In the summer of 2010, my first book will be coming out in stores entitled “100 Things Every Steelers Fan Should Know Before They Die.” The book, which is being published by Triumph Books, will be in stores next Summer and will retail for $14.95. We will have ordering info through Amazon as soon as it becomes available.
In the meantime, through the offseason and even before it, we’ll give Steelers Gab readers a sneak peek of some chapters of the book. Today is chapter 9, which is a chapter on the greatest defensive line in the history of the NFL – The Steel Curtain. Enjoy!
When you think about the great memories of a Steeler dynasty in the 1970’s, there is a term that comes to mind that to this day may still gives Steeler fans chills – ’Steel Curtain.’ It was a defensive front four that changed NFL history, started a run of Super Bowls for the Steel city, and eventually landed one of it’s own into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It started simply enough with the drafting of a little known defensive tackle from North Texas State in 1969 by the name of Joe Greene. He dominated games, and became the backbone of the line. In the same draft the team added another quality defensive end named L.C. Greenwood. Two years later along game another end, Dwight White, and then in 1972 the team added it’s final piece to the Steel Curtain puzzle – Ernie Holmes.
Each had their own qualities that made them great, but combined together they were not only great, they were without question the greatest. It started with Greene, who was the superstar of the group. He came up with the stunt in the 4-3, and it usually took two to three linemen to block him. Even with that though, Greene seemed to always be around the ball carrier of quarterback.
Greenwood was built more like a strong safety, as he was tall, lean, yet had amazing speed. Quarterbacks would always need to keep an eye on Greenwood, and that’s while also trying to keep track of the other three. Then there was White, nicknamed “Mad Dog,” a player that had a mean streak and showed up crunching quarterbacks and running backs. His aggressive style was a welcome sight to the unit just about every Sunday.
Holmes was the unsung hero of the group. He was called by Steeler linebacker Andy Russell the strongest of the group, and Hall of Fame offensive guard Gene Upshaw said he was the best defensive tackle that he had ever played against. Guards week in and week out were not able to match the strength, nor the just play in, play out intensity that Holmes would bring.
The unit was named by a 9th grader at a local high school in 1971, Gregory Kronz. It came as a play on the phrase “Iron Curtain,” which became popular by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Radio station WTAE put out a contest looking for a name for the unit, and 17 people submitted ’Steel Curtain,’ and Kronz’s name was picked as the winner of those 17.
It didn’t matter what the name, these four linemen were simply the best at what they did. They picked up the offense when they couldn’t score or didn’t play all that well, and took it upon themselves to take over games. They held the vaunted Minnesota Vikings offense to 6 points in Super Bowl IX, and that actually came on a blocked punt, meaning in truth the unit didn’t allow a score.
The following season they got even better. The club went 12-2 as the offense, led by Terry Bradshaw, matured. The defense, led by the front four, allowed just 11.6 points per game, good for second in the league that season. They held their opponents to under 10 points in 7 of their 14 regular season games, and then in the playoffs held Baltimore and Oakland to just 10 points each before allowing 17 to Dallas in the teams second Super Bowl win in Super Bowl X.
It was hard to believe that the best of this defense was yet to come, but in 1976, they ran a streak that no team in modern day pro football has ever been able to duplicate. The team struggled early, losing four of their first five games, and also losing Bradshaw to injury. What happened next was astounding. The defense helped the team run off a 10-game win streak. They did not allow a touchdown in 22 straight quarters, and by the end of the regular season shut out five of it’s last eight opponents.
That team was handcuffed on its way to a third Super Bowl as both 1,000+ yard running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier were hurt in the teams playoff thrashing of the Colts, and were unable to go the following week in the AFC Championship game at Oakland. Nevertheless, the curtain fell to the tune of allowing just 9.9 points per game, and an unreal 22 points in their last 8 games.
Two more Super Bowls would come the clubs way after the 1977 season, and again the D-line was at the forefront, helping the club put two more Lombardi trophies in the teams front office. By the 1980 season, the curtain had basically closed. Holmes was traded by the club due to ongoing weight problems in 1978, and he played in three games the rest of his career. White walked away in 80, then both Greene and Greenwood retired in 81.
While there was the Purple People Eaters of the Vikings, the Orange Crush of the Denver Broncos, and the No-Name Defense of the Miami Dolphins, no unit in the annals of NFL history has ever been held in as high regard as the Steelers front four – otherwise known as the ’Steel Curtain.’
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