Steelers Nation

Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

The magic of 'Renegade'

Styx’s 1979 hit song has become a calling card for the Steelers defense and, especially, a fanbase that rocks when the tune plays at Heinz Field

By Elizabeth Bloom



Arthur Moats prefers to experience “Renegade” from the home team’s perspective.

As a member of the Buffalo Bills, the linebacker witnessed first-hand what the Styx song did for the morale of the home crowd at Heinz Field and for the Steelers defense.

“I heard it, unfortunately, on another team. When we came here, they played it, the Steelers go crazy,” said Moats, who joined the Steelers in 2014.

Since 2002, “Renegade,” the 1979 hit about an outlaw awaiting execution, has become the unofficial anthem of the Steelers defense at Heinz Field. The song is played to pump up the Steelers defense and fans during dramatic moments, accompanied by a highlight reel of Steelers-centric defensive plays.

“They always play it at a critical time in the game, especially in the fourth quarter,” said Moats, a music lover who taught himself drums and piano. “It helps get the crowd going, letting them know that they need to amp it up. And then for us on the field, we’re trying to make that first play after the song, because you know the crowd’s going to go crazy.”

“When you hear that, it’s like the whole crowd is invigorated, and everybody knows it’s time for a big play to happen.”

“Renegade” doesn’t have the obvious thumping quality of most Jock Jams you hear at NFL games. It’s more an acquired taste: The song opens with a haunting, almost quiet a cappella introduction (“Oh mama, I’m in fear for my life from the long arm of the law”) before yielding to a scream and a faster, guitar-heavy chorus (“The jig is up, the news is out, they’ve finally found me”).

Despite the unusual structure, it has become a signature part of the Steelers’ homefield advantage.

“If you’re a fisherman, you kind of set the hook and you just reel it in a little bit, and then you yank it, and that’s exactly what the song is like,” Mike Marchinsky, who first proposed using the song when he was a marketing assistant, said in an NFL Films piece. “It starts off slow, and it just brings you along, brings you along, and then pow.”

“You’ve heard it on the radio, but it doesn’t really stand out,” Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward said. “When you hear that, it’s like the whole crowd is invigorated, and everybody knows it’s time for a big play to happen.”

While the song debuted during the 2001 or 2002 season, according to team spokesman Burt Lauten, it took on new meaning during an AFC wild-card game against the Cleveland Browns Jan. 5, 2003.

Down by 17 points in the third quarter, the Steelers needed a boost, and “Renegade” — played twice during the game — gave it to them. The home crowd was rejuvenated, the defense tightened up and the offense came to life. In the fourth quarter, the Steelers outscored Cleveland, 22-9, sealing an improbable comeback victory.

The Steelers’ postseason hopes would end the following weekend, but the tradition of “Renegade” lived on, complete with adrenaline-producing highlight reels.

“It’s a perfect song for Pittsburgh,” Rick Fairbend, a former Steelers producer, said in the NFL Films documentary. “It’s classic rock. It’s what our crowd embodies.”

In January 2009, Styx performed part of “Renegade,” along with the national anthem, before the Steelers’ home playoff game against the San Diego Chargers. The Steelers won, 35-24, en route to their Super Bowl XLIII victory.

“When you do these things, you’re in a little room by yourself, and you just can’t conceive of the idea of a stadium full of screaming people would be singing this song 30-something years later,” said Styx’s Tommy Shaw, who wrote “Renegade,” in the NFL Films piece.

In the 2008 season, the Steelers defense made nine big plays or stops during the song’s cameos, Fairbend said.

Still, “Renegade” is short, and the game is long. While it seems to have an undeniable effect on the mood of the home crowd and the Steelers defense, defensive coordinator Keith Butler isn’t sure it adds much to the team’s performance.

“Sometimes it gets the guys fired up and then we don’t play well. Sometimes it gets them fired up and we do play well,” he said. “If it had a tendency of us winning or us doing better, then I’d have them play it every minute.”

One thing is for sure: If the defense makes a stop with “Renegade” blaring, Steelers fans will express their approval in a big way.

“You hear the crowd going crazy, you hear the bass coming through the field, and you almost want to be on the little tape that goes along with it, because it gets you even more hyped,” Heyward said. “It’s funny because you see teams trying to psych themselves up, but if we get a big play after that, you know it’s a wrap, because they can’t come back from that.”

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