Pittsburgh Invades Canton For NFL Hall Of Fame

 Posted by at 5:03 am  Hall of Fame, Pitt Panthers, Steel Dynasty, Steeler Nation, Videos  Comments Off on Pittsburgh Invades Canton For NFL Hall Of Fame
Aug 062012
 

As the NFL kicks off the a brand new season, this past weekend was all about saying good-bye. Good-bye to former members of the Pittsburgh Steelers who, in the immortal words of coach Chuck Noll, are moving on to seek their life’s work. And also good-bye to two former Steelers and one Pittsburgh native who earned pro football’s highest honor, enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. In both cases, it was a busy weekend for Steeler Nation to bid old heroes a fond farewell.

On Friday, the Steelers held a “Friday Night Lights” evening practice as a sort of thank you to the horde of faithful who make the pilgrimage up to Latrobe for training camp. Fans were treated to a quarterback skills competition where Byron Leftwich evidently impressed with his ability to hit a garbage can at twenty yards and an impromptu heavyweight boxing match broke out between Mike Adams and Cam Hayward. There was also a pregame ceremony with four former Steelers officially retiring as members of the Black and Gold. The photo above shows (from left to right) Joey Porter, Willie Parker, Marvel Smith, and Aaron Smith bidding farewell to the fans.

Some cute chick who does video work for Steelers.com later conducted a short sit-down interview with all four which you can watch by clicking here.

On Saturday, Steeler Nation descended upon Canton, Ohio in what is probably going to be a yearly trip as many of the great Steelers of the Aughts become eligible for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. I’ve been to the HOF a couple times and if you’re a football fan you really owe it to yourself to make the trip at least once in your lifetime. It’s a tremendous facility full of great exhibits, many of them paying tribute to either the Steelers or the rich history of football in Western Pennsylvania. If nothing else, the HOF busts room is a must-see because you literally can’t take three steps without running across a former Steeler.

Speaking of busts, did anybody else notice how amazingly lifelike the busts were this year? It used to be sorta hit or miss (Franco, for example, looked creepily like Shia LaBouf). Guess the NFL has finally started to employ some of that laser scanning technology they use to make action figures look exactly like movie actors. Whatever they’ve done, those likenesses looked amazingly spot-on.

Anyway, the first Steeler to the podium wasn’t a recent retiree but rather veteran’s selection Jack Butler. Butler, who I wrote about extensively on my old site after being contacted by his son, finally achieved the honor his family wanted so badly for him. A defensive back for some wretched Steelers teams from 1951-59, Butler nonetheless retired with the second most career interceptions (52) in an era when teams barely passed more than dozen times per game. His legacy endured, however, as he was named to the Steelers All-Time team, 50th Anniversary team and 75th Anniversary Legends squad.

Butler’s family definitely won the night by wearing those damnable Bumblebee throwbacks with Butler’s name and number on the back. Once again, I can’t embed the video so if you want to catch a snippet of his excellent speech, click here.

Then we had the man who continued the Steelers long tradition of excellence at center, Dermontti Dawson. Dirt, as he was fondly called by teammates and fans, was a seven time Pro Bowler and member of the NFL’s All-90s team. He, along with Rod Woodson, were the two players who bridged the twilight of the Noll era to the unparalleled success of the Cowher years. I caught Dermontti’s speech live and he gave a very touching tribute to the legendary Mike Webster (who was still here in 1988, moving Dirt to guard his rookie season) but NFL.com decided to cut that bit from the highlights for some unknown reason. You can watch what they kept¬† by clicking here.

Finally, the night’s most memorable speech came from Curtis Martin. Martin never played for the Steelers but he grew up in Pittsburgh and played his college ball at Pitt. Martin’s speech, particularly his asides about not liking to play football and especially not wanting to play hurt, finally explained some things for those who remember his injury plagued and, frankly, badly underachieving tenure with the Panthers. But Martin’s words went well beyond football, talking for the first time in pretty harrowing detail about how he grew up watching his mother being abused by his father and some of the incidents he escaped while running the streets with less-than-desirable friends. His story is truly one of rising from nothing to make good for you and your family and I’d encourage everybody to give it a listen by clicking here.

May 032012
 

Jim Clack. Ray Mansfield. Steve Furness. Joe Gilliam. Dave Brown. Ray Oldham. Willie Fry, Jr. Steve Courson. Dwight White. Ernie Holmes. Tyrone McGriff. Mike Webster. All members of the Steel Dynasty. All passed away in their 40s and 50s, many from heart disease/heart attacks at an unusually early age. Linebacker David Little had a heart attack while working out, causing the barbell to land on his throat, killing him at the age of 46. Terry Long committed suicide. Justin Strzelczyk led police on a high speed chase before slamming head on into a tanker truck. He was only 36.

Moving away from the Pittsburgh Steelers, a spat of suicides have plagued the NFL in recent years. Eagles safety Andre Waters took his life in 2006. Former Bears safety Dave Duerson killed himself in February of 2011. His suicide was what really fueled Roger Goodell‘s ongoing crusade against dangerous hits and crystallized the league’s resolve to crack down on concussions.

And now we Junior Seau.

Seau was the latest, and arguably highest profile, ex-player to commit suicide, taking his life yesterday at the age of 43. I’m not going to go into a long syrupy tribute to Seau because, frankly, taking one’s own life is something which deeply offends me. It’s a selfish, cowardly act which does nothing but create a world of pain and heartache for those you profess to love. If you tuned into the Four Letter yesterday to catch the breaking news, you no doubt saw the heart-wrenching footage of Seau’s mother which ESPN rather shamelessly exploited by playing on a near-constant loop. So while my sympathy does go out to Seau’s family, I want to confine my comments to how Seau’s death shines light on a very disturbing aspect of professional football.

Yesterday, Commissioner Goodell suspended four players involved in the New Orleans Saints BountyGate case, most notably Jonathan Vilma, who received an unprecedented full season ban. I was on Twitter when the news broke and almost without exception, every Steeler tweeted their displeasure with the Goodell’s ruling. LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison posted the above, which only goes to show the players don’t get it. Nobody has been more critical of Goodell’s heavy-handed punishments than me but what the Saints did goes far beyond what any Steeler was ever fined/suspended for. Putting bounties on players for the express purpose of injuring them is no different than a bookie in Vegas paying a legbreaker to rough somebody up in a back alley. What the Saints did wasn’t poor sportsmanship, it was a CRIMINAL act.

Harrison does make an intelligent point, however. Don’t kid yourselves, the NFL knew it was eating these guys up and spitting them out. Goodell was promoting “player safety” while simultaneously pushing an 18 game season. The owners have been and always will be a bunch of self-serving assholes.

The owners have never given a crap about the players unless they had to. And it’s finally come to a head with the lawsuit Harrison references where thirty-one former NFL players have filed suit against the league for not protecting them against concussions. That and the recent spate of suicides, all of whom were later found to be suffering from serious brain damage, has revealed an ugly truth about the game we love. As the players have become bigger, stronger and faster and the game has become more hard hitting and violent, the players bodies simply can’t take it. And the brain is usually the first part that goes to mush.

Mike Webster is one of the greatest Steelers ever. He’s a Super Bowl champion, the standard for his position, and a Hall of Famer. On a personal note, he was also my grandpa’s favorite player. But he lived out the last years of his life sleeping in his truck and unable to function in society. His brain was so damaged from years of wars in the trenches, he was a veritable walking vegetable. I know it’s easy to say, “Players know what they’re signing up for,” but nobody should be subjected to a life like that. Nobody.

And it’s long past time the NFL and its players pull their heads out of their asses and take steps to ensure more players don’t end up like Seau or Webby in the future.