The Steelers aura, persona and pedigree has always clenched its fist around a hard-nosed, bruising championship luster.
When Terry Bradshaw went down with an injury after a 1-4 start to the 1976 season, the "Steel Curtain" defense forced five shutouts -- including three in a row -- and allowed only two touchdowns and five field goals in a nine-game stretch.
Despite the impenetrable defense of the black and gold that season, Pittsburgh lost to the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Championship.
But in their most recent Super Bowl victory in 2008, the Steelers flourished in the regular season, ranking as the No. 1 defense in the NFL and stifling opponents to the tune of 13.9 points a game.
Snapping on the chin straps of the Steelers helmet, players are entrusted to carry on a tradition with a physicality like no other.
But a handful of players on the current roster already derived from a dominant, recognizable and winning tradition that prepared them for the rigors of the NFL and the physicality of the Steelers.
"Once you get here, you know the mindset, especially with the black and gold, it is to be physical," said center Fernando Velasco. "You get use to that from playing in the SEC on a weekly basis."
Velasco, a former Georgia standout, is one of 10 Steelers who played in the Southeastern Conference. The others are Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert (Florida); Al Woods and Ryan Clark (LSU); Jarvis Jones (Georgia); Felix Jones (Arkansas); Ramon Foster (Tennessee); Cody Wallace (Texas A&M) and Ziggy Hood (Missouri, though it was in the Big 12 when Hood played there).
"The hard training and the way you prepare in the SEC helped me out here a lot because it's real competitive, always competitive," said Woods, a defensive lineman. "A lot of conferences have one or two powerhouses, but in the SEC you have LSU, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and now South Carolina and Ole Miss are on the rise. You have to prepare every single day. I remember Arkansas beating us back in 2007 when we were getting ready to go to the national championship, but [we] lost to them in the SEC championship, at home. It's tough."
Even one of the longest tenured Steelers remembers how playing in the SEC acclimated him to the NFL.
"I feel like it's the highest level of college football, it definitely prepares you," said Clark, a 12-year veteran safety. "I don't think my learning curve when I got into the league was as steep as it is for a lot of people."
With 21 Pro Football Hall of Famers, talent and skill has been a staple of the Steelers for decades. The SEC may not have as storied a past as the Steelers, but its current dominance can relate. The conference has reeled off seven consecutive national championships and had four out of the past seven Heisman Trophy winners.
"Week in and week out, the talent level is superb, I definitely feel like it's the top-notch conference in the nation," Velasco said.
As SEC powers clash and rivalry games are played on center stage, the Steelers engage in a little trash talking among themselves.
"Heck yeah, I'm talking trash to Marcus [Gilbert]," said Foster, whose Volunteers lost to the Gators, 31-17, Sept. 21. "But it's fun, though, guys that are older than you that you saw in the SEC, you now have to play against them. It's really cool, actually."
A lot like a few of his teammates who battled in the conference from week to week, Foster's preparation for the NFL was heightened by playing in the SEC.
"You see the speed, you see the coaching, a lot of stuff transfers over," Foster said. "Guys usually have an easier transition than some of those cats who run crazy offenses."
One area in which the SEC is sure to churn out productive players in the trenches.
In the past decade, 20 percent of defensive linemen draftees and 13.4 percent of offensive linemen have come from the SEC. Felix Jones, Jarvis Jones and Clark are the only non-linemen from the SEC on the roster.
Before July 1 of last year, the most recent teams to enter the SEC were South Carolina and Arkansas in 1992, but that changed when Missouri and Texas A&M joined.
"Do I feel like I'm a part of the SEC? Nope," said Hood, a fifth-year defensive end. "I was in the Big 12 all four years of my college years there. Can't really say I'm a part of it because I didn't play in the conference. We beat some teams from the SEC, but no, I can't say I feel a part of it.
Hood may be unwilling to welcome the SEC with open arms, but his Texas A&M counterpart has embraced the expansion.
"I mean, I played all my time there in the Big 12, but I was excited about the move to the SEC and I think it's been really good for us," said Wallace, a fourth-year center. "I guess I don't look at myself as an SEC player because I wasn't at the time, but still think it has been great for our program."
Wallace said he never hears anything from the other players about not being a "true member" of the SEC, but said he also doesn't make the claim or talk a lot of trash when the Aggies face off against original members.
But he did talk about one of the most exciting players in college football who's known for putting the money where his mouth is.
"I think [Heisman Trophy winner Johnny] Manziel is a great player," said Wallace, whose Aggies beat the Razorbacks, 45-33, Sept. 28. "He's fun to watch, he has the program going and almost unstoppable out there at times."
The SEC may be the best conference in college football, but the Steelers' 10 SEC players are the second most from a conference behind the 11 players from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
A previous version of this story reported an incorrect date for the Steelers' first Super Bowl.
Kelton Brooks: firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published October 7, 2013 4:00 AM