They’ve been a staple of every Pittsburgh Steelers championship locker room since the 1970s. These players led by example. Their most important role, however, was keeping everyone in the locker room pointed in the same direction. Today’s Steelers have statesmen, but they are not of the same ilk as previous locker room leaders. They don’t speak up and make sure everyone is flying right. Instead, they point out their teammate’s misdeeds after the fact. Many blame the coaching staff for the Steelers failure to win their seventh Lombardi Trophy. While some of the blame surely rests with them, it also falls on team leaders as well. Part of their job has always been to step up and police the locker room, eliminating problems before they can manifest themselves.
Pittsburgh Steelers Lack Locker Room Leaders of Previous Championship Teams
In the 1970s there was Mean Joe Green, Dwight White, Jack Lambert, and Mel Blount. In the 1990s there was Greg Lloyd, Rod Woodson, and Kevin Greene. During the first 12 years of this century, there was Joey Porter, Jerome Bettis, Hines Ward, and Aaron Smith. These players were a lightning rod for team emotion and accountability. They were intimidating and didn’t tolerate anything less than the best from those around them. It could also be said that they hated losing much more than they loved winning. White dragged himself out of the hospital to help Art Rooney get his first NFL championship. The 2005 Steelers made an emotional investment to get Bettis his Super Bowl ring in his hometown of Detroit. Those leaders had a larger than life presence in the locker room that today’s Steelers team lacks. They held their teammates accountable for not doing their job and not acting in the best interests of the team.
Locker Room Leaders of the 1970s
Remember when Lambert threw Cliff Harris to the ground after taunting Roy Gerela for missing a field goal in Super Bowl X? His actions turned the tide of that game completely around. How about when an injured Green carried an unconscious Lynn Swann off the field when George Atkinson knocked him out. Green had compassion for his teammates but despised it when they didn’t take things seriously, especially after a loss. Green became agitated with all the music and goofing off following a crucial loss. He stormed to the Pirates equipment room, grabbed a bat and smashed that radio. There is no music played in the locker room to this day. Green and Lambert ruled the Steelers locker room while the Steelers were winning four Super Bowls in six years. They led by example, holding everyone to their standards and expectations.
Locker Room Leaders of The 1990s
The Steelers return to Super Bowl glory coincided with the hiring of head coach Bill Cowher in 1992. However, it’s important to remember that Chuck Noll left Cowher with a roster full of talent that contained the core of the Super Bowl XXX team. Lloyd, Woodson, and Carnell Lake were the primary locker room leaders for all of the 90s. Lloyd was the most feared. He was a throwback to Lambert and Green. Lloyd challenged the Cincinnati Bengals offense when one of them took a cheap shot on Yancey Thigpen. Lloyd was a no-nonsense leader who hated losing more than he loved winning. His only goal was to win the Super Bowl, and nobody was going to get in his way, including his teammates.
During a 1995 game in Chicago, Neil O’Donnell threw an interception after the defense had gotten them the ball back. Lloyd met O’Donnell as he was coming off the field and had a brief one-sided conversation with him. O’Donnell immediately went to the far end of sideline by himself, almost as if Lloyd sent him to timeout. That same season, Lake led by example he selflessly switched positions to replace an injured teammate. Woodson suffered a season-ending knee injury on opening day when he tore his ACL trying to tackle Detroit running back Barry Sanders. The locker room leadership, led by Lloyd, kept the team together. They made it to Super Bowl XXX, where Woodson returned to break up a pass intended for Michael Irvin.
Locker Room Leaders from 2000-2010
The second greatest championship run in team history began in 2005, following AFC championship game losses in 2001 and 2004. Those teams were rich in locker room leaders such as Bettis, Ward, Smith, and Porter. They held teammates accountable, keeping them on the same page and focused. These Steelers leaders referred to themselves as a band of brothers who played for each other. When a young Ben Roethlisberger stepped out of line, it was Porter who put him in his place. It’s no accident these Steelers went to three Super Bowls in six years.
Remember when Porter called the Colts soft prior to the divisional round of the 2005 playoffs? How about when he talked trash about Seattle Seahawks tight end Jeremy Stevens prior to Super Bowl XL? He did that to take the pressure off of his teammates, putting it on himself. Remember in 2003 when Porter went to the Ravens team bus to exact some justice on Ray Lewis? He did that while recovering from a gunshot wound. Ward inspired his teammates by playing wide receiver with the mentality of a linebacker. Bettis tried to inflict as much punishment as possible when he ran the ball. Each expected their teammates to play with their intensity. These are the type of players who gave the Steelers their identity for being physical and nasty. They’re why the Steelers are six-time Super Bowl Champions.
Leaders Gave Steelers an Identity
The present Steelers lack an identity. Yeah, the team boasts an explosive offense, but they don’t physically wear defenses down with their running game anymore. All-world running back Le’Veon Bell might be the best in the game, but he’s not used in that capacity. Defensively, the Steelers set a single-season franchise record for sacks. They have youth, size, and speed, but lack that attitude. They no longer have that intimidator who has offenses scared before they ever take the field. Teams wanted no part of Green, Lambert, Lloyd, or Porter. The Steelers may be loaded with talent, but what they need is “THAT GUY,” or a couple of those leaders, to bring back that “chip on the shoulder” they used to play with. They need those kinds of leaders to police the locker room and make sure everyone flies right.
Last Word on Steelers Locker Room Leaders
“Lambert’s Lunatics,” “Avoid Lloyd,” “In Rod We Trust,” and “Psycho Ward 86” are just a few of the banners that have graced Three Rivers and Heinz Field. They honored some of the Steelers true team leaders. The current Steelers lack those leaders in the locker room. Some may minimize the importance of the Steelers having leaders like Lloyd, Porter, and Lambert. They may put that responsibility on the coaching staff. The fact remains that the Steelers have lost games with those types of leaders, but they have never made it to a Super Bowl without them. They won’t return to the Super Bowl either until they find players willing to take on that kind of leadership role. Roethlisberger is the only remaining player from the Super Bowl XLIII championship team. He should understand the value of those locker room leaders and the need to establish new ones.