Since Chuck Noll became coach there in 1969, there have been 258 head-coaching changes around the NFL, according to numbers provided to the AP by STATS LLC. The Steelers’ contribution to that number: 2. Which happens to be the same number the Denver Broncos have compiled over the past four years and one-third the number Oakland has racked up since 2000.
“It’s handed down from one generation of Steelers to the next,” said the current coach, Mike Tomlin, who took over after Bill Cowher led the team for 15 years. “It’s a philosophy. Young people come in here and learn how we do it. It comes from the Rooney family. They focus on things that really matter, which is winning and doing it in an upright and straightforward manner.”
It wasn’t always perfect. The Steelers went 157-253-19 over their first 37 seasons and caught only the slightest whiff of the postseason two times.
It was around that time that Noll, Greene, L.C. Greenwood (1969) and Bradshaw (1970) came in and the Steelers started building something. They built that 1970s dynasty almost exclusively through the draft. All 22 starters on their back-to-back title teams of 1975-76 were either draft picks or undrafted free agents. Not a single one had played for another team.
“You become part of a dynasty, you understand what it meant to the fan base and the community and what they expected and how important it was,” running back Rocky Bleier said. “They were your neighbors and loved you and it helped me formulate my relationship with fans and the bond.”
As times changed and free-agency turned more players into strangers in the cities they played in, the Steelers kept doing it their way. They are finicky about free agents and even more reluctant to spend big money on them. Sixteen of the 22 starters in Sunday’s game are homegrown.
It has worked. Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 (in which the Steelers agreed to play in the AFC, a move some traditionalists of the day considered risky), Pittsburgh has won the most Super Bowls (6), division titles (20) and games (417).
“It’s not like the hi-def TV that I bought eight years ago,” he said. “A formula in football is one that can last forever, even if you do things a little differently. If it works in the 70s, it’ll work in the 80s. The offense has changed a little bit. It’s gone from the Steelers trap to a power game but still with the big quarterback and the big plays in the passing game. The defense is still smothering. It’s mindboggling.”
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner contributed to this report.
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