When the Pittsburgh Steelers selected linebacker Levon Kirkland with their second-round draft pick in 1992, they ended up getting a linebacker who would be a key starter and multiple-time All-Pro for nine years in the black and gold. They also got themselves a player who wanted to be a member of the Steelers. In an interview with Stan Savran on Steelers.com, Kirkland talked about his draft day experience and why he always wanted to end up in Pittsburgh.
“I wanted to be drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. I talked to Coach Cowher and the staff during the Combine and just during the offseason. Meeting with Coach Cowher, I thought he was a dynamic, young coach that I wanted to play with,” Kirkland said via video posted to Steelers.com.
Kirkland said he was at his sister’s house when former Steelers scout Charles Bailey called him to deliver the news that he got drafted.
“I was so thrilled. I really was. I thought that Coach Cowher was going to be a big impact for the Steelers and I was glad I was his second-round pick.”
Kirkland and Cowher both came to Pittsburgh during the 1992 season, and while Kirkland, a Clemson product, didn’t do much his rookie season, he started 13 games during his second year in 1993. He finished his sophomore campaign with 103 tackles and four forced fumbles, and from ‘93 until he left the team following the 2000 season, Kirkland was a force. He finished his Steelers career with 1,026 total tackles, 18.5 sacks, and 14 forced fumbles. He was a second-team All-Pro in 1996, and in 1997 he was a first-team All-Pro. He was also named to his only two Pro Bowls in ‘96 and ‘97.
Obviously, getting someone who wants to play for your team is going to be a plus. If someone is motivated to play for a certain team and coach and gets the opportunity to do so, they’re bound to elevate their performance. For Kirkland, he more than proved his value as a second-round pick as he was one of the strengths of a Steelers team that made a Super Bowl run in 1995 and was a consistent threat in the AFC.
Kirkland was also right that Cowher was a big impact for the Steelers. After a subpar decade in the 1980s, Cowher replaced Chuck Noll and got the Steelers back on the tracks. While it took until 2005 for him to win the Super Bowl, the Steelers once again became a team that proved they could make deep runs in the playoffs and showed why they’re the preeminent dynasty in the NFL. Hopefully in the next few years, the Steelers can once again return to that level and be a team that’s a threat to win the Super Bowl each and every season.