Finder: Steelers, City players huddle up

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Their separation never received formal announcement, but the Steelers and the City League have been estranged unofficially for almost four decades now.

Pittsburgh's football franchise hasn't utilized the services of a Pittsburgh high-school player in 613 games, 38 seasons, too long.

"Man, really?" Kevan Barlow of Garfield, Peabody High and Pitt wondered aloud this week at such news.

"1969?" said Rasheed Marshall of the Hill, Brashear High and West Virginia. "Long time ago. Long time."

Long time coming, indeed. Not since Westinghouse wide receiver and Colorado State third-round draftee Jon Henderson in Chuck Noll's inaugural season do records show that a City League alumnus, an African-American product of the patchwork of 94 neighborhoods woven into this black-and-gold urban quilt, actually took the field for the Steelers. The two-generation breach wasn't purposeful. It wasn't due to prejudice. Merely, it was a sad little coincidence in a provincial little tahn.

Curtis Martin, Ray Zellars, Solomon Page, Big Cat Williams, Darnell Dinkins wandered afar to play in NFL elsewheres. Rod Rutherford came home, but for a 2005-06 practice-squad apprenticeship, no more.

Come Sept. 9 at Cleveland, to open the club's 75th anniversary season, Barlow and Marshall potentially could set a Pittsburgh precedent together: From two known City Leaguers all-time, Henderson and fellow ex-Westinghouse receiver Dave Kalina of the 1970 roster, to two in the same Steelers' game.

"It's surprising," halfback Barlow said of that void since Kalina was activated for two games but racked up zero statistics, "because there's a lot of talent that comes out of Pittsburgh. It's shocking to me that I'd be the first [active City] guy since 1970. Hopefully, Lord willing, I'll be out there making plays in September."

Admit it, this is a Pittsburgh thing. Charlie Batch and Mike Logan, of Steel Valley and McKeesport high schools, have lived the fantasy. So many in franchise history, from Ed Adamchik of Johnstown to Joe "Chipmonk" Zombek of Scott, played for the NFL team of their youth. Western Pennsylvanians so gravitate toward their Friday night lights, their autumn pastime of football-filled weekends, that it is encoded in their DNA.

"A dream come true," receiver Marshall, 25, called it. "I was that kid who couldn't wait for Sunday to roll around. I was in front of the television by 1. By the time I hit high school, I was like, 'Man, this would be awesome if I could suit up in that black and gold.' I have the opportunity now."

"I'm proud," added Barlow, 28, "because I know what it's like to be a Pittsburgh Steeler fan. I grew up here. I know what the tradition is. I know how serious we take football here in Pittsburgh. I can appreciate both ends, being a part of the Steelers organization and being a part of the Steelers fans. That's incentive for me to play extra, extra, extra hard." He laughed. "'Cause I don't want my cousins and family members talking about me on Sunday. Getting down my throat."

Players who leave the Steelers after savoring glory days -- Alan Faneca, please pick up a white courtesy phone -- come to realize that few places in the NFL, in all of sporting America, display as much fervor and zeal for a local club as does Pittsburgh. Barlow played for the San Francisco 49ers that were the first franchise to win five Super Bowls and toiled last year with his injured friend Martin for the New York Jets. But he knows there's little that equates to this.

"Oh, man," said Barlow, who recalled attending the Dwight Stone-Eric Green summer camp as a seventh-grader and getting challenged by Martin to a footrace. "If you grow up in Pittsburgh and aren't a Steelers fan, you're just being an outcast. I was a diehard. I got pictures of me as a kid wearing Franco Harris' jersey; I thought I was Franco Harris. I loved Barry Foster. I loved Tim Worley. I loved Eric Green ..."

Maybe this City League slight, as reported by the Pennsylvania Football News, is attributable to urban flight, steel's decline and improvements in national scouting rather than a paucity of prospects within city limits. Maybe this is simply a Steelers happenstance, for plenty of WPIAL alums have been employed by the club. Marshall, more of a long shot to make the active roster while still switching from college quarterback to pro receiver/returner, considers it a four-decade barrier worth shattering:

"First of all, with the City [League] not being very highly regarded, it would be a good statement to make. But it definitely would be good, period. Being from the City, growing up and watching this team your whole life, actually being a part of it -- that's big."

Chuck Finder can be reached at or 412-263-1724.


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