Ron Cook: Steelers LB Foote will be missed by many



James Farrior has been there. Two years ago, he was on the receiving end of a similar telephone call to the one Larry Foote surely received last week. Farrior recognized the voice instantly and knew the worst was coming. It was Mike Tomlin, telling him his time with the Steelers was finished.

"That's when it really hit home," Farrior said Friday from his home in Houston, Texas. "You think they might bring you back, then you get the call and you know it's over. I'm sure it's been a rough couple days for [Foote]."

We on the outside and the players on the inside should be getting used to this. In the past two years, the Steelers have said goodbye to Farrior, Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, Chris Hoke, Max Starks and Casey Hampton, all players who, like Foote, helped the team get to three Super Bowls. But it never gets easier to see it happen. It's tough to watch good players -- good people -- move on to their life's work.

Foote was both with the Steelers. Actually, he's a better man than he was a player. I like to think he would take that as a compliment. If I'm ranking my all-time favorite Steelers as people, he would be in the top five.

Foote came a long way from a tough background and broken home in Detroit.

"Larry's personality helped," his high school football coach, Stephon Thompson, once said. "Everybody liked him. Even the thugs and drug dealers respected him. They let him alone because they knew he wasn't going to partake in that stuff."

Farrior was Foote's best friend on the Steelers. "Shake and Bake," they nicknamed themselves, inside linebackers on some great teams and great defenses. "I'm not sure who was shaking and who was baking," Farrior said. He jokingly described Foote as "a loudmouth from Detroit. No one could out-talk him. He talked all day, every day." But Farrior quickly added, "Everyone knows he has a big heart, a heart of gold."

Foote was at a Christian conference in California late last week and wasn't available for comment. It's unclear if he will try to play a 13th NFL season with another team. He missed all of last season after an injury -- a torn biceps -- in the opening game. He wanted to play here another season, but the Steelers put an end to those plans. It was a football decision. They cut Foote because they don't think he still can play. It wasn't a salary-cap issue.

"I think another team will take him," Farrior said. "He's still got it. The stuff he brings to the locker room is worth it. But going to another team? Learning a new system? Playing with a new bunch of guys? That's like being a rookie again. That's rough at this stage of his career."

Not that Foote couldn't adjust or fit in with a new team.

"The reason he played so long is that he's such a smart football player," Farrior said. "He wasn't the best athlete, although I'm sure he'll try to say otherwise. The mental part of the game was his best asset. He helped me a lot."

Foote made his share of plays, maybe none bigger than his interception of a Jake Plummer pass in the Steelers' 34-17 win at Denver in the AFC championship after the 2005 season.

"You should have heard him after that play," Farrior said. "He made it sound like he had to jump 10 feet to catch the ball and then ran it back 30 yards. I think he fell down after two steps. Man, we were all over him about that."

The beauty of Foote is that he always was able to take it as well as he gave it.

Foote and Farrior joined the Steelers together in 2002, Foote as a fourth-round draft choice out of Michigan, Farrior as a free agent from the New York Jets.

"We had an instant bond," Farrior said. "I think it was because we had similar backgrounds with a white mother and a mixed family."

That bond became stronger over the years as the Steelers won big. That's why it was so hard for Foote when Farrior was released. It's hard now for the other Steelers veterans because Foote is gone.

We watch the players on Sundays. We don't see the work they put in during the week. They are a part of a special fraternity, the tightest of fraternities. When one player gets that call from Tomlin, they all hurt.

"We've been together for a third of our lives," defensive end Brett Keisel said a few years ago. "During the season, we spend more time with each other than we do with our families."

"These guys are family to me," Farrior once said. "The funny thing is, even outside of work, we feel the need to be together. We're always going out to eat together. I know the wives and girlfriends don't always understand that. Well, that's too bad. That's the way it is."

It doesn't last forever.

No player lasts forever.

"It's devastating," Foote said in March 2012 when Farrior, Ward and Smith were released. "We're all grown men, but we've been lucky enough to make a good living playing a kid's game. Most of us have been playing since we were 8 years old. When they tell you it's time to hang your cleats up, it's tough."

Foote knows firsthand now.

Keisel, who becomes a free agent Tuesday, might be the next to go.

Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu are the other remaining players who played on three Super Bowl teams.

Sadly, their day will come, too.

"It comes for everybody," Farrior said.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Cook and Poni" show weekdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

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