Hines Ward, Bill Cowher among 4 inducted into Steelers’ Hall of Honor
If the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers was split into three eras, it wouldn’t be too difficult to define them: the Super Steelers under Chuck Noll, and the teams before and after.
Each of the three was represented in the organization’s newest Hall of Honor class.
Coach Bill Cowher and receiver Hines Ward are two of the most recognizable and beloved figures of the post-Noll Steelers, Larry Brown won two Super Bowls each at two different positions under Noll and Elbie Nickel was one of the franchise greats of the 3 ½ decades prior to Noll’s arrival.
The four men were announced as the 2019 Hall of Honor class on Saturday in a press conference led by team president Art Rooney II on the campus of Saint Vincent in Unity, site of the team’s training camp.
Contemporary fans are most familiar with Cowher and Ward, who were the winning coach and most valuable player, respectively, of Super Bowl XL after the 2005 season. They spent a combined 29 seasons with the Steelers.
But Rooney said it is important for the organization to recognize greats of earlier eras such as Brown (1971-84) and Nickel (1947-57) combined for 25 Steelers seasons of their own. The former spent seven seasons each as a tight end and offensive tackle; the latter accumulating 329 catches and 37 touchdowns as a tight end.
Art Rooney II and Larry Brown at the Hall of Honor ceremony. pic.twitter.com/T6xEaHkWCo
— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) July 27, 2019
“It’s great to be able to introduce our young fans to the greats of the past,” Rooney said, “and Elbie was someone who I heard his name a lot growing up. I know my dad (Dan Rooney) would have been upset with us if we didn’t get Elbie in there. So I am glad we got that done.”
Nickel died in 2007 as the Steelers’ career leader in catches among tight ends (later passed by Heath Miller). Ward is in New York as a coaching intern for the Jets. Cowher, a Crafton native, now lives in New York as an analyst for CBS Sports.
Brown was the only inductee in attendance at the announcement Saturday.
“I didn’t expect it,” Brown said of the honor, “so it was a surprise. At the same time, I felt deeply honored to have that kind of recognition… I had privilege of playing with great players, great teammates and great contributors to the organization, and it’s not always that everyone gets the recognition so I accept this and am proud to have it, and at the same time recognize the contributions so many players made.”
Brown is one of only 22 players to win Super Bowls after the 1974, ’75, ’78 and ’79 seasons, 13 of them are now in the Hall of Honor. Brown caught the clinching touchdown late in Super Bowl IX for the Steelers first championship. Before the 1978 season, he switched to tackle and started for the Super Bowl XIII and XIV teams.
The organization remained stuck at four Super Bowls for 26 years; Cowher and Ward were instrumental in getting, as Rooney said Saturday, the “one for the thumb.”
They were two of the figures most responsible for returning the franchise to elite prominence after it bottomed out in mediocrity in the 1980s. Ward (1998-2011) is the team’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He had five catches and the game-clinching 43-yard touchdown in Super Bowl XL in Detroit – a victory that capped Cowher’s 14th and penultimate season leading the Steelers.
It is a true honor to be inducted into the Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Honor. The @steelers organization and its tradition are one of the best in the @NFL & having grown up in Crafton, 4 miles from @heinzfield, this award is very SPECIAL and HUMBLING. Thank you Steeler Nation!
— Bill Cowher (@CowherCBS) July 27, 2019
Cowher won 149 games and made the postseason 10 times.
“It’s special to see (Cowher) and always so special to have Hines to go in with him,” Rooney said. “Obviously those two worked hard together to get this done.”
Rooney said Cowher was surprised when Rooney called him to relay the news. Rooney said Cowher committed to making the Sept. 30 Monday night game against Cincinnati at Heinz Field when the 2019 class will be honored publicly. Cowher also said he would do his best to make the formal ceremony on the evening of Sept. 29 – a Sunday, meaning he has CBS duties earlier in the day.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .