Steelers' past decade one to remember
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Some would consider it a no-brainer, selecting the all-decade team. The Steelers were so dominant at so many positions that nearly all of the choices were practically automatic.
That's the way it was for the Steelers of the 1970s, the greatest decade in franchise history. But it also holds true for their second-greatest decade, that from 2000-09.
The Steelers won two Super Bowls in the decade just concluded and played in two other AFC championship games at home, giving them four title game appearances in 10 seasons. They also became the first AFC team to win 15 games in the regular season, 15-1 in 2004. They had only one losing season in the past 10 (6-10 in 2003).
In the past decade, the Steelers had a regular-season winning percentage of .648 (103-56-1); in the 1970s, they stood at .692 (99-44-1).
A debate began before the 2009 season about who might be declared the team of the decade between the Steelers and the Patriots, but, with three Super Bowl victories, that acclaim now belongs to New England.
Not surprisingly, some very good players produced the Steelers' success of the past decade, although they will not approach the nine players and one coach from the 1970s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
There are 13 Pro Bowl players on our team of the 2000s. Five others were Pro Bowlers, some multiple times, who did not make the cut here, including one choice that might come as a surprise because he is the franchise career leader in a major category.
Let's start with the easy choices.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made only one Pro Bowl but now owns many of the team's passing records, not to mention two Super Bowl rings. Wide receiver Hines Ward has surpassed Hall of Famers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth for the major team records and has a Super Bowl MVP to go with it.
Alan Faneca made the Pro Bowl seven consecutive times with the Steelers in the decade, becoming the greatest guard in team history. Troy Polamalu can take his place among the best safeties to play for the Steelers.
Nose tackle Casey Hampton and linebacker Joey Porter made the Steelers 75th Anniversary Team (as did Faneca, Ward, Polamalu and Jerome Bettis).
Defensive end Aaron Smith did not make that all-time franchise team and he appeared in only one Pro Bowl, but he has been one of their best players of the decade and another easy choice at his position. Kicker Jeff Reed also has not made a Pro Bowl; however, he clearly is not only the best of the decade but also second best in club history, after Gary Anderson.
James Farrior, a two-time all-star, dominated most of the decade at inside linebacker. Jeff Hartings became one of the team's best free agent pickups and made two Pro Bowls at center, a position he never played until the Steelers moved him there from guard. The great center Demontti Dawson, a Hall of Fame finalist for the second consecutive year, played just one season in the decade, his last, in 2000 when hamstring injuries forced him to retire.
Those are the easy ones.
The pick of Jerome Bettis was closer than might be anticipated because much of his production occurred in the 1990s (of his six Pro Bowls, two came in the 2000s) and he retired halfway through the decade. Willie Parker gained more yards than Bettis in the decade and set a Super Bowl record with his 75-yard touchdown run. But the Bus was such a force and meant so much to the teams in the first half of the 2000s that he earned the nod over Parker, who also made two Pro Bowls.
Santonio Holmes edged out Plaxico Burress at wide receiver based on his Super Bowl MVP. Neither made a Pro Bowl with the Steelers. The tight end spot belongs to Heath Miller, who set the team record for his position with 76 receptions this season and made his first Pro Bowl. Mark Bruener is worth a mention because he blocked so well and was a key to their running game in the early part of the decade, although his best years came in the 1990s.
The fullback is Dan Kreider with little competition there. Steelers fullbacks became strictly blockers in the 2000s and Kreider did that as well as any in the league.
After Faneca and Hartings, the Steelers did not have a consistently dominant offensive lineman in the 2000s. Their best tackle was Marvel Smith, who earned one Pro Bowl spot but was done in by back problems. Max Starks nailed down the second spot in a tight decision over Willie Colon based on his four seasons as a starter at both tackle spots, two in Super Bowls. The other guard is Kendall Simmons, who never made a Pro Bowl and missed time with various injuries and illness, but was mostly a reliable guard for a good chunk of the decade.
The defensive end after Smith came down to Brett Keisel and Kimo von Oelhoffen. Neither player made a Pro Bowl and both were underrated for their positions. The nod in a tight one went to von Oelhoffen because he started one more season at end, plus another at nose tackle for six compared with Keisel, who succeeded him at right end and started the past four seasons.
The most decorated area of the team, the linebackers, made for a few tough choices as well. Jason Gildon, a three-time Pro Bowler, holds the team record for career sacks but he did not make the all-decade team. He only played the first four seasons of the decade and Porter and James Harrison have been more dominant on the outside. Not only did Porter play well, he was an emotional leader on and off the field and helped set a tone in their locker room. Harrison, who made the past three Pro Bowls, set the season record with 16 sacks and earned a NFL defensive player of the year.
Farrior was a runaway choice on the inside, and Larry Foote rejoins him, at least on this team. Foote never made a Pro Bowl and Kendrell Bell not only made one but was defensive rookie of the year. However, Bell was a shooting star who flamed out and Foote was a good, steady presence inside with two rings as a starter to show for it.
Picking the two cornerbacks was difficult as well but for different reasons. No cornerback made a Pro Bowl in the decade. We chose Ike Taylor and Deshea Townsend for their long, mostly steady play during the decade.
The final spot on defense went to Chris Hope over Ryan Clark at free safety in one of the toughest decisions on the all-decade team.
Josh Miller, one of the best punters in Steelers history, earned the nod for his work in the decade's first four seasons. We chose Antwaan Randle El as the return specialist and Chidi Iwuoma as the special teams player of the decade.
Both Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin coached Super Bowl victories, but Cowher had more seasons in the decade and more success and earns coach of the decade.
First Published February 7, 2010 12:00 am