In the 70’s there was Mean Joe Green, Dwight White, Jack Lambert, and Mel Blount. In the 90’s there was Greg Lloyd, Rod Woodson, and Kevin Greene. During the first 12 years of this century, there was Joey Porter, Jerome Bettis, Hines Ward, and Aaron Smith. Each of these players were a lightning rod for team emotion and accountability. They were intimidating and didn’t tolerate anything less than the best from those around them, in practice or in games. It could also be said that they hated losing much more than they loved winning. Many will remember Dwight White dragging himself out of the hospital to help beloved owner, Art Rooney, get his first NFL championship, and we all remember the emotional investment that the 2005 Steelers made in getting Jerome Bettis “home”, to get him his Super Bowl ring in his hometown of Detroit. Those leaders had a larger than life presense in the locker room that today’s Steelers team seem to miss. They held everyone of their teammates accountable for doing their job, which is just what the Steelers seem to be lacking today.
Remember when Jack Lambert threw Cliff Harris to the ground after taunting Roy Gerela for missing a field goal in Super Bowl X ? That got everyone fired up on the Steelers sideline. How about when Joey Porter called the Colts soft prior to the divisional round of the 2005 playoffs, or him talking trash about Seahawks tight end Jeremy Stevens prior to Super Bowl XL ? He did that in order to take the pressure off of his teammates, putting it on himself. Remember in 2003 when Joey Porter went to the Ravens team bus to exact some justice on Ray Lewis over what went on in that rivalry? He did that while he was recovering from a gunshot wound. Then there was Greg Lloyd who challenged the entire Cincinnati Bengals offense because someone apparently cheap shotted Yancey Thigpen. How about Hines Ward, who played wide receiver with the mentality of a linebacker, and knocked 8 different players out of games from throwing the crushing blocks he did. He has his own rule named after him, like Mel Blount. These are the players who gave the Steelers their identity for being physical and nasty. They are why the Steelers are 6x Super Bowl Champions.
What the Steelers lack now is an identity. Even during the dark ages of the 80’s, they were still known for having a nasty defense and a smashmouth running game. They still had that swagger about them. Today, that really isn’t the case. Yeah, the Steelers have an explosive offense, but they don’t physically wear defenses down with their running game, even with all-world running back LeVeon Bell. On defense the Steelers have youth, size, and speed, but they lack that attitude. They don’t have that intimidation factor that had offenses beaten before they ever took the field. Teams wanted no part of Mean Joe Green, Jack Lambert, Greg Lloyd, Joey Porter, or the James Harrison of five years ago. The Steelers may be loaded with talent, but what they need is “THAT GUY”, or a couple of those kind of leaders, to bring back that “chip on the shoulder” that the Steelers used to play with, that wouldn’t allow them to play down to lesser teams. That’s not to say they wouldn’t have a real stinker now and then, but they always brought the business and made teams earn it.
“Lambert’s Lunatics”, “Avoid Lloyd”, “Just Plain Nasty”, “Quiver and Quake”, “In Rod We Trust”, and “Psycho ward 86” are just a few examples of the banners that have graced Three Rivers Stadium and Heinz Field over the years, that have honored the greatest team leaders. That’s not to say that the current Steelers don’t have leaders in the locker room, they do, they just don’t have those intimidating type of leaders who have no problem holding their teammates unaccountable by any means they see fit. In a 1995 game against the Bears, Neil O’Donnell threw a stupid interception, right after the defense got the ball back for the offense. Greg Lloyd met O’Donnell as he was coming off the field and had a brief one sided conversation with him. The end result was that O’Donnell went to the far end of sideline by himself, almost as if Lloyd sent him to timeout. Some might view it unnecessary for the Steelers to have a leaders like Lloyd, Porter, Lambert, or the others listed above, but the fact remains that the Steelers may have lost games with those types of leaders, but they have never made it to a Super Bowl without them.