We often refer to “the ‘05ers”, the small and continually shrinking group of Pittsburgh Steelers who have been a part of both of the team’s championships from the 2000s, an era that began now more than a decade ago.
Following the retirement of Heath Miller, just three players remain from that group, and even that hinges upon the ultimate decision that James Harrison will make. He has made clear that the mind is ready, but the body must be willing, and that remains to be determined.
Along with Harrison, the only other players remaining on the roster from that era are quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and long snapper Greg Warren, the latter of whom has already been recently re-signed to his annual one-year veteran-minimum contract.
Just three players—perhaps as few as two when the dust settles—still remain from that group. One on offense, one on defense, and one on special teams. And each of them have taken on essential leadership positions within their respective groups.
But there is another group of Steelers champions—the ‘08ers—that is rapidly dwindling these days as well, and the scarcity of these players from eight seasons ago may be even more startling than the miniscule number of players left over from Super Bowl XL.
In fact, as the roster is currently constructed, not even taking into account pending free agents, there are only 10 members of the Steelers who were even in the league at the time of that Super Bowl—and four of them have been free agent signings from more recent seasons.
Dating back to the 2008 season, rather than 2005, adds only three additional members to the club of ‘08ers, all coming from Mike Tomlin’s first draft class—first-round inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, third-round tight end Matt Spaeth, and fifth-round cornerback William Gay. Roethlisberger, Warren, and Harrison round out the group of Steelers remaining from their most recent Super Bowl.
Not one offensive lineman currently on the team was in the league back in 2008. Certainly none of the running backs were with the Steelers. Not even a wide receiver on the team can say that his career stretches back that far.
On the defensive side of the ball, not even the team’s longest-tenured player, Steve McLendon, reaches back far enough to have earned a ring with the team. While each linebacker position has one representative each, the secondary as a whole is represented only by Gay.
Among that group of six remaining players, Gay is the only player not currently under contract for the 2016 season, though Timmons, Spaeth, Harrison, and, of course, Warren are all in the final years of their current contracts. Roethlisberger is still signed through four more seasons.
Once upon a time, the core of the Steelers’ locker room was forged by championship pedigree, by a professional persona built upon the proven conditions that it takes to build a champion. By now, that championship varnish is rapidly fading.