They’re sweeping confetti off the streets of Denver today and we assume Peyton Manning’s recycling bin is filled with empty Budweiser cans, which means the NFL season is over and we can finally stop talking about football for a while. Only we won’t, because in Pittsburgh, football ranks higher than water as an essential life-supporting element.
So, until next season, we’ll offer one final collection of pictures of our favorite team.
These were taken by Pittsburgh Press photographer Al Herrmann Jr. in Pasadena, Ca., on Jan. 15, 1980 — “Picture Day” in the week leading up to Super Bowl XIV. They show the Steelers of that era as a confident and relaxed bunch. These guys were veterans of the big game.
And of course they look so young — because they were. Mean Joe Greene was 33, Terry Bradshaw 31, and Franco Harris 29. Jack Lambert, a mere babe at 27, sports a haircut that looks like a failed version of Barry Gibb‘s late-70s blow-dried ‘do (we’re hoping Jack doesn’t read this). He’s answering questions from former NFL coach John Madden, then in his first season as a network color commentator.
Some of the Steelers photographed by Herrmann are a bit less familiar. Dennis “Dirt” Winston stands alone, his arms crossed, leaning against a blocking sled. He was substituting for injured linebacker Jack Ham. We conducted a quick internet search and discovered that Winston worked as defensive line coach at Eastern Illinois University in 2015.
In another photograph, defensive back Dwayne Woodruff poses with a few of his teammates while two other Steelers take photographs. Woodruff, of course, is a now judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County.
Place kicker Matt Bahr and punter Craig Colquitt stand side-by-side, their arms around each other’s shoulders. For both men, the NFL became a family affair. Bahr’s brother Chris kicked for the Bengals, Raiders and Chargers. Colquitt’s brother Jimmy punted for the Seahawks in ‘85.
In addition, Colquitt is the father of two current NFL punters, Dustin and Britton Colquitt. Britton punts for the Broncos and was in the news this week because the NFL made him fork over $1,800 for a Super Bowl ticket for his two-week-old daughter Isla.
One photo is certain to create a sense of wistfulness among Steelers fans. It shows an earnest-looking Mike Webster answering questions posed by a gaggle of reporters. Webster, 28 at the time, was in the midst of a career that would earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame and cost him dearly. He died at age 50 in 2002 and was the first former NFL player to be diagnosed with CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Others, too, have passed. We see Dwight White standing next to teammate John Banaszak and then, in another photo, performing pull-ups. White died in 2008 at age 58. Banaszak is still a Pittsburgh guy — he recently finished his second season as head coach of Robert Morris University’s football program.
Herrmann photographed a few members of the Steelers’ opponent, the Los Angeles Rams. We found images of running backs Wendell Tyler and Cullen Bryant and safety Dave Elmendorf, who appears pensive. Bryant was a big guy for the era — 6-1, 234 lbs. He died of natural causes in 2009.
Five days after Picture Day, the Steelers defeated the Rams 31-19 to earn a fourth Super Bowl ring. A giant headline in the Post-Gazette read, “Four Down, ‘80s to Go.” It was so representative of the emerging decade: too big, too optimistic and slightly delusional. We preferred one of the other headlines considered by the editors: “The Fourth Be With You.” Now that’s a ‘70s headline. We can almost hear Captain and Tennille on an 8-track in the background.