The Wish That Saved Pittsburgh

Who would have ever predicted that the Pittsburgh Steelers would take six weeks (one week was a bye) to win their first game of the season.  The last time this happened, 45 years ago when it took them seven weeks to earn their first W.  So what turned their fortunes completely around as they were crowned Super Bowl Champions four times in the following decade? A receiver by the name of Roy Jefferson, but not for the reasons you may think.

While many fans today may not remember, Roy Jefferson was one of the top receivers in the game at the beginning of the Super Bowl era. He was a second round pick of both the Steelers and Chargers in 1965, back when the leagues held separate drafts. Choosing to sign with Pittsburgh, he led the NFL with a 24.1 yards per reception average in just his second year in the league. In 1968, he led the NFL in receiving yards and scored 11 touchdowns. The very next year he matched his production and was a unanimous first-team All-Pro selection. But for Jefferson, personal glory was the only success he would see in Pittsburgh, as the Steelers went just 7-33-2 from ’67 to ’69.

But in 1969 the franchise would take a turn that would change history forever. Enter Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll who in his first season made the first draft selection of none other than "Mean" Joe Greene. After finishing with the league’s worst record in 1969, Pittsburgh won the rights to draft Terry Bradshaw. On the field, Jefferson was Noll's best player however the two couldn't seem to find common ground and get along.

At the start of the 1970 season Jefferson publicly expressed his dissatisfaction. He began flouting Noll’s authority in training camp. Noll responded by shopping the team’s star player and finally got his wish fulfilled by the Baltimore Colts, who agreed to trade their 1971 fourth round pick and wide receiver Willie Richardson for Jefferson.

With the 4th round pick Pittsburgh received from Baltimore for Jefferson, the Steelers hit gold with Dwight White, a two-time Pro Bowler was a key member of the famed Steel Curtain.  The moves started a trickle effect which led to more deals to acquire additional draft picks.  Most notable was in the 1974 draft using the 82nd pick to take Alabama A&M's John Stallworth.

The rest as we know it is an "illustrious history".  Now I'm not saying the Steelers should rush out and trade Antonio Brown, however the Steelers are on a different time clock than most other franchises.  Seems Pittsburgh made the understandable choice to hold on to their aging stars and ride them out as far as they could go, but now may be the time to start the rebuilding process.  I say do it now before its really too late and players like Brown figure out a way to leave on their own.

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