Recent Posts (Page 1187)

  • Number #12 on the List of All-Time Best Players of the Cowher Era

    For 15 Days we will be counting down the Top 15 Greatest Steelers of the Bill Cowher Era. The list will have both offensive and defensive players, and in doing the list no kickers or punters were selected. Below is our number choice of the day building towards the number one Steeler of the Cowher Era.

    Number 12:

    QB Neil O’Donnell 1990-1995:

    Neil O’Donnell will be remembered for two passes that forced him into being one of the most despised Steelers quarterbacks in history. The two throws came in Super Bowl XXX, in which the first one slipped out of his hand and into the hands of Cowboys CB Larry Brown. The second came with the Steelers down 20-17 late in the 4th quarter. The play called for WR Andre Hastings to be aware if the Cowboys ran a blitz to run a hot route. The blitz came, O’Donnell threw it where he thought Hastings would be, and instead stood Larry Brown, who took the ball deep into Steelers territory. Two plays later, the Cowboys scored, and O’Donnell became the focus of Steelers fans wrath around the country. His Super Bowl performace was ranked #9 is the “Worst Super Bowl Performances Ever” on ESPN.com’s Page 2.

    Two months later, O’Donell signed a huge free agent contract with the Jets. He started that season 0-6, and in the final seven years in his career played for the Jets, Bengals and Titans. He will always be remembered though for his five seasons in Pittsburgh, and those two throws that lost the Steelers a shot at ring number five back in 1995.

    The unfair thing about Neil that many forget is that as the four years as the Steelers starter, the team made the playoffs all four seasons, went to two AFC Title games, a Super Bowl, and had a starting record of 40-18, and the lowest INT ratio for QB’s in Steelers history. He was never flashy, not did he ever make the types of plays that made the highlights of SportCenter, but the bottom line on O’Donnell is that he was the perfect QB for the Steelers at a time when the QB was called up to manage the game, and once in a great while make a solid throw.

    O’Donnell came to the Steelers in 1990 out of the University of Maryland. He was one of the best QB’s in the school’s history, and along with Boomer Esiason still ranks as among the schools best. His first season in Pittsburgh under Chuck Noll, Neil leared the system, but never saw the field. Then in 1991, he finally got his shot, splitting time with Bubby Brister in Chuck Noll’s last year as head coach. In a season in which the team went 7-9, Neil started half the games, and threw 13 TD’s and 9 interceptions.

    Enter Bill Cowher in 1992, and enter O’Donnell becoming a full-time starter. After winning a a QB battle in training camp with Brister, O’Donnell started and the Steelers started the season 3-0, with O’Donnell and running back Barry Foster leading the way on offense. O’Donnell led the upstart Steelers to an 8-4 record, with the key wins that season coming against the Oilers twice and the Chiefs. Neil suffered a broken bone in his leg in week 14 vs the Seahakws at home, and missed the final three games of the season. Cowher, instead of going with Bubby Brister in the teams first home playoff game vs the Bills, instead chose a less than 100 percent O’Donnell, and the team lost 24-3.

    1993 Neil had tendentios in his throwing arm, and the team started off 0-2. He got as healthy as he could, and quickly the Steeelers started winning games, and suddenly they were 6-3. The bottom dropped out after back to back losses to the Broncos and Bills, and the team went 3-4 in their last seven games, sneaking into the playoffs as a wild card at 9-7. O’Donnell threw for over 3,200 yards in 1993, and 14 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He started the playoff game in Kansas City, and in a hostile venue led the Steelers to leads of 17-7 and 24-17. First a special teams breakdown and then a defensive breakdown cost the Steelers, who fell in OT 27-24.

    The following season the Steelers went 12-4, but were hailed by a defense that was #1 in the league. O’Donnell did have another solid season though, throwing for 2443 yards and 13 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. The fans though got even more excited when after suffering an injury Neil sat for two games and backup Mike Tomczak led the Steelers to wins over the Dolphins, in a game in which he threw over 300 yards, and in Los Angeles vs the Raiders. Much against what the fans wanted, Neil returned, and led the Steelers to a 3-0 mark before sitting the final game with home field and the AFC Central clinched.

    In the first game of the 1994 playoffs vs the Browns at home, O’Donnell was mistake free, and the Steelers running game and defense was solid as they pounded the Browns 29-9. The team built a 24-3 halftime lead and were on cruise control throughout. Many felt that the AFC Title game the following game vs the Chargers was an after thought and the team was going to roll to the Super Bowl. Instead, it easily was the toughest loss to the Cowher Era along with Super Bowl XXX. With the Steelers up 13-3, San Diego scored two TD’s against the arrogant Steelers D, and in the final seconds O’Donnell led a furious rally that landed them at the Chargers three-yard line. Setting AFC Title game records across the board, O’Donnell’s 4th down pass was batted down by Dennis Gibson, sending the Steelers to a stunning 17-13 loss.

    The 1995 season things didn’t exactly go smoothly for Neil and the Steelers, as the team started 3-4. Making it a 9 game season, the team finally came together, winning eight of the last nine, and clinching the AFC Central title and claiming the second seed in the AFC. The season also marked a shift for Neil and the offense, as the passing game with 4 and 5 wide outs came into play throughout a lot of the winning streak, with O’Donnell and the offense putting up huge numbers. Demons were exercised that season in the playoffs, as the team pounded the Bills, then O’Donnell hit two huge throws on a game-winning drive as the team stopped the upstart Colts 20-16.

    Following the 27-17 Super Bowl loss to the Cowboys, the team knew that O’Donnell was going to get other offers as a free agent. Pittsburgh made Neil a more than fair offer, and even Sports Illustrated gave him the front cover on his back and forth with his wife and agent on if he should resign with Pittsburgh or head to New York to play for the awful Jets. On February 28th, O’Donnells tenure with the Steelers ended. He signed a long-term deal with the Jets, which included an $8 mil signing bonus. New York was 1-15 the year before, and his first year with the Jets they went 3-13. Steelers fans once again had a reason to hate the man that had led them to four straight playoff appearances.

    Tomorrow: Number 11

     
  • Hoke Happy to be Staying a Steeler

    Chris Hoke clearly didn’t want to play anywhere else, which is why it was nice the Black and Gold gave him a new deal on Thursday to keep him in Steel Town for likely the rest of his career. He spoke to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and seemed thankful that the Steelers stepped up and gave him such a generous deal for a player that is not a starter.

    “It would be fun to start, but the thought of going somewhere else — you might not mesh with the coaching staff or the players or the organization, and the next thing you know you’re out the door in a year or two,” Hoke said. “It might be more lucrative initially, but you might not enjoy it as much.”

    The 31-year-old came to the Steelers back in 2001 as a rookie free agent from BYU. He has proved his worth playing when Casey Hampton went down and he stepped in to play 10 games in 2005. He also does a great job spelling Casey when he needs a break on the D-Line. “I feel like they respect what I do,” Hoke said. “They know I work hard, that I go about my business and that I try to make the team better. I wanted to stay here. I didn’t want to go anywhere else. I want to finish my career here.”

    The deal to keep Hoke in black and gold was a 4-year-deal worth $6 million. He also gets a $1.5 mil signing bonus.

     
  • Number #13 of the Best All-Time Players of the Cowher Era

    For 15 Days we will be counting down the Top 15 Greatest Steelers of the Bill Cowher Era. The list will have both offensive and defensive players, and in doing the list no kickers or punters were selected. Below is our number choice of the day building towards the number one Steeler of the Cowher Era.

    Number 13:

    WR Yancey Thigpen 1992-1997:

    Hailing from Tarboro, North Carolina, Yancey Thigpen was the best Steelers wide receiver of the Bill Cowher era before Hines Ward came along. He was a 4th round draft pick in the 1991 draft by the San Diego Chargers, and joined the Steelers in 1992, playing five seasons in Pittsburgh before cashing in on free agency and signing with the Tennessee Titans, where he played the final three seasons of his career.

    Thigpen didn’t get much playing time the first three years of his career, but did have a knack for finding the end zone, as in 1993 he caught 9 passes, but three of which went for touchdowns. It was 1994 when the team finally gave Thigpen a shot, and he took advantage of it, getting better as the season went along. It was that season when quarterback Neil O’Donnell really got on the same page with Yancey, finding him 36 times that year for 546 yards and four touchdowns. His most memorable catch that season came in a critical week 16 game vs Cleveland, where on the teams first drive he made a leaping catch in double coverage that put him in the end zone for the teams first score of the game that sparked them to a 17-7 win. That win gave the Steelers the AFC’s best record as well as home field in the playoffs. Three weeks later Thigpen caught one pass, a TD, vs the Browns in the teams 29-9 trouncing of Cleveland in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Three Rivers. In the teams 17-13 AFC Title loss the next week at home vs the Chargers, Thigpen caught 3 passes for 35 yards.

    1995 was the true breakout season for Thigpen, as he was 9th in the league in receiving yards with 1307, and he scored five times in catching 85 passes. The Steelers shifted to being a passing team that season, and Thigpen was the top target in the offense. In the teams three playoff games that season, which included the 27-17 loss to Dallas in Super Bowl XXX, Thigpen caught 12 passes for 162 yards and a score, which came in the Super Bowl in front of Deion Sanders. Clearly he was becoming one of the top targets in the league that season.

    The following season was a disaster for Yancey, as a hamstring injury ruined his season. Playing in just six games, he was never able to get on track, and caught just 12 passes for 244 yards and two scores. But Thigpen didn’t allow that 96 season to derail him, as the following year he once again was one of the best wide outs in football, developing a dangerous two-some with Plaxico Burress. The 1-2 punch was awesome for the Steelers and QB Kordell Stewart, as the team went 11-5, and Thigpen hauled in 79 catches for 1398 yards and 7 scores. He averaged 17.7 yards per catch that season. In the two postseason games that year, he caught 9 passes for 146 yards and no scores as the Steelers failed to make the Super Bowl, falling to Denver in the AFC Title game.

    On Valentine’s Day 1998, Thigpen left the Steelers, signing a whopper of a deal to play in Tennessee and become the lead wide out for Steve McNair and the Titans. While the idea seemed good, the numbers he had in Pittsburgh never followed him, as in three seasons combined with the Titans he caught 91 passes (30.3 per season average) for a total of 1430 yards and 9 touchdowns. Injuries hampered his three years in Tennessee, as he played in 28 games in three years with the Titans. He retired following the 2000 season.

    Thigpen was not a wide out who would take the game over, like a Randy Moss, but his ability to make clutch plays and his ability to outrace defenders makes him one of the better Steelers wide outs in the past 15 seasons.

    Tomorrow: Number 12

     
  • Hoke Gets Four-Year Extension Worth $6 Million

    The Steelers made a wise move on Thursday, as ESPN’s John Clayton is reporting that the team has come to terms with defensive tackle Chris Hoke that will keep him in Black and Gold through 2010. Hoke gets a 4-year deal worth $6 million. He recieves a $1.5 mil signing bonus. Hoke was set to make $900,000 this year, which was set to be the final year of his contract. Now with the extension, he will make $2.1 mil this season.

    Hoke has been with the Steelers for six seasons, and despite playing behind all-world nose tackle Casey Hampton he has done an excellent job filling in and playing well when needed. The 31-year-old would be a starter on just about any other team in the league.

     
  • Number #14 of the Best All-Time Players of the Cowher Era

    For 15 Days we will be counting down the Top 15 Greatest Steelers of the Bill Cowher Era. The list will have both offensive and defensive players, and in doing the list no kickers or punters were selected. Below is our number choice of the day building towards the number one Steeler of the Cowher Era.

    Number 14:

    QB Ben Roethlisberger 2004-Present:

    The Steelers knew that when the April 2004 Draft was upon them there was a chance they were going to take a quarterback. The team had slumped in 2003, and no one knew if Tommy Maddox was the long term answer at the position. Many knew that he was not, and that in order to get back to being competitive, the team had better go out and find themselves a young quarterback that could lead them into the future. Welcome to Pittsburgh Ben Roethlisberger. “Big Ben” was still on the board with the number 11 pick of the draft that Saturday afternoon, and the Steelers quickly snatched the Miami of Ohio QB up. Tall, handsome, and able to make things happen with the ball in his hands, Ben was going to take over the city, and eventually the QB spot for the Black and Gold.

    What no one expected was that he would be called upon the second week of the 2004 season in Baltimore. With the Steelers getting beat badly by the Ravens, Maddox was hit on the arm as he tried to throw, suffering an injury that would mark the last pass he would throw as a starter in Pittsburgh. Ben entered the game, and even though the Steelers lost, he threw two TD’s and showed a spark. He never lost again that regular season. Taking the NFL world by storm, Roethlisberger emerged on the scene like wildfire, leading the Steelers to an AFC record with 15 wins in a 16 game season. He did it all, winning in a downpour in Miami, a comeback vs the Cowboys, beating up the sorry Browns twice, taming the Bengals in Cincy and at home, dominating two of the leagues best in New England and Philly, and leading a last second game-winning drive vs the Jaguars on a Sunday night.

    No one could have possibly predicted that Roethlisberger would do what he did that season. While the rest of the team lifted their game as well, Big Ben was the player who got most of the credit for the extreme Steelers turnaround that season. Upon entering the playoffs, Ben was, well, getting tired. He struggled mightily in the Steelers first home playoff game vs the Jets, and came close to blowing that game with two bad interceptions, the second of which led to a possible game-winning field goal that was wide. Ben and the Steelers managed to win the game in overtime, but there was for sure a feel that all the momentum he had during the regular season was fading.

    The following week Ben had his worst game as a pro, at the worst possible time. Against the Pats in the AFC title game, Roethlisberger threw three INT’s, including one that was returned for a touchdown that put the game away before halftime that gave the Pats a 24-3 lead. Following the game Ben embraced running back Jerome Bettis, crying and pleading the back to comeback for one more season, promising him he would lead him to a championship.

    While the 2005 season didn’t exactly go smoothly, Ben was good on his promise. After a scary injury during a win in San Diego that forced him to miss one game, then another knee injury that kept him out three weeks, the Steelers sat at 7-5, and on the edge of missing the playoffs. That’s when the team finally started playing up to potential, and Ben started to rebound from the injuries. Consecutive wins over the Bears, Vikings, Browns and Lions put the Steelers in the playoffs as the number six seed. No six seed had ever won the Super Bowl. It didn’t matter.

    A win over the Carson Palmerless Bengals that was highlighted by a throw-back trick play that saw Ben bomb a TD to Cedric Wilson, a “one for the ages” win over the number seeded Colts on the road in a game that will forever be remembered for “the tackle” on Colts corner Nick Harper, and a blowout of the Broncos again on the road in the AFC Title game, and the Steelers were on their way to Super Bowl XL in Detroit, Bettis’ hometown. Against Seattle looking for their fifth world title, the Steelers played tight early, but a big improvised third down pass to Hines Ward started the rally, and after a Ben TD run, the Steelers led at the half 7-3. They would not be denied in the second half, as Willie Parker ran 75 yards for a score, and another trick play sealed the deal with a Ward TD as the Steelers won 21-10. Ben became the youngest QB ever to win a Super Bowl.

    Four months later he almost lost his life in a scary morotcycle accident that saw his face bounce off of a car. After nine hours of surgery, his face was back together, but his career was clearly a bit damaged. The season was defined by his accident, his appendix being removed a few days before the opener, and a concussion that saw him then play the next week and lose to the worst team in the league in Oakland. A 2-6 start and hopes of making it back to the Super Bowl were over. The team rallied to make the season look respectful on paper, as they won six of their last eight to finish 8-8 in Bill Cowher’s last season as coach. Many say that Ben’s got a lot to prove this season as he comes back close to 100 percent with a new coach. For now, he still has the glow of a QB that led the Steelers to a Super Bowl win in dire circumstances.

    Tomorrow: Number #13

     
 
 
 
 

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