Sunday, August 8
Feeling the love in Canton: Brett Keisel was at the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night to see Troy Polamalu, Bill Cowher and Donnie Shell be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Then he hopped in the car this morning and headed home to celebrate his nine-year old son Will's birthday and was back on the turnpike heading to Canton to see Alan Faneca and Bill Nunn honored tonight.
"Will is nine now and when we were winning Super Bowls he wasn't even born," said Keisel. "It's neat for him to experience this. With Troy going in it highlights what we were able to accomplish, the player he was, the defense we had. Then add in Coach Cowher, Alan, Donnie, Mr. Nunn. It was a Steelers extravaganza. It felt like a home game last night. It gave me chills. I wanted to run through the tunnel and blast somebody.
"It was awesome. It was so fun to be with them. That is one of the things that makes us great, our fans and the support we get. When we go play in stadiums and have an opportunity to put our product in front of Steelers Nation, it is the greatest feeling. They back us no matter what. It's hard to put into words the power that has."
Keisel said seeing a teammate go into the Hall of Fame is a sense of pride that is hard to express.
"We all take pride in it," said Keisel. "The organization starts there. The way we do business. Troy's speech emulated what our culture stands for and how we had success over a period of time with just three coaches. It's a pat on the back to the whole organization and everyone who walked through the door and upheld the standard."
Offering their support: If there is a quarterback who needs some protection tonight, all they have to do is look in Alan Faneca's friends and family section to find it. Because the big boys will all be there.
Former Steelers offensive linemen plan to be at Faneca's enshrinement ceremony in full force, supporting one of their own who they have all the love and respect in the world for.
"Red (Faneca's nickname) means a lot to me," said Willie Colon. "He is someone who not only was he Alan Faneca, he was like a big brother, a mentor, he was everything I needed, especially in the early stages of my career.
"He is special. He is the reason why when I left Pittsburgh and went to New York, I wore No. 66 in honor of him. I idolized everything about him on and off the field. Sometimes I feel like I am debt because he taught me so much about the game. It's special.
"It was surreal last night and tonight will be too. For me, just to say I played with Alan Faneca, to say I was coached by Bill Cowher, to say I played alongside Troy Polamalu, and think as we were watching these guys go across the stage, we were sitting next to guys who might go across the stage one day. You are in the presence of greatness. It was a surreal moment. I was so honored and blessed."
Faneca and Bill Nunn's enshrinement tonight will wrap a bow around what has been one of the best weekends in Steelers' history, and everyone has taken notice.
"It was unbelievable," said Max Starks. "I wish Mr. Nunn was still alive to see it. What he did is incredible. His contribution to the game of football. To see Troy go in, we knew he would be a first ballot. To get Coach Cowher and Donnie Shell was mind blowing. Donnie, I remember doing the Steelers camp in Mexico, and he had just gotten into the Hall of Honor and talking about how cool that was. He was the most humble person. There couldn't be a better player when you look at the legacy of that '70s Steel Curtain team. Bill Nunn was responsible for Donnie. It's awesome. Coach Cowher drafts Troy and Alan. It was overwhelming. Amazing.
"Then to know Alan goes in tonight, five from one team, it's unbelievable. It's awesome. I am so excited."
A memorable experience: For many Steelers players, this weekend in Canton, Ohio is more than they could have everr imagined.
It's been a dream to see their coach, their teammates, a legend before them and one who helped build the Steelers dynasty be honored.
They have called it surreal, heartwarming, exciting and quite simply, amazing.
On Saturday night a slew of Steelers greats from the past sat with the crowd as Bill Cowher, Troy Polamalu and Donnie Shell were enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
On Sunday night they will be back when Alan Faneca and Bill Nunn are also honored, capping off what has been an incredible black and gold adventure.
"It was really special," said Antwaan Randle El. "Special because I have a personal relationship with all three of them. I got to know Donnie Shell over the years. It's good to see your guys going in. You win championships because you have coaches and players of that caliber. That is what makes it great.
"You are so happy for them and they turn around and give all of the credit to their teammates, family and God for the opportunity. It was really good to see it all."
It was like a family reunion for so many of them, seeing teammates they haven't seen in years, while all being there for one cause, to share the special moment of those they know and love.
"It was fantastic," said James Farrior. "Having all of the guys around, seeing everybody. It was great to see everyone and them all doing well.
"Having everyone go in, that was unreal. It was quite an experience. I don't think that has every happened in the Hall of Fame, having a coach, players and a living legend in Donnie Shell. Those guys really paved the way. They set the standard."
One of the things that really touched both Randle El and Farrior is how everyone said thank you. They thanked the players, the teammates who made it possible for them to be on the stage. Because quite honestly, they all did their part to give them their rightful spot on the Hall of Fame stage.
"It makes you feel a part of it," said Randle El. "They include you in everything. Seeing everyone afterwards it was like you picked up where you left off. It's exciting because you were in the mix of it. It's hard to explain, yet it is wonderful. It's more than you expected.
"Then you think who else is coming up soon. Hopefully Hines (Ward) is coming up. I experienced this with Jerome Bettis and it's great to experience it again, and hopefully not long after this."
'It's about time': Alan Faneca patiently waited for his turn to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which will happen in Canton, Ohio on Sunday night when he goes in as a member of the Class of 2021.
But those who played with him, those who know him best, thought he should have gone in a lot sooner.
"It's about time," said former teammate and fellow guard Kendall Simmons. "It shouldn't have taken as long as it did. He is a Hall of Famer. It's hard to put it in words. The person he is. Good friend. Like a big brother. Great dad and husband. Add on the athletic ability, it's hard to explain. He is the total package to be honest with you.
"His intensity and attention to detail was awesome. Great film watching. He was on top of everything. It was interesting to watch the interaction between him and (center) Jeff Hartings. They would get into it on the sideline, argue about what happened, and (offensive line coach) Russ Grimm would let them figure it all out. Having the three of them talking about things, it was really cool."
It was also a teaching lesson for Simmons, who came into the league after Faneca and learned the ropes from him.
"Hearing what he had to say, listening to him, it showed what being a professional was supposed to be like," said Simmons. "You get at that level and learn as a young player the amount of work they put in and why they were so good. At that point everybody is good. The elite players stand out just because of the work that they put in, the attention to detail. They have the God given gifts to go along with it, but you have to have something more to stand out. Alan was one of those guys.
"He taught me how to be better overall. The way he could separate things off the field and as a player. He made others around him better just because it wasn't one of those things where I am all in it for me. He was all about sharing the wealth of knowledge and pulling guys along. He had a way of getting after you too, but not in a demeaning way. He would encourage you, tell you come on, do better, we need you. He worked so hard he backed up his talk so you couldn't get mad at him if he came at you a certain way."
While he might have given some of that tough love, he also gave true love.
"He loves on you, hugs on you," said Simmons. "He isn't afraid to give you a hug and kiss and tell you he loves you. And he means that. His whole family was like that. When we get together now, it was just like the way we talked after practice. It's like no time has passed."
Bill Cowher, Troy Polamalu and Donnie Shell are inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame
He said it: Ryan Clark on Alan Faneca
"There is a picture, I believe it was in Sports Illustrated, my freshman year. The Florida Gators were No. 1 team and we, LSU, beat them at home. There is a picture of Herb Tyler running down the field and in front of him is Alan Faneca. He was a smaller quarterback who couldn't catch up with Alan. It was that type of athleticism, movement, that type of effort that signified who he was.
"When the Steelers decided to go with Jerome (Bettis) and Duce (Staley), and they were going to be a downhill football team, every time you saw the power offense and there was a guard pulling in front of those guys, it was Alan because he was that athletic, that agile.
"When I got to Pittsburgh, walking into the weight room early thinking I am the first one there, and Alan would be there working out with that head band around his head doing power lifts.
To be solidified as one of the greatest to play his position, and to work the way he did, he was a freak of nature athletically at the position. That is who he was when I got to LSU and was in the NFL."
Saturday, August 7
Ready to show some emotion: Ryan Clark laughed, but the reality was, he was being serious.
On Saturday night when his former teammate, his best friend, his brother, is enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2020, it will be Clark and not Troy Polamalu who will be emotional.
"I am probably going to be more excited than he is," said Clark. "I will probably be more emotional than he is. That is just kind of the way it works with him. It's a strange thing when you meet somebody as humble as him. The day before he was selected to the Hall of Fame, I was telling him it's a no brainer, you are a first ballot. He was like, you never know, God willing. It's infuriating. You know him well enough to know. I was like stop it bro. I texted when I got the news he got in. I told him how proud of him I was. How happy I am for him. Just like he did when he won Defensive Player of the Year, he said I couldn't have done it without you…which by the way is not the truth. But that is how he is. He loves people. He understands what people did to help him be the great man God made him to be.
"Sitting there and getting the opportunity to watch him get something he truly deserves, the thing I will be hoping and praying for the most is he realizes how truly great he was. I hope he accepts it and speaks to the world and they get to see that. All of us talk about it, but until you get a piece of him and know how uncommonly amazing he is, you don't have the appreciation for Troy you should have. I am excited for him to have the opportunity to show the world."
Clark and Polamalu played together for eight seasons, winning Super Bowl XLIII. But their relationship went far beyond football. It's family.
"It's not every day that relationships last beyond football," said Clark. "I got a text from my son, Jordan and it's a picture of (Troy's sons) Paisios and Ephraim, and Jordan is playing video games with them. It was one of those things then I get a text from Troy saying it was great for Jordan to be here with their cousins.
"We don't throw those names around easy, uncle, cousin, brother. But that is truly who he is to me and me to him. To have a relationship like that which transcended from the field to real life. Those are things that people don't understand sports give us.
"He is my brother. I don't look at him any different than people who share my own blood.
"We are old enough now, and we were probably old enough then when we first met, to know it's okay for men to say they love each other. We do it still now when we get off the phone. We were on the phone and we got off the phone and he said, 'I love you, bro,' and I said, 'I love you, bro.' That is what it is like for us and always will be."
One thing Clark has in common with all of Steelers Nation is he loved watching Polamalu play and he had the best seat in the house to do it.
"I was just watching like everyone else," said Clark. "Sometimes he would do something, and I would be like, oh, that wasn't the way Coach (Dick) LeBeau drew it up. When it's fourth and one and I know for sure he is supposed to be in coverage, and he decided to dive in the 'A' gap and jump over the line of scrimmage and stop Joe Flacco from getting a fourth and one in the playoffs. There were so many of those things. We eventually got sort of desensitized to it. We saw it so often we would be like great play Troy. He would never really celebrate. He did it so often we would just say that is TP doing TP stuff.
"We had the greatest seat in football. You got to be front and center every day to see things you truly couldn't explain. There were times I would ask him what made you do this, and he would explain it, and it wouldn't make sense. For him it flowed, it was instinctive, it was who he was.
"I was around some great players in my career, and to know whole heartedly he was different than all of them. To witness that consistently was truly one of the greatest joys of my career."
And witnessing him being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, will be another of the greatest joys.
Hall of Fame class inductees of 2020 and 2021 are paraded through the streets of downtown Canton
Ready to deliver: Pro Football Hall of Fame speeches will be coming fast and furious as Modern Era and Centennial members of the Class of 2020 are enshrined on Saturday night.
Some of them will follow a script, some will come from the heart with very little preparation as they go through the steps of their careers, thanking many along the way.
For Troy Polamalu summing it all up in what is supposed to be an eight-minute speech isn't easy. But he will be doing it in person after he was cleared from testing positive for COVID last week.
"There are a lot of different directions people view a speech," said Polamalu. "Some people try to encapsulate their careers and they can do that by reciting stats. But people who got into the Hall of Fame were driven differently, but you have a large community like I do that supported you. You can't name enough people. That would go beyond eight minutes. It's tough, there are a lot of people to thank and credit.
"There is also something internally behind every Hall of Famer that drives them and allows them to be a Hall of Famer. But you can't encapsulate it in eight minutes. I have had 12 years to do that. I have had a lifetime to be who I am. I hope I have represented all of the people who have influenced me in a way that makes them proud or inspires them."
It's the people that helped him get where he is today, the teammates, coaches and staff who frequented the locker room and UPMC Rooney Sports Complex during his time there, those are chief among the people Polamalu wants to represent and the ones his best memories from his playing days are affiliated with.
"Everything they tell you coming in is so true. They say you really walk away with memories that are outside the lines, not between the lines," said Polamalu. "Developing the relationships in the locker room, joking around, talking about families, talking about kids. The times between plays, those are the times you remember and it's true.
"I have been very fortunate being around extraordinary individuals that did extraordinary things for our defense. For Coach (Dick) LeBeau to be the leader of that, to be the father figure of not only myself but our defense and every player he ever coached. I am excited to share that Hall of Fame weekend."
The one person he will be sharing it the most with is LeBeau, who he selected as his presenter.
"I have so many special people in my life, so many who were big brother figures, father figures," said Polamalu. "It's hard to just encapsulate my career and football and just say that is who influenced me. It shows how significant a person to me Coach LeBeau is. There are so many people who are special in my life and Coach LeBeau encapsulates all of that. That is how special he is. He is a father figure, not only to me, but like I said every athlete he has ever coached.
"It's not only an honor for me to have him represent me, it's also a tribute to ever player he has ever coached as well."
Troy has arrived: Troy Polamalu arrived in Canton for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony, making it in time to take part in the Grand Parade in downtown Canton on Saturday morning.
Polamalu announced last week that he tested positive for COVID, forcing him for miss the Gold Jacket Ceremony.
But he was loving the reception he got at the parade from Steelers Nation.
"Happiness can't describe it," said Polamalu.
He wasn't alone in that feeling. Bill Cowher, Alan Faneca and Donnie Shell were also relishing the moment.
"This is very exciting," said Shell. "The fans are enthusiastic. It's been very good for us, very welcoming."
He said it: Bill Cowher on Troy Polamalu:
"He was such a special player. He is cerebral. He is real. He is humble. But boy on the football field you talk about Troy, he was like Superman. He was Clark Kent during practice but all of a sudden on game day he let the hair down and he turned into another player. He was another person. Just a dynamic player, better person."
Ready to see towels twirling: On Saturday night, Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium will be packed when the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2020 is enshrined.
And the fact of the matter is, Pittsburgh will be taking over Canton, Ohio.
With Troy Polamalu, Bill Cowher and Donnie Shell all going in as members of the Class of 2020, and Alan Faneca and Bill Nunn on Sunday night as a part of the Class of 2021, black and gold will be everywhere.
For Polamalu, that means seeing Terrible Towels everywhere again, just like he did during his playing days. But the support and love from Steelers Nation, that is something he has felt every day since he retired, even living in Southern California.
"It's not like I don't see it every day," said Polamalu. "They are everywhere. They are really everywhere. It's the most beautiful, amazing thing. You meet people who are from Pittsburgh, and when they find out you are from Pittsburgh, it's special. It's such a unique beautiful place that when you leave Pittsburgh you appreciate it even more. It's going to be awesome to see them all there.
"Pittsburgh is the most unique fan base in the history of sports. The success the city has had through the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins, the City of Champions. Then to move there at such a pivotal time of my adolescence, growing my family, growing spiritually. It's hard to sum up what that means.
"To me it's home. That is the simplest way to explain it, in those terms."
Humility defines Polamalu: Football immortality.
It's synonymous with enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but it's something that just hasn't settled in yet for Troy Polamalu.
Polamalu will be among those enshrined into the Hall of Fame on Saturday night as a member of the Class of 2020 and it's likely it won't hit him until he unveils that bust, and maybe not even then.
"I don't know if it ever will, to be honest with you," said Polamalu. "I realize I have been a part of something special and unique in my life. Football and my career with my teammates have been evident of that. To be immortalized, that is a funny thing to hear. I will say for sure that the people I have experienced in my life, especially there in Pittsburgh, with my teammates, Coach (Dick) LeBeau, Coach (Bill) Cowher, Coach (Mike) Tomlin, and Alan (Faneca) who we played together, going into together, is an honor. These are the examples of the tremendous people in my life who are immortal."
That is Polamalu in a nutshell.
Yes, he will be unveiling his Hall of Fame bust on the stage in Canton, Ohio, along with Cowher, his former coach, and Donnie Shell, both members of the Class of 2020 on Saturday.
But he still has that same humility he did when he was a rookie coming to the Steelers, humility that has never left him. Humility that almost has him embarrassed being the one representing his generation of those who wore the black and gold.
"I feel blessed and honored, but I also feel unworthy," said Polamalu. "All of the other guys on the team are my big brothers. That is how I have always seen them, looked up to them. It's hard to be the face of that kind of group when I have been a product of a lot of their knowledge, experience. I feel honored and blessed to have played with them.
"I almost feel chosen not as a member of the Hall of Fame, but by them to represent them too in a funny way. To me I am humbled and honored and feel very unworthy of the honor."
A teddy bear at heart: Ike Taylor is expecting what most people are expecting on Saturday night when former Steelers Coach Bill Cowher is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2020.
He is expecting to see the famous Cowher chin come out and the spit flying.
"I definitely expect that, and I expect a few tears too," said Taylor. "As tough as he is, he is a teddy bear at heart."
Taylor was one of Cowher's draft picks, selected in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft. He played for Cowher for four years, including on the Super Bowl XL team. Cowher helped to groom him into the player he became, a two-time Super Bowl champion who spent 12 seasons in the black and gold. And he loves his former coach.
"He pushed me. He pushed me mentally," said Taylor. "He made you work for it. That is what I loved about Coach Cowher. Whether it was a first-round pick or a free agent, everybody had to work. That is what I respect about Coach Cowher. There was no favoritism. From the first meeting he told you the business side of football. It's not fair, but this is what it is. As a young man, you had to respect it.
"He was a player's coach. I remember the Hurricane (Jeanne) game when we were in Miami, we had the mud game, and everyone rallied around each other. We didn't know what was happening. We met up and slept in the hotel hallway, sitting there talking, and Coach was one of the guys sitting there with us."
Taylor, who has a love of Pittsburgh that will never vanish, identifies Cowher with everything that is Pittsburgh and that is why he relates so well to him.
"I know what it is to be a 'Yinzer,'" said Taylor. "Coach Cowher was raised in Pittsburgh. He came back to be the head coach in Pittsburgh. How beautiful is that?
"Coach Cowher is Pittsburgh. He is everything about Pittsburgh. He is hard-working, blue collar, Ford F-150 pickup driving, go to work every day and treat my family right guy, just like the city. He is everything. He is Pittsburgh. He is everything the city stands for and represents."
Ryan Clark saw that same type of thing the first time he arrived at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex as a free agent being courted by the Steelers.
Among those he met with on his visit was Cowher, someone who made an immediate impression on him and one of the reasons he didn't leave there without signing with the Steelers.
"I don't know if it was his look, his voice or his presence, but he almost felt regal. He felt like royalty," said Clark. "I was meeting him after he won the Super Bowl, had this amazing career, and you felt that in his presence. I felt that confidence. I felt that certainty about who he was as a person, as a coach, the way he could mold 53 men into a team."
That 'royalty' is going to another level when Cowher is enshrined and Clark will be cheering on his former coach, a man he only spent one season with, but his impact lasted a lifetime.
"Whenever you are in a world of truly alpha males, and you meet a man and his presence stands above others, it's rare," said Clark. "That is what you felt with Coach Cowher talking about football and life, his visions for you. There was nothing he told you that you felt like you couldn't believe.
"The numbers say Hall of Fame coach. The teams he led say Hall of Fame coach. When you think about motivating and captivating a group of men, some who went on to wear a gold jacket, you have to have a certain sense of security. He had that and the humility to allow his players to be themselves."
Clark said one of the things he appreciated most about Cowher was how honest he was with him, never sugar coating anything and keeping it real.
"I loved people who shot it straight with me," said Clark. "He was the same every day. The same energy, fire, passion and goal to be the best team on the field. When you feel that, when a coach lives that, when he is authentic, those are the dudes you follow. He was all of those things consistently."
He said it: Bill Cowher on Steelers fans coming to the HOF enshrinement:
"Why would you not be here for enshrinement? Are you kidding me? This place is going to be special. I already called the guys and told them rally the troops, we are going to Canton. We had a great run with a great bunch of guys, great coaches. We have one of the most special groups of people – Steelers Nation. If you want, just come for the day. Or camp out. Take your sleeping bags, find a nice park and stay for three or four days. That's what we do in the Burgh. You can do this."
Friday, August 6
Striking gold: "They say when you put on the jacket, something happens to you."
That is what Donnie Shell said ahead of Friday night's Gold Jacket Ceremony, a message shared with him by his Hall of Fame Steelers' teammates.
And they were right.
"It's true," said Shell. "It's true."
It still may take time for Shell to realize how life is going to change, but his fellow Hall of Famer, Mel Blount, gave some insight.
"It changes as far as a sense of responsibility," said Blount. "It changes as far as how people see you and your legacy. More than anything is the sense of responsibility you feel as a former athlete and Hall of Famer to provide a service to your nation. By that I mean the way you carry yourself, the things you do for others and how you impact your community and your family.
"It's a great honor and something none of us take lightly."
Shell, Bill Cowher and Alan Faneca all received their Gold Jackets on Friday night at the Canton Memorial Civic Center during an event that was filled with smiles, laughter and even some tears. Troy Polamalu wasn't able to attend after he tested positive for COVID-19 last week, but the other living members of the Hall of Fame Class of 2020 and Class of 2021 also had the honor of receiving their jackets as well.
Cowher was presented his jacket by Steelers President Art Rooney II, Faneca by his son, Burton, and Shell by his daughter, April.
"It's amazing," said Faneca. "My oldest daughter said I got to watch you play, let Burton go up there and have this honor. Words can't describe it."
All of the returning Hall of Famers, which included Steelers legends, lined the stage at the Civic Center as each member of the Class of 2020 and 2021 walked down to high fives and hugs.
"To share this weekend with two guys I drafted and coached, I can't say enough," said Cowher. "For Steelers Nation, this is a very special weekend."
Pittsburgh Steelers Bill Cowher, Alan Faneca and Donnie Shell receive their gold jackets from the Pro Football Hall of Fame
Troy is just 'different': When asked what makes Troy Polamalu a Pro Football Hall of Famer, his former teammate and close friend Ike Taylor answered it with one word.
It's that simple.
"Honest, Miss T, it's one word," said Taylor sincerely. "Different. That is what is. Not too many people come along like a Dick LeBeau or a Troy Polamalu. When you see it you have to acknowledge it. I call them human angels. They don't come around often. When they do, you would be out of your dang mind not to acknowledge the difference between them and other humans.
"That's Troy. He's different. It has nothing to do with his thinking, how he acts, how he dresses, none of that. He is a walking angel on earth.
"I had courtside seats. I had front row seats to see him play. I would watch and be like how the heck did he just do that. Every game he would do something, and you would think how did he do that?
"It would be that one word. Different. You don't find too many of them. I am fortunate enough to have him in my life."
Taylor and Polamalu played their entire careers together, Polamalu the team's No. 1 pick in 2003, Taylor selected in the fourth round. And they both retired in 2014, just five days apart.
"We came in together, we were going out together," said Taylor at the time of his retirement. "That is how we rock. We came in, we are leaving together. That is my loyalty to that man. I said once Troy does his, I will decide. That is what I owe to Troy."
Taylor considers Polamalu to be one of his closest friends, someone he would go above and beyond for, to the utmost degree.
"There aren't too many people I would jump in front of a bullet for, but I would jump in front of a bullet for that dude," said Taylor. "That is the love I have for him. I would jump right in front of it. If someone said you or Troy have to go, I would say go ahead and get me out of here. He is different. The world needs him."
Taylor said that Polamalu was the leader of the secondary, someone everyone knew was special from the moment he came to the Steelers, and that admiration and respect grew as the years went by.
"The first time we ever saw Troy we said he is a Hall of Famer. You just saw it. He didn't play a down and you just saw it from the presence.
"Troy was Michael Jackson, and we were the Jackson Five. We all admired Troy. Whether you were a rookie or a 12-year veteran, you acknowledged Troy was different. But he was just one of the guys. He would say fellas what can I do to help us. When you have a guy special like that and he is one of the guys who just wants to help other people, you have to fall in line.
"When he unveils that bust, Troy would tell you this, we will have all made it. When I told him you made it to the Hall of Fame, he said we made it. I told him you are going to make a man cry saying that."
A brotherhood: Since he was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002, John Stallworth has returned to Canton, Ohio on a regular basis to see others enjoy their moment of being enshrined and supporting the newest members.
On Saturday night, while sitting on the stage with his fellow Hall of Famers, there will be a different feeling as he watches the Class of 2020 enshrined.
That is because among those going in will be Donnie Shell, a man he calls his brother, and one of three Steelers who will be enshrined that night, along with Bill Cowher and Troy Polamalu.
"It's always special when a teammate goes in, someone you played with and have gotten to know, that is always very special," said Stallworth. "With Donnie and I, it's even more. We shared 14 years in Pittsburgh, but we also played against each other in college. We didn't know each other, but knew of each other, going to Historically Black Colleges. What bonded us when we came to Pittsburgh was that background. We could talk about that, what we experienced in college, and how it is different than what we were doing then as professionals. We shared how we handled it and helped move each other through the process because of the background.
"We are brothers in a lot of ways, we are family. We have been at family events, weddings, kids being born. We are brothers on and off the field. We shared experiences as football players, as Christians, blending football with our Christian beliefs.
"It's my brother getting an honor that is well deserved. I am as happy as I can be and as proud as I can be of Donnie."
It's that friendship that is going to make the moment when Shell unveils his bust an emotional one for Stallworth.
"It will be a special time," said Stallworth. "I know the eyes will get a little wet there because I will see that bust and all of the memories will flow back of what he did and what he went through to get there."
Shell and Stallworth came into the NFL together, both members of the famed 1974 draft class. Stallworth was a fourth-round pick, Shell a free agent. They played their entire 14-year careers together, both retiring on the exact same day in 1988.
If there is anyone that knew all along that Shell deserved to be in the Hall of Fame, it was definitely Stallworth.
Take a look at some of the Steelers' Hall of Famers at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH
"I think Donnie's commitment to be the best at his profession and the fact that he was able to take that commitment and execute and make himself better and to do that over a long period of time is what made Donnie a Hall of Famer," said Stallworth. "Donnie was not satisfied, and he showed that early in his career.
"Chuck Noll offered him the opportunity to become captain of special teams. Donnie thought he was more than a special teams player, he thought he could be a starter in the NFL. That speaks to his desire and dreams for himself and his will to make those desires and dreams a reality. He executed on the field.
"It was hard to be noticed when you think about the defense he played on. You have Joe Greene who was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Jack Lambert who was a Defensive Player of the Year, Mel Blount who was a Defensive Player of the Year. All of those guys and other stars who weren't Defensive Player of the Year. Donnie went from a free agent signee, a linebacker and not a defensive back, and he worked and studied. He became a star among stars on that defense. That speaks volumes of who he is, what he is about, what makes him a Hall of Famer."
Stallworth knows it wasn't always easy for Shell, who fought the battle to make the team as a free agent, then wasn't a starter, playing mainly special teams, before he broke into the starting lineup and the rest is history.
But it was a conversation between Stallworth and Shell, who converted from linebacker to strong safety when he arrived with the Steelers, that possibly was the difference maker.
"Donnie played linebacker in college," said Stallworth. "His primary responsibility was stopping the run. That is what he concentrated on. He comes to Pittsburgh and he is a safety. I noticed that Donnie in his coverage, given an opportunity to hit the receiver or catch the football, I thought there were opportunities he was missing to get the interception.
"I asked him about that. He said, 'Stall, I don't know whether I can catch that football if I went for it, but I do know I can hit this guy hard enough that he is not going to want to catch it.' Knowing what I know of Donnie, I couldn't deny that. He could do that.
"During the course of that conversation and other conversations of the same thing, Donnie agreed to work on catching the football. It says something about his character and his commitment to being the best he could possibly be."
His numbers speak for themselves. Shell finished his career with 51 interceptions, still the most in NFL history for a strong safety. Let's just say that number again – 51 career interceptions. He was a five-time Pro Bowl selection who had at least one interception in each of his 14 seasons.
"He went from knowing he felt more confident about hitting the guy and dislodging the football to go after the ball and intercepting to be where he is," said Stallworth. "It shows his determination. Donnie and I both nudged each other at different points in our 14-year career. The conversation we had put it in his mind. But putting it in a person's mind and having that person internalize what you are talking about is a world of difference. It was Donnie's determination, his work ethic that made that happen."
Pittsburgh will always be home: For one, it was home. For the others, it was a home away from home. For all, it will forever be a home they can always go back to.
Five members of the Steelers organization will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend, including Bill Cowher, Troy Polamalu and Donnie Shell as members of the Class of 2020 on Saturday night, and Alan Faneca as a member of the Class of 2021 on Sunday night, in addition to Bill Nunn who was officially enshrined in April.
And for all four, Pittsburgh is a special place, and the Steelers organization is their family.
"That is one of the greatest things," said Cowher, who grew up in the Pittsburgh suburb of Crafton, Pa. "You can take people out of Pittsburgh, but you can never take the Pittsburgh out of people. I never lost sight of where I grew up, Crafton, to Canton. It wasn't a straight shot. It was a lot along the way. The lessons I learned along the way. The joys and relationships that I was able to experience. The memories I was able to experience. To cap it off with this it's been one heck of a ride.
"No one is going to be like the Steelers organization. It's a very unique place. What their mystique is, they do things the right way for the right reasons. In this world of temptation that we live in to try and maximize opportunity, they stuck to the core values and I respect that."
Shell arrived in Pittsburgh in 1974 from South Carolina, headed to a place that was like nowhere he had ever been. It changed his life in great way.
"It meant everything to me to play for the Steelers," said Shell. "Coming up as a young guy, 21 years old, coming to an organization that was noteworthy, had a lot of tradition. There were a lot of good examples of family from the Rooneys, in the community. They did things right and things that had an impact on what I am doing now with my foundation. I saw that at an early age and that inspired me to reach out and help others in need. They are still doing it.
"If I could say anything, it was a great place for me to be. It had a huge impact on me and a lot of different things. It's made me the type of person I am now."
For Faneca, playing for the Steelers wasn't just playing for the fans and the city, it was playing for family – his Steelers family.
"Playing for the Steelers was like playing for your family and with your brothers," said Faneca. "When I left, a lot of people always wanted to know what the secrets were, what was going on in Pittsburgh because everybody wants to recreate it. The consistency, the Super Bowl trophies. It's really hard to put into words, but it's a brotherhood, it's a family, it's the guys in the organization and the locker room. We're all so similar but we all come from different areas.
"We were close, we were friends, everybody in the locker room was like that. That is how you make it through all the rough patches and that's how a Pittsburgh Steelers team that maybe, technically on paper should have 6 or 7 wins, gets 8, 9 or 10 wins. Because a lot of teams in the NFL are lacking that, and those things and those characteristics that carry over and transfer on the field. Sometimes people would understand me, but most of the times they still didn't, and that's their loss."
Ready to see the towels: If there is one thing that is going to be certain in Canton, Ohio on Saturday and Sunday night during the Hall of Fame enshrinements, it's this.
Terrible Towels will be everywhere.
And don't think for a minute those on stage won't notice.
"I can't even fathom what this is going to be like," said Alan Faneca, who will be enshrined on Sunday night as a part of the Class of 2021. "Steelers fans are the best. Seeing the towels, that is just part of all of it."
He isn't alone.
"It's going to be great," said Donnie Shell, who will be enshrined as a member of the Class of 2020 on Saturday night. "I can see it now. Steelers fans are going to show up. They will be everywhere. The towels will be everywhere.
"Playing for Steelers' fans was awesome. I will always remember playing the Cleveland Browns at Three Rivers Stadium. It was circular and I know we couldn't hear ourselves so I know they couldn't hear anything. The crowd was so loud. I was like, if they can get that excited, I can give more. I gave it all, but they encouraged us to give more. That is what I love about Steelers fans."
"Every time I come back to Pittsburgh it amazes me the enthusiasm of our fans. And not just in Pittsburgh, but everywhere. We have the greatest fans in the world.
"They treat me like I never left. It's amazing. For them to keep the enthusiasm, and sincere enthusiasm. Our fans are sincere in what they express to us."
Bill Cowher has seen those towels hundreds of times, growing up as a kid in Crafton, Pa., just outside of Pittsburgh, and during his 15 years as the Steelers head coach. He can't wait to see them one more time.
"That is the biggest thing. When you see the towels going," said Cowher. "This is really special. This is now the Hall of Fame. This is Pittsburgh. This is the National Football League. This is special."