The Pittsburgh Steelers already found four representatives to the NFL 100 All-Time Team. They saw the addition of two more of their own last night when the secondary was announced, as both Hall of Fame cornerbacks Mel Blount and Rod Woodson were named. Safeties Troy Polamalu and Donnie Shell, however, were not, despite being named among the finalists.
Blount and Woodson are both members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Shell should have been years ago, while Polamalu has the potential to reach it next year during his first year of eligibility. One can’t help but wonder if the latter was shied away from due to the presence of a number of other Steelers.
Pittsburgh was previously represented along the defensive line with Joe Greene, and at linebacker by Jack Ham and Jack Lambert, with Chuck Noll receiving acknowledgement on the All-Time team among coaches. They have five defensive players representing them on the list, all from the Steel Curtain era aside from Woodson.
While Woodson is the only one among them who ended up playing elsewhere—going to the Baltimore Ravens, then the Oakland Raiders, and finally for one season with the San Francisco 49ers—he has always largely identified with the Steelers, with whom he spent the first decade of his 15-year career.
During his Hall of Fame acceptable speech a decade ago, as Teresa Varley recalls, he thanked Steelers fans for booing him after he left. “I’m serious for booing me”, he said. “Because you know, if you cheered me when I put on a Raiders uniform or a Ravens uniform, I think I would have lost a little respect for the Steelers Nation. So I’m glad you booed me, because you should”.
That never had to happen for Blount, who played his entire 14-year career with the Steelers from 1970 to 1983, during which he played an instrumental role in redefining the cornerback position—and the rules by which he was officiated. While he is often known for being responsible for the ‘Mel Blount’ Rule, however, it’s often forgotten that he had little trouble making the necessary adjustments while continuing to play at a very high level.
Steelers fans never had to witness Troy Polamalu in another jersey, but one has to wonder how close it could have come. While he surely never wanted to play for another team, there is reason to believe that he wasn’t done playing in his mind when he chose to retire after being strongly urged by the front office and head coach to do so.
At least that’s how the story goes, and it’s also believed that he has held some resentment against the team for essentially forcing him to retire, potentially at the risk of being threatened with his release, though I have no idea if that was the case.
While he may not have been named to the NFL 100 All-Time Team, the Pro Football Hall of Fame still awaits; hopefully this isn’t a worrying sign that he will have to wait at least one year before being able to be enshrined.