PDA

View Full Version : Skeletons in the Steelers' Closet



SteelCrazy
01-27-2011, 07:38 PM
By David Fleming
ESPN

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f321/straightface72/pg2_e_flem0127_576.jpg

Two years ago the Pittsburgh Steelers were on their way to an unprecedented sixth Lombardi trophy and, after a brief encounter with Dan Rooney, the team's humble and magnanimous owner, I wondered, in this very space, if the Steelers were, in fact, the greatest franchise in sports.

Purchased by Art Rooney Sr. in 1933 with $2,500 he supposedly won at the track, the Steelers initially struggled for decades. But since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, no team has been better. Maybe not in any sport. In those 41 seasons, the Steelers have been in 22 divisional playoffs and 15 conference championships, including eight in the past 14 seasons.

They've been to eight Super Bowls and won six -- with a shot at No. 7 next week in Dallas.

The Steelers have 20 Hall of Famers and a rabid, worldwide fan base, and their logo has become one of the most recognized and respected icons in the entire sports world. They have a scouting department, a coaching legacy and a front office that's the envy of the entire league, as well as a remarkable, tireless connection to dozens of local and national charities. And so, with apologies to the Montreal Canadiens, the Yankees and the Celtics, after factoring the parity and popularity of the NFL, as well as the social impact of the Rooney Rule, I'd still give the nod to the Steelers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are the greatest franchise in sports.

But you know what I've learned while covering this team, extensively, during the past 15 years?

They also might be one of the dirtiest.

It's something we all might want to consider over the next 10 days as a nation of pundits blather on about the wholesome, blue-collar, old-fashioned, long-lost American goodness that the Steelers (or any other sports teams) represent.

Now, I'm not just talking about the well-documented, but unproven, accusations of sexual assault against Ben Roethlisberger that earned the Steelers' QB a four-game suspension this season; the $125,000 the league has fined linebacker James Harrison for illegal hits this season; the blocks by Hines Ward that earned him the rep as one of the game's dirtiest players and inspired the creation of the "Hines Ward Rule" against blindside blocks; or, even, the 13 arrests the Steelers have logged since Super Bowl XL (compared to, say, the Packers, who have had five players arrested during the same time frame), according to a database run by The San Diego Union-Tribune.

This is just the latest example of a sinister side to the Steelers that has run parallel to the team's phenomenal success during the past 41 years. To be sure, this isn't ticky-tack stuff like parking tickets and training camp curfew violations. These are reports, allegations or documented instances of shooting at cops, assaults against women, drugs, deadly high-speed car chases and suicides -- as well as repeated questions about performance-enhancing drugs.

None of it, a secret.

Yet the bigger question, at least to me, is that through it all our love and admiration for the Steelers has only continued to grow.

Why is that?

Even die-hard Steelers fans who are, no doubt, turning apoplectic at this point, have to admit it's a remarkable paradox -- our best, most beloved team is also one of the dirtiest? It offers a fascinating glimpse into the soul of this sport and those who love it.

Part of the problem is that to justify the time and energy we all spend on sports, we try to attribute some grand, mythical, moral undertones to events like the Super Bowl when, the truth of the matter is, off-the-field character in the NFL has little or no effect on on-field performance. Heck, it might even be a detriment. As one respected NFL veteran told me, "You can't win in this league with 53 choirboys." That's never been the Steelers' problem. They work the margins and push the envelope and walk the line as well as any team. And in a violent, uber-competitive league like the NFL, that's a virtue, not an indictment. The last time I checked, they weren't holding parades for 2-14 teams full of Boy Scouts.

"It's not all roses with this team, but there's just something about the Steelers uniform that deflects the negative," says Chad Millman, a colleague of mine at ESPN The Magazine and co-author of "The Ones Who Hit The Hardest: The Steelers, the Cowboys, the '70s and the Fight for America's Soul."

"They've always walked that fine line. It might be cheap or dirty, but with the Steelers it's always framed as a virtue done in the name of winning. There's just so much iconic, mythical, blue-collar character associated with this team that it's hard for people to see the negative."

That doesn't mean it's not there, though.

In fact, Millman's book traces the Pittsburgh Paradox back to its exact origin: defensive end Ernie Holmes. "I think he wanted to beat people to death -- within the rules of the game," former Steelers safety Mike Wagner says of Holmes in the book.

Somewhere, I bet, a sweet little old granny in Pittsburgh is stitching that motto onto the back of her Terrible Towel.

In March 1973 Holmes, who was later diagnosed as suffering from acute paranoid psychosis, allegedly pulled a shotgun from his truck while driving on the Ohio turnpike and began shooting out the tires of passing trucks. This led to a high-speed chase, a shootout and a standoff with state police that ended in a nearby forest with Holmes allegedly shooting an officer in the ankle.

Two days later, a lawyer paid for by the Rooneys bailed Holmes out of jail using $45,000 supplied by the Rooneys. He was then taken to a psychiatric hospital (also paid for by the Rooneys) where he stayed for two months. When he got out, Holmes pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon and, somehow, was given five years probation. (Just trying to imagine how something like this would play out in 2011 is mind-blowing, isn't it?) A few months later, though, Holmes was back at training camp and in the starting lineup, where he helped the Steelers win their first two Super Bowls.

Art Rooney Jr. said Holmes needed "mercy."

Of course, the Steel Curtain also needed a defensive end.

Either way, the lines had officially been blurred and the Pittsburgh Paradox had begun.

Pittsburgh, of course, went on to win four Super Bowls in the 1970s. It was a dynasty like no other that included some of the greatest, baddest football teams ever assembled. Pictures from this era dot the inner hallways of the team's practice facility and, if you're not careful you will get lost while gazing at floor-to-ceiling photos that feature Jack Lambert growling above a prostrate Fran Tarkenton.

The end of the Steelers' amazing run in the 1970s came a full decade before the NFL banned steroids. Nevertheless, there has been widespread speculation that the first part of the Steelers' dynasty is tainted in some way by the fact that it helped popularize steroid use in the NFL. In the 1991 book "False Glory: The Steve Courson Story," the former Steelers offensive lineman wrote that 75 percent of the offensive linemen on the Steelers' Super Bowl teams in the late 1970s had used steroids.

Steroid use was, after all, not banned by the league at the time, and I wonder if the spotlight has fallen on the Steelers largely because they were so damn good. Not everyone agrees, though. "It started, really, in Pittsburgh," Jim Haslett said in 2005 while coaching the New Orleans Saints. "They got an advantage on a lot of football teams. They were so much stronger [in the] '70s, late '70s, early '80s. They're the ones who kind of started it."

The Steelers challenged this statement, of course, but the ramifications -- and suspicions -- linger. A 2009 investigation by ESPN into the Steelers' history with performance-enhancing drugs found an alarming number of former players suffering from heart ailments. "Even if there is no pattern or clue linking the deaths to steroids," wrote the article's author, Mike Fish, "since 2000, 17 former Steelers have died before they reached the age of 59."

Seventeen men. Dead.

Still think this is all sensationalist anti-Steelers crap?

That list includes former Steelers guard Terry Long, who tried to kill himself with rat poison after testing positive for steroids in 1991. He died in 2005 after drinking antifreeze. A year before Long died, Steelers offensive linemen Justin Strzelczyk was killed in a fiery head-on collision with a tanker truck after leading New York state troopers on a 40-mile chase. Hall of Fame center Mike Webster died from heart failure in 2002 at the age of 50, tormented by years of dementia, drug use and homelessness.

Are there troubled souls and tragic accidents on every NFL team? Yes. Do most great teams have a dark side? Uh, look at the Dallas Cowboys. Yikes. I've probably done 50 stories on the Steelers in the past 15 years. I've traveled in Switzerland with Roethlisberger, hung out in Alabama with Kevin Greene, played golf with Dermontti Dawson, even had a civilized conversation with Greg Lloyd. My personal experience has been unequivocal: This is a class organization from top to bottom.

But in the next two weeks, the Steelers could become the most accomplished and important franchise in sports.

And, like it or not, this is all part of their remarkable story.

At the heart of Fish's 2009 investigation was the revelation in 2007 that Dr. Richard Rydze, a longtime member of the Steelers' medical staff, had been questioned by federal authorities after supposedly using a personal credit card to purchase six-figures worth of human growth hormone. According to published reports, Rydze said he purchased the HGH for his elderly patients. His ties to the team were cut four months after his name was identified in news reports. There was no proof that Rydze ever provided the drug to players.

This incident was followed by off-the-field problems involving, among others, Santonio Holmes, Jeff Reed and Roethlisberger. Holmes was traded to the Jets before the season and Reed was cut in November. Among the many admirable qualities of the Steelers, and especially the Rooney family, is the club's habit of cutting loose troublemakers in a league normally governed by a sliding scale of morality.

This one trait might also get to the root of why we are so eager to look the other way when it comes to the Pittsburgh Paradox.

Winning cures everything, no doubt. Especially in the NFL. It's also because the face and the heart of this franchise will always belong to people like Mike Tomlin, Jerome Bettis, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris and Jack Ham. In the final analysis, the good in Pittsburgh outweighs the bad. And that has a lot to do with the men and the family that have run the team since its inception: the Rooneys.

"It's easy to hate Jerry Jones, it's easy to hate Al Davis, it's easy to hate Dan Snyder," says Millman. "But the Rooneys are so decent and they have built up so much goodwill, it's hard not to root for them and hard for fans not to believe they're not trying to hurt anyone or do anything wrong -- they're just trying to win Super Bowls."

Which, I suspect, is exactly what's going to happen again next Sunday.

Good thing, too.

If you're trying to draw attention away from your dark side, seven shiny Lombardi trophies will probably do the trick.

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/st ... ortCat=nfl (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=fleming/110127&sportCat=nfl)

Crash
01-27-2011, 07:41 PM
We are officially the "heels". Like when the NWO took over WCW.

[youtube:2skslq79]VF9MaLiU-rY[/youtube:2skslq79]

LordVile
01-27-2011, 07:50 PM
We are officially the "heels". Like when the NWO took over WCW.

[youtube:1e7iooug]VF9MaLiU-rY[/youtube:1e7iooug]

haha! :Beer
are the 5 players they reference about the PACK, the ones who were accused of gang rape allegations? I wonder. Play as a team on and off the field. Allegedly

ikestops85
01-27-2011, 08:01 PM
and when did Fats Holmes play defensive end? The games I saw had Dwight White and LC Greenwood as the Steel Curtain DEs.

When a guy writes an article and gets the little things wrong it makes me wonder if he got anything right. :wink:

brothervad
01-27-2011, 08:25 PM
I wonder if the A-Wipe that wrote this article looked into Packers like...

Mark Chmura

I didn't even look into the Packers past and came up with that one...wonder how many of those guys in the 60's dynasty did things that would be classified today as dirty?

Every story I saw regarding "Fats" Holmes regarding how the Rooneys took care of him was mainly out of compassion...sure maybe it's the Pittsburgh spin on that, but that is how it was captured nationally during that time period.

I love revisionism...

Now you can return to your regularly scheduled programming

"The FU Goodell Tour"

Starring James Harrison, Ben Rothlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers

brothervad

Mister Pittsburgh
01-27-2011, 09:11 PM
OH yes....the Steelers popularized steroids in the league....LOL.....this guy is an idiot. Do some F'n research.

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/otl/news ... id=3866837 (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/otl/news/story?id=3866837)

aggiebones
01-27-2011, 09:38 PM
Noone doubts what he says, but how he says it like, see look at this. He tries to spiral it up into something its not.
Yes, like society we have had issues. But pull most groups of large men and they have issues. Rooneys try to keep order, but they aren't dumping everyone that has issues on that day. They have a business. Not a charity.

Crash
01-28-2011, 02:13 AM
OH yes....the Steelers popularized steroids in the league....LOL.....this guy is an idiot. Do some F'n research.

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/otl/news ... id=3866837 (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/otl/news/story?id=3866837)

Yeah but you should also. Look who was on that staff?

AngryAsian
01-28-2011, 04:51 AM
All this anti-Steeler campaigns and hate will continue to grow as long as we continue to win. You'll never see this with the Cheats* because Kraft's pockets are very deep and so is his tongue in Goodell's nether-regions. We'll never see these things mentioned of the Niners and Cowboys, because it will be awhile til these teams actually win a playoff game.
F' the media.

Mister Pittsburgh
01-28-2011, 08:04 AM
OH yes....the Steelers popularized steroids in the league....LOL.....this guy is an idiot. Do some F'n research.

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/otl/news ... id=3866837 (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/otl/news/story?id=3866837)

Yeah but you should also. Look who was on that staff?

Yes, I know Chuck Noll was on that staff. The point is, this stuff was in the NFL/AFL/Pro Football in the early 60's. Fleming is giving the Steelers the dishonor of saying they were the ones to make it popular in the NFL. I highly doubt it took 15 years for steroid use to become popular.

Oviedo
01-28-2011, 10:08 AM
All this anti-Steeler campaigns and hate will continue to grow as long as we continue to win. You'll never see this with the Cheats* because Kraft's pockets are very deep and so is his tongue in Goodell's nether-regions. We'll never see these things mentioned of the Niners and Cowboys, because it will be awhile til these teams actually win a playoff game.
F' the media.

:Agree This is just about taking cheapshots at the guy on top. Lots of resentment by lots of media whose teams have finished behind the Steelers.

I think if you did a detailed exam of the skeletons in Dallas it would be far more unsavory than ours. Many other teams too.

Mister Pittsburgh
01-28-2011, 10:18 AM
All this anti-Steeler campaigns and hate will continue to grow as long as we continue to win. You'll never see this with the Cheats* because Kraft's pockets are very deep and so is his tongue in Goodell's nether-regions. We'll never see these things mentioned of the Niners and Cowboys, because it will be awhile til these teams actually win a playoff game.
F' the media.

:Agree This is just about taking cheapshots at the guy on top. Lots of resentment by lots of media whose teams have finished behind the Steelers.

I think if you did a detailed exam of the skeletons in Dallas it would be far more unsavory than ours. Many other teams too.

I guess the thing I don't get is the Patriots, in my opinion anyway, have done far worse and actually been caught for it, over the past 6 or 7 years. Spygate, Roidney Harrison busted for HGH, Nick Kaczur busted with 200 oxycontin in his pocket transporting them across the USA/Canadian border, their one RB getting busted with weed at a concert, a defensive back arrested for disorderly conduct, etc. not to mention tons of former patriots arrested for various things if you do a google search.

Like you guys said, I am sure most teams have a long list of these actions, but it appears at least the Steelers get rid of repeat offenders like Holmes and Reed. In my opinion they kept Ben due to him not being charged with anything and it being he said-she said, and I mean there is a precedent out there of chicks accusing rich dudes of this sort of thing trying to cash in.

snarky
01-28-2011, 10:27 AM
I read that yesterday and the thing that stuck out for me was the 'statistic' he gives about 17 Steelers dying before the age of 59.

Well, I'm not a paid researcher or anything but I looked up the Raiders SB XI roster. And three guys from that team alone were dead before 59 and another two died before their 64th birthday.

So I guess my point is that unless he gives team averages over the same time period the number is absolutely meaningless and serves only to inflame.

So more or less, this is a hit piece.

Oviedo
01-28-2011, 10:58 AM
The Steelers are, and will always be, the target of media hate because we are not media friendly. We don't have owners who cultivate getting in front of the press like Jerry Jones. Our management doesn't want any part of "Hard Knocks." We don't invite ESPN into our Draft Room. Our style of football isn't condusive to ESPN or NFL Network highlights. Etc. Etc.

The media views us as the grouchy, old man who we all had living in our neighborhood and always yelled at the kids for playing on his lawn.

We will never be loved by the media because we don't pander to them and they believe that they are so special everyone should pander to them. We also are from a town that most of the world have a serious misconception about and they view us as nothing but a bunch of 10th grade educated, mill "hunkies" who just get up everyday and go to work but don't do anything special.

I think it is characterized by one of my favorite movie saying by Brian Keith playing Teddy Roosevelt in my favorite movie "The Wind and Lion"


Certainly. The world will never love us. They respect us - they might even grow to fear us. But they will never love us, for we have too much audacity! And, we're a bit blind and reckless at times too.

steelblood
01-28-2011, 11:12 AM
Steroids helped the STeelers win 4 Super Bowls-YES! But, they weren't banned or illegal. Every team in the NFL has many players who will use whatever they can to gain an advantage. No one is taking Lester Hayes 13 interception year away from him because Stick'em is now illegal but wasn't then. Did it give him an advantage? YES! But, it was not banned.

By the way, the poster boy for taking steroids while banned and illegal, Mandrich, was drafted by the Packers. Please don't tell me that they didn't know that he was juiced up when they drafted him. Everyone knew.

Every team has players who try to gain an advantage by doing things that are not good for their bodies and minds. Every team has skeletons in the closet. Nothing new here, just a reporter trying to get a raise.

Ghost
01-28-2011, 11:23 AM
I dont' think this article is all that bad. In fact the author clearly likes the Steelers. He mentions it time and again what a great organization it is. "Class from top to Bottom". "Best organization in ALL sports".

Nothing he says is a surprise or made up facts. They were not illegal at the time so it doesn't bother me, but its no secret the Steelers were using roids. So were a ton of other lineman too.

The Steelers have had some odd deaths of men that were young. I'm sure other teams have them as well but the examples he mentions are a bit crazy - how can you deny it.

As he stated - you're not winning Championships with a locker full of boy scouts. Overall I do believe the Rooneys have a much higher set of Standards than the majority of owners (they don't bring in FA's with issues and will cut most players that give them problems) and do love the league, invented the Rooney Rule, and are willing to state publicly the 18 game schedule is not good, etc. They have earned every ounce of respect they are afforded by fans, players and other organizations.

But let's not kid ourselves... only the naive believes Ben is still on this team if his talent level is that of Alex Smith or Chad Henne. The Rooney's decided to take Ben in and help mentor him to be a better person because he can throw the ball 70 yards with a flick of the wrist and has the potential to lead them to multiple more Super Bowls. And I'm perfectly fine with that. It's great business!!!

Mister Pittsburgh
01-28-2011, 11:30 AM
It's just the whole overtone of the article Ghost and he makes it out like the Steelers are dirtier than most teams, but just win so that is overlooked. This simply isn't true.

Ghost
01-28-2011, 11:45 AM
I guess I just don't let it bother me. That's what happens when you are the very best team in the NFL since the league merger. And there's no denying it based on the numbers.

The constant talk is about how hard it is to even get to a Super Bowl. The Steelers are there for the 8th time looking for win number 7. If you sit back for a moment and think about it (I think we as Steelers fans just expect it and don't always realize the magnitude of this accomplishment) it's insane. Awesome but insane.

When you have a team that has displayed so much superiority over all the other teams you will constantly have this kind of press. I consider it a compliment. Better than indifference that tells you your team is mediocre (Dolphins, Texans) or down right pity (Lions, Browns).

Just think - in another week when you are out wearing Steelers gear and someone makes a comment, you'll be holding up 7 fingers and laughing at them as you walk away and they have nothing more to say!!!

NWNewell
01-28-2011, 12:00 PM
While the article may have a lot of true in the facts, it insinuates a lot that is false.

Think other teams have not had similar experiences?

Were the Steelers the only team taking LEGAL performance enhancements in the 70's? If so, that simply underscores the stupidity of the other teams, not the dirtiness of the Steelers when looked at in the context of the times and the long term understanding of steroids (or lake there of).

In the beginning of the article he goes through a laundry list like "shooting at cops", "high speed chases", etc. that make you think that there were a lot of offenses. But in reality, much of the major offenses were from one incident where the individual was institutionalized for psychiatric treatment.

It is the insinuation of impropriety from the Steelers and angelicness (I think I just made that word up) of the rest of the league that underscores the irresponsible journalism of today.

Mister Pittsburgh
01-28-2011, 12:04 PM
I guess I just don't let it bother me. That's what happens when you are the very best team in the NFL since the league merger. And there's no denying it based on the numbers.

The constant talk is about how hard it is to even get to a Super Bowl. The Steelers are there for the 8th time looking for win number 7. If you sit back for a moment and think about it (I think we as Steelers fans just expect it and don't always realize the magnitude of this accomplishment) it's insane. Awesome but insane.

When you have a team that has displayed so much superiority over all the other teams you will constantly have this kind of press. I consider it a compliment. Better than indifference that tells you your team is mediocre (Dolphins, Texans) or down right pity (Lions, Browns).

Just think - in another week when you are out wearing Steelers gear and someone makes a comment, you'll be holding up 7 fingers and laughing at them as you walk away and they have nothing more to say!!!

I can deal with it from fans, sure, that is part of the deal. But the media is a different story. Where was the media slamming the Pats left and right when they were winning Superbowls while cheating? The media brushes everything they do under the rug. How many times have you heard Nick Kaczur's name brought up with transporting narcotic prescription drugs across international lines? That was simply brushed under the rug. Imagine if Willie Colon got busted doing the same thing. Writers would be writing BS articles stating he was supplying the whole team including Tomlin and Jeff Reed had a meth lab in his basement (which he may actually have had).

D Rock
01-28-2011, 12:37 PM
A lot of these guys weren't even Steelers anymore when some of this stuff happened, and it wouldn't even matter if they were!

...like the fiery car chase and the multiple suicide attempts, with the second one being successful for Long. Those are mental issues that have nothing to do with being a Steelers player.

Dee Dub
01-28-2011, 12:53 PM
When you start out an article like this...

"Purchased by Art Rooney Sr. in 1933 with $2,500 he supposedly won at the track"

...you pretty much have an idea this isnt about stating truths or facts.

This is a smear campaign from someone who does not like the Steelers.

And then when later he adds this after completely trashing the organization...

“My personal experience has been unequivocal: This is a class organization from top to bottom.”

..you know immediately he is a coward. That was to avoid confrontation when someone gets in his face down the road.

ScoreKeeper
01-28-2011, 02:11 PM
"Purchased by Art Rooney Sr. in 1933 with $2,500 he supposedly won at the track"
Shows just how much research he did.

Crash
01-28-2011, 02:16 PM
Buying the team with track earnings was the folklore story decades ago.

Not one ounce of truth to it.

ScoreKeeper
01-28-2011, 02:25 PM
Buying the team with track earnings was the folklore story decades ago.

Not one ounce of truth to it.
He had his big track day after buying the Steelers.

Oviedo
01-28-2011, 02:34 PM
Buying the team with track earnings was the folklore story decades ago.

Not one ounce of truth to it.

He also doesn't mention how Art Modell stiffed "The Chief" and didn't pay back a loan that the Rooneys gave him to help him out.

The Rooneys have more class than any owners in the NFL. Really want to find some dirt look into the business ventures of Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder. I'm sure you will find lots of dirt especially on Jones.

Crash
01-28-2011, 02:36 PM
Buying the team with track earnings was the folklore story decades ago.

Not one ounce of truth to it.
He had his big track day after buying the Steelers.

He bought "into" the NFL. The groundwork of the Steelers team was his semi-pro team.

That's how he got his foot in the door.

ScoreKeeper
01-28-2011, 02:41 PM
Buying the team with track earnings was the folklore story decades ago.

Not one ounce of truth to it.
He had his big track day after buying the Steelers.

He bought "into" the NFL. The groundwork of the Steelers team was his semi-pro team.

That's how he got his foot in the door.
OK, I'll be more specific. He formed a franchise named the Pirates that began playing in the league in '33.