Let's get to it:
DENNIS LONGAZEL FROM BOCA RATON, FL: We have read dozens of sources of Steelers information regarding Jack Lambert. Some state that he was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice, while others state he was voted the award only once, in 1976. Which is correct?
ANSWER: Jack Lambert was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1976, the only time in his career he received that award. Lambert also was voted the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award in 1974. Slightly off the topic, but since you brought up the Defensive Player of the Year Award, I believe it can be used as further evidence of the dominance of the Steelers defense during the 1970s. Starting in 1972 and continuing through 1976 – a span of five seasons – a Steelers player won the award four times. It went to Joe Greene in 1972, Greene again in 1974, Mel Blount in 1975, and Lambert in 1976.
ERIC TAPPER FROM LINCOLN, NE: The famous Steel Curtain had four defensive linemen. In what year did the Steelers convert from a 4-3 to a 3-4? And any insights as to why the conversion was made?
ANSWER: Let me begin by explaining that the original nickname "Steel Curtain" applied only to the defensive line of Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White, and Ernie Holmes, just like the Fearsome Foursome applied to the Rams defensive line of Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier, and Lamar Lundy; and the Purple People Eaters nickname applied to the Vikings defensive line of Carl Eller, Alan Page, Jim Marshall, and Gary Larsen. Anyway, with Greene, White, and Holmes gone, Chuck Noll switched to a 3-4 defense after the end of the 1981 season, and the 1982 offseason was when Greenwood was cut after training camp. The reason for the switch was that the 3-4 alignment was the hot new thing in the NFL, and it was believed at the time that it made it more difficult for offenses to run the football effectively because the linemen were designed to occupy blockers while the linebackers were freed up to flow to the football.
THOMIE PRYOR FROM LEMON GROVE, CA: With the dominance of the Steel Curtain during the 1970s, how come all four of those defensive linemen are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
ANSWER: It long has been my contention that since the Steel Curtain was one of the most famous and feared defensive lines in NFL history, more than one of the four should have been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Both Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen are enshrined from the Rams' Fearsome Foursome, and both Carl Eller and Alan Page are enshrined from the Vikings' Purple People Eaters. The Steel Curtain only has placed Joe Greene in the Hall of Fame, and I long have believed L.C. Greenwood should be elected as well. But I don't have a vote, and so far the Board of Selectors has not seen fit to elect Greenwood.
JOHN THOMPSON FROM CONNEAUT, OH: During the pandemic quarantine I've re-watched most of the games from the Steelers' 1989 season and was startled by the actual talent of Bubby Brister. Why didn't he have a long run as the Steelers' quarterback?
ANSWER: This is not a popular opinion among Steelers fans, but my opinion is that Bubby Brister was the best quarterback the Steelers had during the time between Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger. That may come across to some as damning Brister with faint praise, but if I were coaching the team at that time I would have preferred Brister over David Woodley, Mark Malone, Todd Blackledge, Neil O'Donnell, Mike Tomczak, Kordell Stewart, and Tommy Maddox. I didn't mention Jim Miller, because he was a starter for exactly one half of one game, and so it's as though he doesn't really belong on the list with the rest of those guys.
Brister was a good athlete, good enough to be drafted in the fourth round out of high school by the Detroit Tigers, and he played one year of minor league baseball (1981) before going to Tulane to play football. He transferred to Northeast Louisiana after Tulane hired Wally English to be its head coach and he made his son, Jon, the starting quarterback. Brister had a strong arm, was mobile enough, was a team guy, and was liked by his teammates. Brister also earned the respect of Tom Moore, the Steelers offensive coordinator at the time and the guy who truly developed Peyton Manning as a young player in Indianapolis (as opposed to the guy who often gets/takes credit for developing Peyton Manning as a young player in Indianapolis). But what turned out to be the beginning of the end for Brister was when Moore left the Steelers for the offensive coordinator job in Minnesota after the 1989 season, and Chuck Noll hired Joe Walton to replace him. For whatever reason, Noll allowed Walton to do a complete revamp of the offensive playbook, complete with all new terminology, which had a negative impact on a team that the previous season had come within a dropped pass of an appearance in the AFC Championship Game. Walton's offense didn't work and the players couldn't master it, but he refused to change or simplify it, and the 1989 Steelers team that looked to be on the verge missed the playoffs in both 1990 and 1991. Bill Cowher was hired in 1992 and named O'Donnell the starter following a training camp competition, and Brister bounced around, from Philadelphia to the New York Jets before finding a home in Denver as John Elway's backup. In the Broncos' 1997-98 back-to-back championship seasons, Brister was 4-0 as a starter in place of the injured Elway, and he retired from the NFL with two Super Bowl rings.
LARRY TARTER FROM BRASELTON, GA: Just discussing at lunch that Ben Roethlisberger went to a small college Miami (Ohio). It raised the question of how did he end up there instead of at a major university?
ANSWER: In interviews, Ben Roethlisberger has talked about being recruited by Ohio State and Duke, but he said that he decided to go to Miami (Ohio) because Coach Terry Hoeppner offered him a scholarship first.
BOB STEPHENSON FROM MYRTLE BEACH, SC: Most NFL head coaches have at least some NFL playing experience. However, Mike Tomlin does not. Can you give us a little information on his playing career?
ANSWER: Your basic premise for this question is inaccurate. There are 11 NFL head coaches with NFL playing experience, which represents less than 50 percent, which falls short of "most." Mike Tomlin played wide receiver at William & Mary, and he was a second-team All-Yankee Conference selection as a senior. Among the other NFL coaches with no NFL playing experience are Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, Jon Gruden, John Harbaugh, Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan, and Pete Carroll.
ISRAEL PICKHOLTZ FROM ASHKELON, ISRAEL: How important is Ben Roethlisberger's tackle of Nick Harper to his NFL legacy? Will it be part of the presentation when he comes up for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Or is this something that just Steelers fans appreciate?
ANSWER: You are referring to Ben Roethlisberger's tackle of Nick Harper late in the fourth quarter of the 2005 AFC Divisional Round win over the Colts in Indianapolis. It's my opinion that tackle was what allowed Bill Cowher to win a Super Bowl and therefore get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and it also preserved Jerome Bettis' legacy to allow him to get into the Hall of Fame. To me, what that play showed definitively is that beyond being a great quarterback, Roethlisberger also is a superior athlete, even among professionals. I remember making the case in the press box in the RCA Dome that day to many Peyton Manning apologists about who was the better quarterback in that game. Do you think anyone with a shred of football intelligence believes for a second that Manning could make that tackle in the open field to save the game that day? Me neither.