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SB Nation Ranks Steelers’ Defensive Line 15th in the NFL

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Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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SB Nation Ranks Steelers Third in Best NFL Linebacking Groups


According to SB Nation’s Ryan Van Bibber, the Steelers have the best safety combination of the league.

He thinks their linebackers do pretty well, too, ranking them third in the NFL, behind the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens.

As is common with these kinds of lists, it’s really open to interpretation, but San Francisco’s top mark won’t be disputed by too many. Between Baltimore and Pittsburgh, arguments could be made for either of them being at No. 1, 2 or 3.

(Warning: You’re reading a Pittsburgh Steelers web site, what follows may be considered slanted toward the Steelers).

You can make those arguments if you’d like, and they can be lucid and well-defended. That doesn’t change the fact the Steelers have a stronger linebacking group than the Ravens do. A healthy LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison is still the best pair of outside linebackers in football, Lawrence Timmons is a solid player now, and is already better than Jameel McClain will ever be. Between those three players alone, it’s the only group that rivals the skill of the guys San Francisco has.

The Washington Redskins are fourth, Dallas Cowboys fifth and Kansas City Chiefs sixth. The Denver Broncos are seventh, the Jacksonville Jaguars eighth and the Houston Texans ninth. The Chicago Bears round it out at 10th.

Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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SB Nation: Steelers Have 10th Best Cornerbacks in the NFL

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SB Nation’s Ryan Van Bibber ranked the NFL’s best cornerbacks positions by team, and the Steelers finished 10th overall.

His list doesn’t break down individuals, but rather, the cornerbacks position top to bottom within the team.

The Steelers had the league’s top scoring and pass defense last season, and that was with a maligned pass rush that produced just 35 sacks all season. On the other hand, the defense as a whole produced just 15 takeaways all season, one of the lowest totals for a playoff team in NFL history.

But simply looking at a group of cornerbacks’ ability to prevent the ball from moving downfeld through the air, it’s tough to say the Steelers had a bad season.

The sum of their whole was greater than the sum of their parts. The marquee cornerback, veteran Ike Taylor, played very well at times and not so great at other times. The youth of the position generated much more positive buzz than negative, as CB Keenan Lewis got on the field often as starter William Gay moved inside to cover the slot. Cortez Allen played a bit in the second half of the year as a rookie, covering well both outside and inside.

The New York Jets are first, with the Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles finishing second and third. The Dallas Cowboys are fourth and the Atlanta Falcons round out the top five.

The San Francisco 49ers are sixth, Kansas City Chiefs seventh and Houston Texans eighth. The Seattle Seahawks are ninth and the Steelers come in at 10.

While the list is written based on last year more than where teams are going, it looks pretty solid, top to bottom. I’m not sure I’d place the Steelers behind Seattle or Kansas City, and I’d have Houston much higher than eighth, but I don’t think the top three are in question at all.

Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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What Steeler Nation Can Learn From the Triumph of LeBron James


My interest in the NBA reached its nadir during 2011-12. From the days in the late 1970s and 80s when I wouldn’t miss a game of the Julius Erving Philadelphia 76ers to this season was a matter of night and day. After the frustrations of the NFL lockout, I had no patience with basketball’s labor difficulties. And like many people I was pretty disgusted with the entire spectacle of LeBron and the Big Three. I began tuning into the latter stages of the playoffs probably more out a sense of boredom than anything. But then I became fascinated with what I saw.

Most people I knew weren’t rooting so much for any particular team as they were rooting against LeBron and the Heat. I could sympathize, but I had another problem. The Heat were playing the Boston Celtics in the conference finals. Let’s see, I was a big Sixers fan in the 80s and a Steelers fan; for some mysterious reason I have an issue with Boston teams (Steelers/Ravens had nothing on Sixers/Celtics in its heyday). So I found myself taking up the cause of Miami and was rather pleased that they prevailed. I also couldn’t help but notice how they won. LeBron had changed in a very positive sense.

Things were a little different in the Finals. Like most I believed that the Thunder would win, but soon I found myself rooting hard for the Heat for two reasons. First, it was now obvious to me that James was not just playing well, it was also clear that he had changed and grown as both a player and a man. He was displaying mature leadership, heart and clutch performances, sometimes under personal duress. Second, I was experiencing a backlash against all the haters among both the critics and the general population. I no longer saw them as expressing righteous outrage over the real indiscretions committed by James in the recent past, but as an ignorant and insensitive mob that refused to acknowledge and respect redemption.

Our relationships with celebrities can be weird and a little sick at times. We seem to vacillate from giving them far too much slack to going to the opposite extreme and according them none at all. For many the final word was in on LeBron James; he was a choke artist as a player and a jerk as a human being. Consequently, the critics were surprised, and dare I say somewhat disappointed that James had moved beyond his earlier limitations. There seemed to be some problems with many in fully celebrating LeBron’s achievement which went beyond the mere mechanics of winning a championship, perhaps because the outcome of the process left them looking a bit like jerks themselves.

I have not lived a perfect life, nowhere near close to having done so. And please forgive me if I assume that most of those who are reading these words haven’t done so either. We have had the advantage of having made our mistakes in relative anonymity. While we envy the fact that the triumphs of the LeBron James’ of the world are played out on large stages with the attendant perks, the downside is that their failings are as well. In all too many cases when confronted with their shortcomings these celebrities make a show of contrition and then hope or assume that we all will have short memories and that everything will eventually blow over. James (and teammates Wade and Bosh) were embarrassed by last year’s events on and off the court. But, instead of brushing it off and ‘moving on’, they, as Tomlin is fond of saying, embraced that embarrassment, owned it and made significant changes in their conduct. My guess is that it wasn’t easy.

There are a whole bushel full of lessons that we can take away from this as fans about what the crucible of high level, high stakes competition provides in terms of opportunities and challenges for both the participants and the observers.

I found myself making comparisons between LeBron and Ben Roethlisberger. Many in Steeler Nation made the final judgment concerning Ben in the spring of 2010; he was a bum, and we would be better off without him. I suspect that the Steelers and the league colluded in saddling Ben with a punishment that probably exceeded the true extent of the crime. No criminal charges were filed and if being a jerk earns you four game suspensions then our major sports leagues might have difficulty fielding teams on any given week. But it served as a wakeup call and started an arc of redemption that resulted, on the field, with a third Super Bowl appearance (albeit a losing one) and the heroic return to field in the second half of the Cleveland game this past season. Off the field by all accounts Ben has become a better teammate and appears a domestic paragon given his marriage and impending fatherhood.

Of course, there are those who believe that Ben is just engaged in a very effective exercise in public relations, and they may be right. But, like the critics of LeBron, their cynicism may be more grounded in their desire for self-justification, which would occur if they could successfully label Ben as both a jerk and a phony, instead of someone experiencing a very public process of maturation and growth.

I have been on record for a while concerning what I believe to be our overemphasis on talent and ‘measurables’ as the key elements of competitive success. It’s certainly an easy enough mistake to make for both players and fans. You need prodigious talent to even be part of the discussion in the major professional sports. But there is a difference between the acknowledgement that talent is a prerequisite of being part of the process on one hand, and it being the most determinant factor in being successful on the other.

I can appreciate the skepticism, disorientation and disbelief an athlete might experience after he has risen to the penultimate level on the strength of superior talent, then being told that it is not enough. Also the incomprehension of fans who have difficulty imagining what comprises ‘enough’ at the elite level and must be dependent on the judgment of ‘experts’ who constantly let them down because they (the experts) are in service to entertainment demands rather than the competition demands of the sport.

What the sport(s) demands is that while you can easily compete on talent alone, individuals, teams and organizations must actually learn how to win. This explains how some teams consistently compete successfully at the highest levels regardless of the variations of talent on both their and their opponents teams.

For example, Ben and Eli Manning are usually not the first guys mentioned when the discussion begins about the best quarterbacks in the game.

In spite winning and being named MVP of the Super Bowl for the second time, Eli Manning ranks third in terms of media attention in the Big Apple. The current obsession is with Jets‘ quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Tim Tabor.

Yet over the past seven years the two quarterbacks account for five Super Bowl appearances and a combined four championships. Neither quarterback made it within the top 25 players in the league on the NFL Networks Top 100 program.

The time it has taken James to win a championship isn’t all that unusual. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird won championships relatively early in their careers (as did Ben), but in all cases, including Ben, they did so with franchises with a lot of institutional experience competing for championships. Perhaps more typical was the number of attempts it took Isaiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons to figure out how to get past the Lakers, and then the multiple attempts it took Michael Jordan and the Bulls to get past the Pistons. Thomas and Jordan were older when they started and had the benefit of coming from big time college programs under Bobby Knight at Indiana and Dean Smith at North Carolina respectively. James entered into the NBA straight from high school.

When you think about it, unless it’s directly on the heels of a championship (like this year for New York) the Steelers and the Giants tend to be overlooked in the discussions about the best teams in the league. This suggests the standard of evaluation in these matters is a little off.

The 70s Steelers took three years under Chuck Noll to become playoff caliber, and then another three years to get over the final hurdle to a championship. Much is made of the fact that the team drafted four eventual Hall Of Famers that year. But some feel that the ’72 team would have gone to the Super Bowl were it not for a blown special teams play in the AFCCG. And only one of those four draftees actually started (Lambert) in ’74.

In subsequent years the genius of the franchise is how it has adapted to evaluating, selecting and integrating new personnel, new rules, especially those specifically designed to blunt the team’s success (the Mel Blount rule; more recently Hines Ward) and providing consistent high quality leadership on the field and in the front office. They also have been very patient with the development of players and relatively wise with when and how they part ways with their employees.

Many fans were not happy when they allowed Plaxico Burress to leave via free agency and traded Santonio Holmes. Not unreasonable given the fact that each player has caught a last second, game winning catch in a Super Bowl. But whatever their strengths each player has issues with the exercise of judgment that has hurt their respective teams. Burress went to jail and Holmes now has the reputation of being a locker room cancer. You have to go back to the 90s to find situations where they allowed a player to get away for whatever reason that there was later regret (Rod Woodson and Mike Vrabel). The team learned and evolved.

Undoubtedly, one of the things that LeBron and company learned in a particularly humiliating manner is that talent alone was not enough. Humbled, they learned how to play together and how to exercise the type of leadership that enhanced their own efforts and that of their teammates. However, don’t expect to hear much of anything about this, except from a few isolated voices during the extended post mortems following the playoffs. For now the best entertainment purposes are served by kissing rather than kicking LeBron so there will be some sucking up. So the opportunity for us to get the benefit of the higher lessons will likely be lost or obscured. Nonetheless, there are some things we can glean from LeBron’s triumph that we can relate to the Steelers’ prospects for the 2012 season.

Mike Tomlin is a very talented head coach, but he is also learning how to win as much as anyone. Some have been impatient or suspicious as he has labored to master his craft. For example, there are those who argue that Tomlin’s early success was predicated on his inheriting Bill Cowher’s team, a point I have serious disagreements with. But even if you accept the position on its face it does not explain why he was able to get Cowher’s team to the Super Bowl twice while Cowher only managed to do so once.

If you are into patterns then Tomlin’s tenure has something in common with the Star Trek movies. The odd numbered years haven’t been bad, but the even numbered ones have been off the charts (two Super Bowls). This is year number six. In addition to what he is learning, he also has more control. His staff was as much a carryover from previous regimes as anything. Those that remain, mostly the defensive staff (LeBeau, Mitchell and Butler) are all top shelf. And his additions, (Everest, Montgomery, Kugler, Lake) all have been improvements. I’ll take it on faith that he knows what he’s doing with Haley. Time will tell. Also these are largely his players now as well.

Because of past successes all but the second year players and the rookies know what it takes to get to at least the championship game. Even free agent newcomer Leonard Pope has Super Bowl experience. There are a lot of reasons that we can get excited about the draft. The most important is not so much that they have the potential to be quality players; more often than not that is case of those selected by the front office. It’s that so many in this year’s group may be able to contribute at a high level very quickly.

There are no guarantees here other than the likelihood that this is a team that is ready to compete and has the tools to prevail. When the team won in ’08 Tomlin made the point that it is not what a team is capable of doing, but what it is willing to do. LeBron has clearly been capable. This year he was also willing. We’ll see how willing the Steelers are this fall.

Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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To Steeler Nation, Gary Anderson Will Always Be “Mr. Automatic”


Former Steeler great Gary Anderson was a bit of a pioneer in the 80’s in that he was one of the first field goal kickers to take accuracy to a whole new level. As this article from 1991 points out, before the likes of Anderson came along, the art of field goal kicking wasn’t so precise. At the time of that article, Anderson was the 2nd most accurate kicker in NFL history at .775.

To give you an idea of what I mean by taking accuracy to a “whole new level,” Jan Stenerud, who kicked primarily in the 60’s and 70’s and is the only field goal kicker in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, finished his career at .668.

Anderson kicked in the NFL from 1982-2004, and he finished with a kicking percentage of just over 80%. As I said, Anderson was a bit of a pioneer, and just to show you how far kicking has come over the years, Anderson now ranks as the 31st most accurate field-goal kicker of all-time.

Anderson played for the Steelers from 1982-1994, and he was known by teammates and fans as “Mr. Automatic.” After the Super years of the 70’s, the 80’s were a bit of a rough stretch for the Steelers, and Anderson was one of the few consistencies for the organization. He made the Pro Bowl three times during his career with the Steelers (four overall) and was voted to the NFL’s All-Decade Teams for both the 80’s and 90’s.

Anderson will always be a beloved member of Steelers Nation, and he’s certainly one of my all-time favorites.

Sadly, however, in places like Minnesota and, perhaps, the rest of the country, accuracy and consistency may not be the first things that come to mind when Gary Anderson’s name is brought up.

After Anderson left Pittsburgh, he played for a few other teams and continued his accurate ways. One of the teams that he played for was the Minnesota Vikings from 1998-2002.

In ’98, Anderson was so good, he became the first placekicker in NFL history to make every single field goal and extra point for an entire regular season as he helped the Vikings post a 15-1 record.

The Vikings made it to the NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons and were leading, 27-20, when Anderson lined up to kick a 38-yard field goal with 2:12 left in the game. Unfortunately for Gary, instead of extending Minnesota’s lead to 10-points, he chose this time to show everyone that he was human, and he missed wide-left.

The Falcons would go on to tie the game in the final minute and eventually win it in overtime on a Morten Andersen 38-yard field goal, ironically enough.

To this day, Anderson still receives a pretty hefty chunk of the blame for losing that game, even though the Vikings still led by a touchdown and could have, you know, played defense instead of allowing Atlanta to march down the field.

Normally, a field goal kicker gets blamed for missing a kick with everything on the line–think Scott Norwood–and not for missing an insurance field goal with 2:12 to go.

I guess the perception of Vikings fans is that Anderson choked in the big moment.

Fortunately, we Steelers fans know better. Not only was Gary consistent during his time in Pittsburgh, he proved to be very clutch on more than one occasion. The most memorable occasion was that night in Houston on December 31st, 1989, when he connected on a 50-yard field goal in overtime to defeat the hated Oilers, 26-23, in a Wild Card playoff game.

Unlike the NFC Championship game, when the Vikings still had a touchdown lead and two-minutes to play, everything really was on the line at that moment when Anderson lined up from 50 yards away, and he came through.

To this day, that winning field goal ranks up there as one of the all-time great moments in Steelers history.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any Youtube videos floating around of Anderson’s game winner in Houston, but that moment will live on in the hearts of Steelers fans everywhere.

Vikings fans can call Anderson a choke artist if they want, but that name is probably displaced and should be attached to the defense that allowed the game-tying touchdown in the final moment and the game-winning field goal drive in overtime.

If you call Anderson that, he probably won’t answer. His real football name is “Mr. Automatic.” At least that’s what we call him in Pittsburgh.

Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

Don’t fret over Ben’s comments Steelers Nation

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I’ve long said with an openly admitted bias that Pittsburgh Steelers’ fans are among the most knowledgeable football fans in the National Football League. Much in the same way baseball purists always say “St.Louis is the best baseball town,” Pittsburgh is often credited with being a great football town. Although from my experiences with many new Steeler-friends, I can tell you they know their baseball too.
With this said, the Steeler Nation needs to take a deep breath from time to time and this is one of those times. Over the last week, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has done more talking than he had in the previous four months combined. “The 49ers targeted my ankle. The new playbook requires Rosetta Stone. I graduated from college!”
Some fans think Ben talks too much while others think he is much too quiet. You really can’t have it both ways so just take him for who he is. Should Ben have said anything about the 49ers going after his badly sprained ankle? It doesn’t m…

Source: Yardbarker: Pittsburgh Steelers

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David DeCastro meets Steelers Nation

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Steelers TV host Sandy Romah interviews the Steelers 2012 1st round draft pick David DeCastro, while he interacts with fans at the 2012 Steelers Fan Blitz.

Source: Pittsburgh Steelers : Videos

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SB Nation Video Features Ryan Clark in New Series ‘The Core of Sports’ Sponsored by The Marines

One of the many things SB Nation’s new production team has been up to is working with Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark on an episode for a new series called The Core of Sports. Clark, who wears the No. 21 during every practice to honor former slain Redskins teammate Sean Taylor, has come a long, long way since joining the NFL as an undrafted free agent rookie out of LSU. More than a decade later playing safety in the NFL, Clark made his first Pro Bowl in 2011.

Clark, unsurprisingly, was incredible hard-working and great to work with. Even after a long day in the early spring Arizona heat, Clark apparently was always down for one more shoot, and he was a great interview and interesting, agreeable guy throughout the process.

Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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No Farewell Tour for Retiring Hines Ward, But Steelers Nation Moves On


I had half-jokingly engaged in an argument with a friend of mine via email about the Vikings signing former Steelers WR Hines Ward. Why not, I contended (always a strong point). The Vikings have no receivers outside Harvin anyway, why wouldn’t they value a 14-year veteran with two rings?

He was adamantly against the signing of the guy he knew I idolized since the day we met in college.

He greeted me via email Tuesday with a simple one-liner: “Are we (the Vikings) supposed to sign a guy who’s planning to retire?”

The argument took place a while ago, and I wasn’t sure who he was talking about (I’ve taunted him with all kinds of options, including signing WR Mike Wallace and giving up the No. 3 overall pick). I asked him simply “who?”

It didn’t dawn on me he was talking about Ward. He responded, “your hero.”

I rushed outside, being the office I’m working in does not allow Internet or cell phone usage, and scrambled around to find someone who could write the story at noon ET (thank you, Rebecca).

The office sits in a converted strip mall, and while there aren’t any restaurants or stores, they kept the building-wide sound system going, so you heard music all day in the common area. Until last week, it was always country music, but they recently switched over to Oldies.

I was walking back to my side of the building, when I heard the beginning strains of “Sleepwalk” by Santo & John, the beautifully somber instrumental played at the end of the movie “La Bamba” (here’s a link).

It’s the kind of song no one can hear and not think nostalgically, if not sadly, about something. Or, it was absolutely the last thing I wanted to hear at that particular moment.

The song used to make me think of the ending of La Bamba, just as the radio announcer tells a nation Ritchie Valens, Chubby Checker and the Big Bopper had died in a plane crash. Despite being recorded in 1959, it will now forever remind me of where I was when I felt as old as I ever have.

Not that I (or everyone else in SteelerNation) didn’t already go through this when Ward was released. Tuesday was different. It confirmed the Steelers were correct in their assessment. As comforting as a kick to the stomach, Ward confirmed for himself the lack of interest on the open market. It wasn’t just the Steelers who didn’t want him; no one wanted him.

I’m happy he was able to retire a Steeler. That’s the Steelers fan in me. The young college kid in me who excitedly bought a Hines Ward jersey in 2000, wanting to be unique and stand out, wanted to see Ward play another season. That version of me wanted to see him roll back the clock, grab another 65 passes for a younger team on the rise, needing veteran leadership.

I wasn’t ready to let Ward go. I didn’t want to accept mortality. Without a doubt, no one could complain about a 14-year run in the NFL, particularly a third-round draft pick who’d been hearing about how old he is for the last seven of those 14 years.

Ward is the first, and only, Steeler of the post-Steel Curtain Generation to retire having spent 14 years with the club. His release and retirement will both be etched in the memories of all Steelers fans forever.

It was Jeff Hartings taking over for Dermontti Dawson. It was Dan Kreider replacing Tim Lester. It was Willie Parker taking over for Jerome Bettis. James Harrison replacing Joey Porter. Bill Cowher moving aside and replaced by Mike Tomlin. Add those five together, multiply it by 10, that’s Ward’s retirement. In fact, the only only who can touch it right now is NT Casey Hampton, who will most likely be in this position next year.

As the song played, and I blinked off tears while staring mindlessly at my phone, reality really set in. I thought it had before, but I was looking forward to watching him crack heads with someone else. I wanted to see his farewell tour, I didn’t care who it was with.

That won’t happen, though. No more 86 anywhere in the league. No more wide smile. No more tussles with opposing defensive backs. As the sun sets on this Steelers generation, we see the value of the one that came before it, and the bar gets set for the one replacing it.

I flashed to the 2005 AFC Divisional Playoff game at Indianapolis. Ward snares a lofted pass from Roethlisberger outside the right hash. Ward lifts his feet off the ground as he always did when catching a pass, frog legs wider than his shoulders, and battled two defensive backs en route to another 15 yards after the catch. He drew a facemask penalty in the process. They showed the replay, and not only was Ward just as guilty as the offender was of facemasking, but you could see the bright smile on his face the entire time he was doing it.

It was as if he was playing a backyard game with his friends. It amused him greatly to make huge catches in huge games.

Thinking of it that way helped me come to acceptance. It used to be Plaxico Burress and Ward taking over as the sun set on Charles Johnson and Bobby Shaw. Now, it’s Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown taking the symbolic torch. Just like Ben Roethlisberger taking the proverbial torch from stop-gap option Tommy Maddox and inconsistent Kordell Stewart, the Steelers will have a new pair of inside linebackers probably in each of the next two seasons.

The future’s always bright in SteelerNation. It’s proverbially sunny and 75 degrees with nary a cloud in the sky.

“Sleepwalk” is only about two and a half minutes long. Perhaps it’s so short to prevent listeners from reveling in the past as much as the melody forces them to. It cuts off far too early to encapsulate every memory I have of Hines Ward. It was time to go back to work. It was time to again face reality.

The song was Hines Ward’s career. Something deeply satisfying, and while I wished it could last forever, it had to end. The next song had to start.

I’m just fortunate enough to have been walking through the mall when it began, and I got to listen to it all the way through until it was over.

Now, I’m ready for the next song.

Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

Aaron Smith Says “Goodbye” to Steeler Nation

In case you missed it on Sunday, Aaron Smith put out a full page ad in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette thanking fans for his years with the Steelers.

“As of today, I am no longer a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I leave the field and Steelers with no regrets, and am grateful to have played for such a tremendous organization. I feel truly blessed to have spent my entire professional career in the best town, playing for the most loyal fans who have loved and supported myself and my family.

“The last 13 years of our lives have been special because of the people who cheered me on, and I am truly fortunate to have been a part of the Steelers, the City of Pittsburgh and the Steelers Nation. You have opened your arms and your hearts to us as a family and we will never forget that. Your support, enthusiasm, love and dedication are gifts I
will carry with me my entire life.

“I may no longer be on the Steelers active roster, but I will always be a Steeler and will never forget the people who made it all worthwhile — the fans, the Rooneys, the front office, the equipment guys and trainers, my teammates
and family. Thank you for supporting me over the last 13 years, and I hope you will support me in whatever future path life will take me on.

“We plan on making Pittsburgh our home and I will endeavor for the rest of my days to find a way to thank each and every one of you personally for all that you have done and meant for me and my family. You cheered for me for 13 years and now I cheer for you for the rest of my life. You will always be in my heart, thoughts and prayers. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to have the job of a lifetime. You will always be in my heart.”

Source: Steelers Gab

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