Skip to main content


Setting the standard in Canton

It was an incredible weekend for the Pittsburgh Steelers, a weekend that saw five members of the organization enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

It featured smiles and tears, laughter and emotion, and some of the most powerful words about the Steelers' organization you might ever hear uttered.

Bill Cowher, Alan Faneca, Troy Polamalu and Donnie Shell became a part of football immortality with their enshrinement into the Hall of Fame, while Bill Nunn was also honored after being enshrined posthumously in May. It felt like all of Pittsburgh made the trip to Canton to share their joy. From former teammates and coaches to members of Steelers Nation, the support was through the roof with Terrible Towels everywhere.

Every minute was a great one, but there were some things that stood out in every one of the speeches.

And there is no doubt, some of the words Polamalu said about the 'Steelers Way' were among the most powerful words uttered over the two days that the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021 were enshrined. He had the audience hanging on his every word, including former teammates and the legends who he now shares a Gold Jacket with.

"It is unnatural, in the most competitive environment to train your replacement," said Polamalu in his speech. "Yet this is our culture, Steelers' culture. These virtues I learned while playing for the Steelers are what make the legacy of the black and gold timeless. They are passed down in the locker room from the Steel Curtain to anyone who valiantly wears the black and gold. Creating a brotherhood that is deeper than money, business and winning. To be a Steeler is to consider others before you consider yourself. To protect your brother, even from himself. To give support at your own expense, and when wearing the black and gold suit of armor and make sure nobody desecrates it, disrespects it. Most importantly we ourselves don't dishonor it.

"The only approval any Steeler should seek is the early approval from previous legends who have donned the black and gold. And if you've really earned the respect, they'll say, you could have played with us.

"What I truly appreciate about the Steelers way, is that at its core it's success of a family, a culture based on the essential virtues any person respects and honors. Humility, passion, resilience, service and legacy."

And speaking of family, well, Cowher hit the nail right on the head in keeping with the theme. Because yes, for the Steelers, football is family. And it's a family he was welcomed into with open arms when he became head coach of the Steelers in 1992, following the legendary Chuck Noll.

"I came to Pittsburgh (as the coach of the Steelers) at the age of 34," said Cowher. "I knew of the tradition and the expectation of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I grew up there, so I knew what Chuck Noll and his 1970s Steelers did in revitalizing the Pittsburgh area, but what I didn't know was how to work on the inside. Who were the Rooneys? Well, in my 15 years as a head coach, I grew in every aspect of my life. There was a visionary leader, who never missed a teaching moment and inspired those around him. The Rooney family core values were always about family, community, and just do the right thing. Isn't that what this Hall of Fame family is all about?

"When you're together for 15 years, a team becomes your family.

"The game is about the players, and for all you guys who have played for me, I want to thank you for all your sacrifice, commitment, and trust. As a coach you ask people to trust, so what is trust? Trust is something as a coach, you have to earn. Trust is unconditional. But trust can be powerful. To each and every one of you in whatever role you played, I want you to know you never went unappreciated. You are a reflection of our culture."

And then there was the moment when Cowher touched everyone's hearts, a moment that tugged at his own heart. He pulled out a pair of rosary beads that were given to him by late Steelers Chairman and Hall of Famer Dan Rooney Sr. and shared a story of when he was given them.

"In 2005, it was prior to our historic run as the first sixth seed to ever win a championship," said Cowher. "That Monday Dan Rooney came to see me, and he gave me these: rosary beads. I said, 'Dan, I'm not Catholic.' Dan said to me without missing a beat, 'Coach, it doesn't matter. Every little bit helps.' Well, Dan, I still have (those rosary beads) today. To those who unfortunately are not with us: My parents, Laird and Dorothy (Cowher); my wife, Kaye (Cowher); Marty Schottenheimer; and Dan and Pat Rooney: You are here in spirit. I feel you. I love you and hope you're as proud of me as I am of you."

There was so much pride if you even bleed an ounce of black and gold, you felt it. It was impossible not to feel it, not to have chills up and down your arms and back whether you were watching in person or from every corner of the country on television.

And that pride was something you felt for Shell, especially going in the same weekend as Nunn. Shell, a member of the Class of 2020, and Nunn, a member of the Class of 2021, will forever be tied together. It was Nunn, the longtime Steelers scout, who signed Shell as an undrafted rookie free agent in 1974, moving him from linebacker to safety in a move that led to a Hall of Fame career.

"I arrived in Pittsburgh in 1974 as an undrafted free agent and now I'm in the Pro Football Hall of Fame," said Shell. 'Only God can do that."

In Faneca's case, he came in as a much-heralded No. 1 pick. But that still doesn't guarantee you a spot in the Hall of Fame. Only hard work does that. And talent. And Faneca, he had the combination of the two.

"The fact that I was actually being invited to become a member of this extraordinary football fraternity is hard to put into words," said Faneca. "Perhaps the best word is simply, gratitude."

With former Steelers Hall of Famers like Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Mel Blount, Rod Woodson and Dermontti Dawson, as well as former assistant coaches and Hall of Famers Tony Dungy and Dick LeBeau, listening intently, smiling and nodding their approval, there was one thing that held true.

"No matter how times have changed as Coach (Mike) Tomlin, often says the standard is the standard," said Polamalu.

And in Canton, Ohio, the Steelers have set the standard.

Related Content