Bringing together decades of Steelers football

The Steelers are a team steeped in history, and that history is on full display this year as they celebrate their 90th season.

The organization's success skyrocketed in the 1970s when the team won four Super Bowls, with that success continuing until today with four additional Super Bowl appearances, including two more titles.

On Friday night, the history, the tradition, and those who were a part of it, was celebrated during the 2022 Alumni Weekend Dinner, presented by UPMC, UPMC Health Plan & U.S. Steel at Acrisure Stadium. The dinner, which benefits the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program, brought together players and families of players throughout the decades of Steelers football.

"It is hard to believe, 90 seasons, 50 years since the Immaculate Reception. The years are starting to add up," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "After 90 years there are some guys that are no longer with us from the early days, but we're lucky that some of the family members have come to represent guys that played in the 30s and 40s. It's special to have them back and the guys from the more recent years. It's a special weekend."

The Pittsburgh Steelers celebrated 90 seasons of football during the Alumni Weekend Dinner at Acrisure Stadium benefitting the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program

Even before the dinner starting, the stories were being shared and memories were coming back for everyone of the great times they had wearing the black and gold as one family.

"They really do look at it as a brotherhood," said Rooney. "They love to get back and share stories from different eras. They have a lot of fun. It's great to do it. There is always a something you learn, a new story you hadn't heard before. It's great to see the camaraderie between all the guys."

Hall of Famer Joe Greene was among those enjoying that camaraderie.

"It's amazing how time flies by," said Greene. "Wow, 90 seasons. It's special.

"Having so many of those seasons and the decades a part of the weekend is special. That is what the organization has been about over all of these years, especially the teams and years I was a part of. From the beginning we always were a tight group, a family, and with Mr. (Dan) Rooney we always brought as many of the former players back. He wanted us to learn about the players before us, reminisce a little bit, and also learn about the players who came after us. Because it's a family. That is what it is, a family with all of the different groups of guys.

"I have seen that when we brought back the championship teams. That gave us a reason to meet guys who played after me, having conversations with one another and shared experiences. That was special and this is special.

"That is what happens when you have players of different generations come together. It creates that family atmosphere. It is part of helping to build a culture."

Levon Kirkland, the Steelers second round pick in the 1992 NFL Draft who played nine seasons for the black and gold, relishes the opportunity to gather with not just former teammates, but those who paved the way for him, and those who followed in his footsteps.

"I am thankful to the Rooney family for being such gracious people and owners that they care about their players, the alumni to do this," said Kirkland. "That is why it's so easy to come back to this environment. I believe that environment is so important for growth and health. The Pittsburgh Steelers organization is one of the best places to grow. When you are around that kind of environment it's easy to come back and want to say hello and want to visit. That is how I see it.

"The Rooney family, the Steelers and their fans have created a great atmosphere and that is why players always tend to come back. When they retire, they want to retire a Steeler no matter if they have been to other places."

Kirkland spent part of the evening talking with the other players on hand, sharing stories and laughing about the good times they all had, and learning something about each other along the way.

"When you come in as a young man you don't know a whole lot," said Kirkland. "Then when you leave Pittsburgh, you understand what it's like to take ownership, you understand what family is about. And you also know how to take care of business. I think that is one of the reasons we like coming back. And just the atmosphere, Steelers fans are amazing. There is so much tradition, especially from the linebacker position. The legacy of linebackers has been incredible. To be around that is wonderful."

The dinner was an opportunity for fans to hear stories from the players, but it was also a family reunion for the players, even though in some cases it's the first time some of the players met each other. The group will also be honored at halftime of Sunday's game against the New York Jets at Acrisure Stadium.

"It's all family, but we are getting to meet more of the family," said Craig Wolfley, the former guard and a member of the Steelers radio broadcast team. "There is not a differentiation between the eras. There is just a Steelers family. It's the people that have been here who created the culture. The culture was first set by Art Rooney Sr., 'The Chief,' and it was set by the Rooney family. Subsequently when Chuck Noll was first hired it changed. And then Joe Greene. All the additions of these great people that came along at specific times they built the legacy and hierarchy of the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise.

"When I first met 'The Chief,' and met the Ambassador, Dan Rooney, you felt like this family just encircled you. As you met the Rooney family over the years, it just felt that way. It was always a welcoming thing. When Dan Rooney said once a Steeler, always a Steeler, he wasn't kidding. That was something he truly believed in. I know he abided by that saying. He was always available to the players in a way that uniformly was not part of something in the early NFL and a lot of other places as I understood it. It was always a welcoming open door 'The Chief,' with DMR (Dan Rooney). It was parcel of the humility of great men like 'The Chief,' DMR and Chuck Noll. There was humbleness, and there was greatness in that humbleness. I found it very attractive.

"I think Art Rooney II has carried on the tradition. I have talked to Art in the past and thanked him for doing this. As a former player you appreciate the opportunity to reconnect with the guys throughout different generations of Steelers football. It's always a humbling thing to go up and say hello to a guy like Joe Greene and others. To be able to talk with guys from before my era, from my era and after my era is special. It's a wonderful, welcoming feeling that you are a family member of the black and gold and forever will be."

One of the younger members of the family is receiver Santonio Holmes, the team's No. 1 pick in the 2006 NFL Draft who spent four seasons with the team and was the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII after pulling in an amazing game-winning catch.

Holmes grew up a Steelers fan, so getting to come back for the alumni event and talk to players he once watched is thrilling for him.

"It's amazing to know that as a child, being a Steelers fan, watching Rod Woodson, Barry Foster, Levon Kirkland and those guys, and then to be a part of that," said Holmes. "Growing up and seeing that part of football. And then being a part of that childhood memory led me to be a part of the 90-year excellence of the Steelers organization. It's remarkable to be a part of this history.

"It's amazing to have my picture taken with the legends, be in the presence of greatness. Knowing the Steelers drafted players suited for the organization and wanted to make a lasting impact. I am loving seeing players I watched as a kid."