I would love to sit down and chat with Mean Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White and other legendary…yes, legendary…members of the Steelers defense of the 70’s. What would I love to chat with them about, of course, the obvious, the defense that I grew up watching. The one that gained it’s place in the annals of NFL history with being an integral part of four Superbowl wins. While others began to love the high powered games of offense, my love of defensive battles had it’s roots from this corp, because, even if the offense wasn’t able to get it done, the defense did.
Their play was brutal and bone crushing. Truly smash mouth football. The play that put Greene, Lambert, Jack Ham and Mel Blount into the Hall of Fame. They’ve been considered one of the best defenses in NFL history.
For the past four decades, Steelers fans have been accustomed to having some truly great defensive players wearing black and gold. Kevin Greene, Rod Woodson, Carnell Lake, Greg Lloyd just to name a few. Often times, these defenses have been dubbed the Steel Curtain, because they carried over the traditions and the mindset of the original “men of steel”
Perhaps the squad that best epitomized the original Steel Curtain defense is the one that we’re watching prepare for today’s divisional game against the San Diego Chargers. For a few years, we’ve been watching this squad develop under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and for years they’ve been very good, in the top of the league but this year, is it safe to call them great?
Perhaps, it’s too soon to do that, after all, the final prize hasn’t been won yet. Ask any Steeler defender that they won’t consider themselves great until they win the Superbowl on their defense…and that’s what they plan to do too, get to and win the ring on their defense alone. Remember the original Steel Curtain…when the offense can’t get it done, the defense will? This is exactly what Dick LeBeau’s defense has been doing this year. Getting it done. When the offense struggled, the defense kept their opponents pinned down. They just fell short of being considered one of the best ever. They managed, until the last game of the season being first in most aspects of defense, but unfortunately, they fell to second against the rush.
But we knew this already. So now Dick LeBeau’s defense heads into it’s first playoff game for the season, rested, healthy and out to prove that they can do it on their own, if need be, and they’re going to do it as a team. Maybe that’s why the “Blitzburgh Defense” has become so darn good, because they play as a team. No doubt you have great defenders on every team. Yet who can you say is instrumental on this defense?
The front three? The linebacker? The safeties? Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel have been instrumental in closing gaps and stopping the run. Yet if the runners did get through, you had Larry Foote, James Farrior, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and even Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark getting to them. Take out Woodley and Harrison and Lawrence Timmons steps up just nicely for them. Take out Clark or Polamalu and Tyrone Carter makes big plays. Bryant McFadden, Ike Taylor, Deshea Townsend and even William Gay have performed superbly on a secondary that years prior was considered suspect. One member of the defense goes down and someone else steps in and surprises us in a good way. Even the weakest link, Anthony Smith has stepped up in special teams, helping the Steelers improve to 1st in kick off return coverage and 4th in punt return coverage in the NFL. Every member of this defense have become ball hawks.
Three Steeler defenders will be going to the pro bowl this year, Polamalu, Harrison and Farrior. Polamalu and Harrison will be voted to be on the NFL All-Pro team for 2008. James Harrison will not only be named the Steelers MVP for his second consecutive time, but will have been voted the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. There are three names that will have stood out on this Steelers defense, yet, many more who are just as deserving of recognition on this squad.
Perhaps the most important component of this squad is the one who doesn’t get named in any awards. Defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau himself. This year the Steelers honored Coach LeBeau for his 50 years in the NFL and his “family”, the Steelers defense, made sure they were on the field when he was honored. Perhaps that is why the Steelers defense is as good as they are. Not just the play calling, but also the cohesiveness of the squad. Because of Dick LeBeau, this squad has formed what seems an unbreakable bond that believes they can do anything. Family, that’s about right for LeBeau’s defense. And if you were to view the “family portrait” taken this week, somehow, you get a sense that they will do anything. It’s not a secret that LeBeau’s “family” want to see him get into the HOF, and if winning a Superbowl ring on defense, will do it, then that’s what they’re trying to do.
As a fan, I’ve had the pleasure to watch LeBeau and his defense evolved. In 2005, while I was holding my breath as the Steelers made the run to be the first 6th seed wild card team to win the Superbowl, I remember a conversation that I had with one of the CBS Sportsline board members. Then, we were discussing the defense and how they reminded us of the original Steel Curtain. As I look back on that conversation, I would have to say we were both wrong. It’s this years team that compares more to the Steel Curtain then that defense. How awesome though, that the majority of that 05 defense is still on the 08 Steelers defense, and the new members, well just made the team better.
The possible reincarnation of the Steel Curtain defense bodes well for the Steelers and their fans though. This squad, like the original one, knows what it takes to get it done and, somehow, I think they will.