Throughout the illustrious history of the Pittsburgh Steelers, defensive players have often been the stars of the franchise. From Ernie Stautner to Mean Joe Greene, Jack Lambert to Troy Polamalu, the history of defense in Pittsburgh is rather rich.
Currently, that tradition carries on in Pittsburgh as the Steelers have Defensive Player of the Year TJ Watt, All-Pro defensive lineman Cameron Heyward and All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick as key building blocks on the defensive side of the football, helping the Steelers stay competitive year in and year out under head coach Mike Tomlin.
One of the greatest compliments those three can receive in their careers as Steelers is one that former Steelers head coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Cowher dropped on them earlier in the week while appearing on the Half-Forgotten History podcast with Trey Wingo, stating that Watt, Heyward and Fitzpatrick could play in any era in Steelers’ history.
High praise, indeed.
“T.J. Watt is T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, too. I look at how those two guys play the game. Minkah Fitzpatrick; I look at the way he plays the game. I hear how they talk. These guys love the game. They have a passion for the game,” Cowher said to Wingo, according to audio from the podcast. “With T.J., you know, the records…yeah, okay. That comes with it. But he just wants to win. And he plays with a passion, with a sense of purpose, same with Cam Heyward. They’re playing with Minkah Fitzpatrick. Those three guys, I say those three guys to me, they could have played in any era with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“They could have played back with the Steel Curtain and you know what? The Steel Curtain would’ve embraced every one of them.”
When it comes to the Steelers and the rich history on the defensive side of the football, that truly is the highest praise one can receive. Years after his playing days, during his Hall of Fame induction speech last summer, Polamalu said that specifically.
That’s how it is in the Steelers’ culture, one that’s been passed on for decades. Now, thanks to some stellar play on the field and an impressive reputation off the field, guys like Watt, Heyward and Fitzpatrick are reaching rarified air in Steelers’ lore.
“It’s so funny, and I think Troy [Polamalu] said that at Canton, you know, when the players come up to me and said — and I’ve had guys like Joe Greene come up and Mel Blount come up to me and I met Jack Lambert and they said, you know, ‘we could have played for you coach.’
“And I thought, you know, when the people from that era says they could have played with them or you could have coached the, that’s one of the biggest compliments you could ever get, Trey,” Cowher said to Wingo. “And so I think when you look at Cam Heyward, you look at Minkah Fitzpatrick, you look at TJ Watt and you can make that statement that, you know, you could have played with us back in our day. That’s one of the best compliments you could get those three guys. They represent what the Steelers are all about. So I’m not worried about that side of the ball at all.”