Good-Bye and God Bless, Steve Sabol

 Posted by at 7:40 am  Steel Dynasty, Steeler Nation, Videos  Comments Off on Good-Bye and God Bless, Steve Sabol
Sep 192012

NFL Films co-founder and president Steve Sabol passed away yesterday at the age of 69. While Myron Cope was indisputably the voice of the Pittsburgh Steelers, late NFL Films narrator John Facenda provided the background vocals. For those of us too young to have experienced the Steel Dynasty of the 70s, our knowledge and appreciation of those teams is firmly rooted in the specials that NFL Films devoted to them. It can easily be argued that the work of Steve Sabol and his crew did as much as anybody to establish what we now call Steeler Nation.

They also gave the Cowboys their obnoxious “America’s Team” moniker but we’ll let that one slide.

As I’ve mentioned several times, I was born in the late 70s. I was too young to watch the Steel Dynasty and by the time I started watching football in the mid 80s, the Steelers pretty much stunk. Then one day my mom and I went to the video store and there in their bargain bin was a bunch of vhs tapes from NFL Films. I bought one about Terry Bradshaw (“Greatest Sports Legends,” natch) and another entitled “The NFL’s Best Ever Teams.” Thanks to the magic of youtube, I actually found the Steelers segment from that tape, which I posted above.

I watched that Best Teams tape dozens of times but I watched the Steelers segment probably closer to a hundred. I wore that bit of tape out to the point I still remember there was a bit of distortion and rollback  at the part where TB comically tries to block an Oiler on John Stallworth‘s reverse. You youngsters don’t know how lucky have it with your dvds and blu rays. Good grief, I’m turning into my father.

Anyway, Steve Sabol was the man responsible for that and many many other programs devoted either whole or in part to our beloved Steelers. And don’t think for one moment those programs didn’t play a major role in spreading the gospel that is the Black and Gold. I have a complete collection of NFL Films Year in Reviews for every Steelers Super Bowl team (you can get the first five in the must own Pittsburgh Steelers: The Complete History dvd collection but have to buy Road To Super Bowl XLIII separately) and rewatch them before every season or just when I feel like getting psyched up for a game. They’re a fantastic source for great memories or to simply learn a little about the history of your favorite team.

In conclusion, thank you, Steve. Thank you for the countless hours of knowledge and entertainment your work provided us. Thank you for being the preeminent chronicler of the game we follow and the team we love. You will truly be missed.  Good-bye and God Bless.

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.

Black & Gold Colored Super Bowl Memories

 Posted by at 9:33 am  Steel Dynasty, Steeler Nation, Videos  Comments Off on Black & Gold Colored Super Bowl Memories
Feb 032012

Despite what you may have heard, there will be a Super Bowl played this Sunday even though the Pittsburgh Steelers won’t be in it.

Fans here in the Steel City have definitely been spoiled by the Black and Gold’s success throughout the years. Because we’re so accustomed to being in the big game, Super Bowl Sunday becomes slightly anti-climatic when our team isn’t actually playing in it. Oh, we’ll still watch because Pittsburgh is football country. And occasionally we do have a rooting interest, such as this year when we’ll once again pull for our NFC cousins to upend the hated New England Patriots.

If you’re tired of hearing about Rob Gronkowski’s ankle or Peyton Manning’s giraffe neck (Here I thought Eli Manning was the one starting in the Super Bowl. If my big brother stole the spotlight as shamelessly as Pey-Pey, I’d smack him.), you can prepare for kickoff by reliving some glorious moments from years past. Vivendi Entertainment recently sent me a DVD entitled Greatest Super Bowl Moments. As you may expect from being a fan of the most successful franchise in NFL history, the DVD is veritable treasure trove of fond (and a couple depressing) Black and Gold colored memories.

The DVD is produced by NFL Films and if you’ve been a football fan for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with their fantastic productions. Starting in 1967, when the game was still called the World Championship of Football because the term “Super Bowl” hadn’t been coined yet, the games are covered chronologically up through last year’s heartbreaker between the Steelers and Green Bay Packers. Each game is given 5-10 minutes of highlights, which may sound skimpy until you realize the entire DVD clocks in at almost 2 1/2 hours. The early games are mostly highlights until we get to the 80s, then there is a lot more behind the scenes stuff in terms of mic’d up coaches and players. If you’re a young football fan, it’s a great historical record of the most important game of every season while if you’re an older fan, it’s fun to revisit the memories of years past.

Paying particular attention to the Steelers segments, so many things jumped out to me. While the Steelers first two championships were defensive tour-de-forces, Terry Bradshaw really stepped up big time in the final two. In fact, all the Super Steelers wins were fairly tight games, with the first against the Cowboys and the last against the Rams being particularly close. I’ve seen these highlights in various forms over the years and you need to see some of the catches Lynn Swann made to appreciate what an incredible talent he was.

Fast-forwarding to the 90s, I totally forgot Super Bowl XXIX where the unbearable Steve Young finally won a title of his own by absolutely humiliating the over-matched San Diego Chargers. The Chargers, of course, upset the Steelers in the AFC Championship game (DAMN YOU, TIM MCKYER!) and I have to think the Steelers would’ve put up a much better fight. The next season was arguably our darkest hour, losing to the Cowboys thanks to Neil O’Donnell’s ineptitude. This was the first time in probably ten years I’ve had the stomach to revisit XXX and it still riles me up to see Jay Novacek wide open in the end zone thanks to an (illegal) pick play by Moose Johnston and Neil’s two boneheaded interceptions. On the first one, there wasn’t a black jersey within 15 yards while, and believe me I hate to say this, I can almost forgive the second one since it came on a blitz. O’Donnell made the hot read and got rid of the ball but the receiver (I believe it was Andre Hastings) never broke off his route.

Then we have our recent run of success. The Super Bowl XL highlights are particularly amusing when you hear ‘ol Walrus Mug Mike Holmgren whining about Ben’s controversial touchdown dive. And even though we’ve seen The Catch that brought us to Sixburgh, I’ll never stop marveling at how Big Ben was able to drop that game-winning touchdown pass over THREE Cardinals in order for Santonio Holmes to make his toe-dragging catch.  Ben Roethlisberger should’ve been MVP for even attempting that throw.

Anyway, every year around this time ESPN begins running the NFL Films Super Bowl highlight programs one after another for almost twenty-four straight hours in anticipation of kick-off. If you don’t have the time or patience to sit in front of the boob tube for literally an entire day, this DVD is the perfect distillation of all those programs. While this disc is called Greatest Super Bowl Moments, it’s more like a comprehensive history of the Super Bowl. Currently on sale for $12.99 on Amazon (or you can find it at your local Best Buy or Walmart), you really get maximum bang for your buck. So if you’re interested in football history in general or Steelers history specifically, check it out.

And in the meantime, let’s hope when the next edition comes out updated with highlights from Super Bowl XLVI, it’ll end with a shot of Eli Manning hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.