the standard and this is what we stand for, this is who we are, this is what we're trying to achieve," said Harris, who served as the Steelers' honorary co-captain for the AFC Championship Game. "To be able to keep something at that level for that long is a lot tougher than all of the other teams trying to get there."

'Once in, always in'

If the accomplishments of the '70s teams don't hang over the current players, that is because the past is still very much present.

Many of the ex-players are still in contact with the organization, and that has prevented them from morphing into mythical beings whose accomplishments can never be matched.

The alumni dinner that the Steelers hold after the first day of minicamp practice gives rookies a chance to meet the players who came before them.

It is not uncommon to see Hall of Famer Mel Blount in his trademark cowboy hat at the Steelers' practice facility. And perhaps the greatest Steelers player of them all, Joe Greene, works in the organization's scouting department.

"Seeing those guys and the love they have and the respect they show us when they see us is great, because they don't have to," Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said. "They started all of this. For them to always be so excited about us and to be so complimentary of the things we're doing is amazing. It's a fraternity almost. Once in, always in."

The Steelers players often talk of themselves as family, and that reflects the spirit of the team's late founder, Art "The Chief" Rooney.

The glass wall outside of the library at team headquarters wasn't built just so the Steelers could showcase their Lombardi Trophies.

It was constructed as an ode to Rooney and the open-door policy he adhered to as the Steelers' owner.

The library is filled with black and white photographs that hung in Rooney's old office at Three Rivers Stadium. But the trophies — and the picture displays that are behind them — dominate the room and give it the feel of a shrine.

Almost every Steelers player can recall the first time he saw all of the Lombardi Trophies together.

Mike Wallace took a picture of them. Emmanuel Sanders said a prayer.

No, really.

"I said, 'God, please bless me with the opportunity to be hoisting one of these one day,' " the rookie wide receiver said.

Not long after that, the Steelers issued the No. 88 to Sanders.

He immediately balked at the number — not because it had been Hall of Famer Lynn Swann's.

Sanders had wanted a number in the teens. After Ward told him about the significance of what he was given, Sanders researched Swann on the Internet.

Sanders, who grew up outside of Houston, didn't even know who Swann was before getting drafted by the Steelers.

Now, he is well aware of what players like Swann mean to the Steelers.

"This is the greatest organization in football. You can tell that guys embrace it and love to be around the Steelers franchise," said Sanders, who hopes to meet Swann soon. "Once you're a Steeler, you're always a Steeler."

That is essentially what Harris, one of the most beloved Steelers ever, tells people when asked about his teams — and the ones that have continued the legacy started in the '70s.

"I won't compare," Harris said. "This is just an extension of who we are. They are me, and I am them."

Additional Information:


Almost 20 players will win a third Super Bowl ring if the Steelers beat the Green Bay Packers on Feb. 6. Here is a look at those players.

Charlie Batch, QB: Has won some important games when called upon to start.

Trai Essex, G: Versatility makes him a key reserve on a line that has been hit hard with injuries.

James Farrior, LB: Has to slow down one of these years, doesn't he?

Larry Foote, LB: Has had to accept a reserve role after starting on '05 and '08 title teams.

Casey Hampton, NT: Five Pro Bowl selections are second most (tied) on the Steelers.

James Harrison, LB: Seventh on Steelers' all-time sacks list with 49.

Chris Hoke, NT: Could start elsewhere if he didn't like playing in Super Bowls so much.

Brett Keisel, DE: One of the Steelers' best-ever late-round draft picks.

Chris Kemoeatu, G: Will start in second Super Bowl since succeeding Alan Faneca at LG.

Bryant McFadden, CB: Break-up of Peyton Manning pass in 2005 playoffs helped the Steelers start their current run.

Heath Miller, TE: His 3,233 career receiving yards are second most by a Steelers tight end.

Troy Polamalu, S: Numbers don't do justice to the impact he has on games.

Ben Roethlisberger, QB: Will he finally get his just due if he wins a third Super Bowl?

Aaron Smith, DE: The standard for ends in a 3-4 defense.

Max Starks, OT: Started first eight games before going down with season-ending neck injury.

Ike Taylor, CB: Hard to believe he has yet to make the Pro Bowl.

Hines Ward, WR: 46 catches away from 1,000 career receptions.

Greg Warren, LS: Has overcome two serious knee injuries to make it back to the Super Bowl.

Additional Information:

Notable runs

The Steelers can become the first NFL team to win at least three Super Bowls within a 10-year span two different times. Here are the teams that have accomplished that feat.

Steelers: 4 (1974-79)

49ers: 4 (1981-89)

Cowboys: 3 (1992-95)

Patriots: 3 (2001-04)

Raiders: 3 (1976-83)

Redskins: 3 (1982-91)

* • Years indicate the seasons teams won the Super Bowl, not actual year the game was played.

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