When Winners Fail


December 31, 2010

I have been just as guilty of Steelers "homerism" as the next guy. Hey, I make no excuses. When your team is a perennial winner it's easy to look at our organization through the reflection of six Lombardi trophies. That being said, I am not completely oblivious to some of the....well....less than stellar moves by Pittsburgh’s front office. In the name of fairness and in a probably useless exercise to humanize our beloved Steelers, let's look back at some of the forehead-slappers we have endured through the years.

5) Steelers trade a player...for no one.
In 1964 Buddy Dial was coming off of four seasons where he led the team in receiving. The Steelers were licking their chops over a defensive lineman named Scott Appleton whose draft rights belonged to the Dallas Cowboys. The Steelers traded Dial to the Cowboys for the right to draft the 1963 All-American and Outland Trophy winner who promptly signed with the AFL's Houston Oilers.

4) Steelers draft Jamain Stephens
Just after a Super Bowl appearance against the Cowboys, the Steelers lost all-pro offensive tackle Leon Searcy to free agency. I still remember watching the 1996 draft on television and witnessing the momentary silence by the Steelers fans in attendance when Stephens name was called in the first round. Stephens was an unlikely pick for several reasons. He was from a small school (North Carolina A&T), was considered a developmental player, and was ranked no higher than the third round on most draft boards. In three seasons Stephens barely saw the field. After failing the wind sprints on the first day of training camp in 1999, he became the first player that I have ever seen cut...solely for being a fatass.

3) Steelers draft Huey Richardson
With three picks remaining before the Steelers picked at number 15 in the first round of the 1991 draft, the Steelers had three players on their draft board that they were interested in: WR Alvin Harper, WR Mike Pritchard, and RB Leonard Russel. Unbelievably those three players were all selected with the three immediately preceding picks. The Pittsburgh draft team was unprepared and panicked. Fearing that they would not get a pick in before time expired they could come to no conclusion and hurriedly picked Huey Richardson. He played a total of 5 games and was cut after his first season.

2) Steelers pass on Dan Marino
It's one thing to pass on a great player....it's unforgivable to pass on one that is a home town hero. Dan Marino was actually born in Pittsburgh and had set numerous college records at the University of Pittsburgh. When the Steelers were ready to pick in the first round of the 1983 draft, Marino was still on the board, but the Steelers went with defensive lineman Gabe Rivera from Texas Tech. The Steelers still had Bradshaw on the roster and thought that they didn't need a QB. Rivera's career was tragically cut short that same year by an automobile accident that left him paralyzed and Bradshaw retired at the end of the season. Marino, of course, went on to become one of the most prolific passers in NFL history.

1) Steelers cut Johnny Unitas
Unitas was another Western PA guy who was born right in the heart of Pittsburgh . What is truly tragic about his tie to the Steelers organization is that he was here, and we let him go. The "Golden Arm" wanted to be a Steeler. Unitas was drafted in the ninth round by the Steelers but Head Coach Walt Kiesling thought that Unitas wasn’t smart enough to play in the NFL. He was cut before the beginning of the 1955 season. The Steelers went on a 20-year skid while Unitas made the Colts one of the best teams of all time. "Johnny U" became a record-setting QB and the NFL's most valuable player in 1959, 1964 and 1967. On any list, he is considered one of the greatest players who ever lived.

Incredibly enough, despite these mistakes, the Steelers have become the greatest football franchise in history....so I know you all will excuse me as I reclaim my rose colored glasses, reach for my Iron City beer, and wave my terrible towel.

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