On the Steelers: Work doesn't stop at NFL Films

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Producers from NFL Films traveled through here the past week to conduct their annual interviews for various top-10 lists. No lockout here.

They will produce 10 separate stories that will be shown on the NFL Network, likely starting in April and running through the summer. And, if there is a lockout, show them over and over and over again.

The Steelers are well represented on many of them:

• Bill Cowher replacing Chuck Noll as coach in 1992 is listed among the 10 Toughest Acts to Follow, and it might surprise you where it ranks among coaches.

• Myron Cope ranks in the Top 10 Football Voices.

• Terry Bradshaw vs. Roger Staubach in Super Bowl 13 ranks among the Top 10 QB Duels.

• This one came as a bit of surprise, but quarterback Neil O'Donnell ranks in the 10 Worst Free-Agent Signings when he left the Steelers to take a $25 million contract with the New York Jets.

• Top 10 Thanksgiving Day Games included the famous Phil Luckett coin flip called "Hea . . . Tails" by Jerome Bettis to start overtime in Detroit.

• The Steelers ruined one of the Top 10 Passing Seasons for one quarterback when they plowed Bert Jones and the Baltimore Colts in the 1976 playoffs, 40-14.

• In addition, they are producing a special NFL Films Presents on the Steelers-Ravens rivalry. Where does it rank? Why? Why do the Steelers always seem to win?

Films interviewed me, Mark Madden and Paul Alexander on their trip here in a long list of stops and interviews in various NFL cities.

The Noll-Cowher thing is an interesting one. How tough would it be for a 34-year-old relative unknown to replace the only four-time Super Bowl winning coach?

Turns out, it wasn't tough at all for several reasons. The first is that Noll's teams made the playoffs just once in his final seven seasons, as a wild-card team in 1989. Second: Cowher's teams got off to such a fast start, winning the division in his first season, 1992, and making the playoffs in each of his first six. A third dynamic came because there was a newspaper strike throughout that first season with both the Post-Gazette and Press out from May through January. Cowher mentioned several times to me through the years that he thought that helped because there was no second-guessing by writers/columnists and little for his players to read -- or complain to reporters about the new coach and his ways.

Listing O'Donnell among the top 10 worst free-agent signings was surprising because O'Donnell was a good quarterback. The Steelers wanted him back after the 1995 season -- his last game was the Super Bowl in which he threw two interceptions to Larry Brown -- but the Jets bowled him over with a $25 million contract, about $7 million more than the Steelers had offered.

How do you turn down an extra $7 million? Plus, the New Jersey native was going home. It still may have been a mistake on his part because O'Donnell could have thrived with the Steelers' talent around him. He was a bust in New York. Still, he had a long career and wasn't your typical bust -- like the guy who intercepted those two passes in the Super Bowl, Brown.

Sour on burnt orange

Might the Steelers' experience drafting University of Texas players cause them to pass on cornerbacks Aaron Williams and/or Curtis Brown this year?

Williams is a big, tough corner at 6 feet, 205 pounds and rated either third, fourth or fifth in the draft at his position (if Colorado's Jimmy Smith plunges into the second round for various reasons). Brown is considered strictly a second-rounder.

Either or both of Williams and Miami's Brandon Harris should be available if the Steelers remain at No. 31 in the first round. Harris is a little smaller at 5 feet 10, 190, but said to be a bit more aggressive than Williams, who ultimately may wind up at safety in the NFL.

But even if Harris is gone and it looks as though Williams is the obvious choice, would the Steelers hesitate because of their experience with Longhorns?

Two Longhorns drafted by them in the 2008 season have done little in three seasons -- wide receiver Limas Sweed, their second-round pick, and tackle Tony Hills, drafted on the fourth round.

They have had great success with Casey Hampton, but he came from a different Texas culture when they drafted him in the first round in 2001. Another veteran Texas player, Jonathan Scott, helped save them at left tackle last season.

Vince Young also has been a major disappointment in the NFL and it has prompted many to wonder if there is not a certain culture that has enveloped the Texas program that inhibits some Longhorns as pros.

'74 draft legendary, but '71 was close

The Steelers should somehow celebrate a milestone this year, a tip of the cap perhaps to old scouts Bill Nunn and Art Rooney Jr. for what they and Chuck Noll accomplished 40 years ago.

No draft in history can come close or ever will to the one the Steelers had in 1974 when their first four picks all made the Pro Football Hall of Fame -- Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster.

No draft pick will ever be more significant to the Steelers than the first one under coach Chuck Noll in 1969, Joe Greene (followed later in that draft class by Jon Kolb and L.C. Greenwood).

No draft produced a luckier coin flip for the overall No. 1 pick than the one that occurred in 1970 when the Steelers won and took Terry Bradshaw (and added another Hall of Famer in the third round, Mel Blount).

But 40 years ago, the Steelers made their most significant move toward a dynasty with their 1971 draft class. That class brought to the Steelers wide receiver Frank Lewis, linebacker Jack Ham, guard Gerry Mullins, defensive end Dwight White, tight end/tackle Larry Brown, defensive tackle Ernie Holmes and safety Mike Wagner.

Seven Super Bowl starters, four Pro Bowlers, one Hall of Famer. Some think that Lewis was a better receiver than either Swann or Stallworth.

Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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