Randle El Reflects On Steelers' Tradition
By Larry Weisman
Posted: August 19, 2009

Antwaan Randle El played the first four seasons of his pro football career for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

A college quarterback who morphed magically into a wide receiver, Randle El became a full-time starter his final year with the Steelers. That was 2005, when the club stitched together a stunning late-season run culminating in the 21-10 victory against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.

Randle El caught three passes for 22 yards in that game and also became the first receiver ever to throw a touchdown pass in a Super Bowl when the Steelers razzle-dazzled the Seahawks with his 43-yard fling to Hines Ward, who would be named the game’s MVP.

Randle El left the Steelers for the Redskins as a free agent in the spring of 2006. The Steelers would undergo more changes. Running back Jerome Bettis retired after winning the title in his hometown of Detroit and coach Bill Cowher exited after the next season.

The Redskins play the Steelers Saturday night in the second preseason game for both teams and Randle El is hardly surprised to see how much his old team looks like, well, his old team. Once again, the Steelers are defending champions. They’ve not strayed far from their roots in reloading and winning their second championship in four years.
“They don’t look any different,” Randle El says. “Sound defense, the players are where they’re supposed to be, and they are always making the big play when it’s time, in terms of sacks and interceptions. They always had a good front four or five and the pass rush they have, they always had it and brought pressure and got to the quarterback. They always had a good running game. The offensive line wasn’t as good last season but they have Ben.”

As in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Five years in the league, two rings.

There exists a culture of stability and commitment that creates the Steeler Way. The Rooney family, rooted in Pittsburgh, brings core values to ownership. Patience is one of its virtues. In 1998, the Steelers lost five games in a row and six of seven to close the season and finish 7-9. A year later they would drop six in a row and seven of eight to come home 6-10.

Did they fire Cowher? No. When the playoff drought reached three years, did they reach for meat ax? No. They would be rewarded. Though the Steelers might have fallen short in reaching the AFC championship game twice and losing it twice to the New England Patriots, they eventually took that next step.

They earned the franchise’s record-tying fifth Super Bowl victory when they beat the Seahawks and an unprecedented sixth this past February with their 27-23 comeback triumph against the Arizona Cardinals.

They are what they are. They don’t change much. When Mike Tomlin became the coach two seasons ago, he didn’t impose a defensive philosophy at variance with what the Steelers traditionally ran. A devotee of the Tampa-2 scheme, Tomlin left the Pittsburgh 3-4 alignment intact and in the hands of coordinator Dick LeBeau.

Patience. Tradition. Culture.

“It starts with the people they bring in,” Randle El says. “The attitude catches on and it sticks with the next group that comes in. It’s hard to develop but when you’ve got it, keep it.”

The Steelers have had three head coaches since 1969--Chuck Noll, Cowher and Tomlin. Noll’s teams won four Super Bowls in a six-year span as the feared Steel Curtain. Cowher got the Steelers to two Super Bowls and won one. Tomlin is one for one.

None of those coaches ever talked about finesse or winning a game in a style other than basic smash-mouth. Noll’s Steelers played smothering defense and ran the ball with Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. Cowher’s Steelers played a blitzing scheme that made stars of Kevin Greene and Joey Porter and ran the ball with Barry Foster, Bam Morris, Bettis and Willie Parker. Tomlin’s team, during a five-game winning streak last year, allowed four touchdowns.

The Steelers do not blow teams out. They wear them out. Defense and the running game. Patience, tradition, culture.

“They find a way to win,” Randle El says. “When you play a team like that, you can’t make a bunch of mistakes. If you can make them make mistakes, you have to cash in.”

In defeating the Cardinals 20-10 in their preseason debut at Heinz Field, the Steelers were exactly themselves. They ran the ball 32 times and threw it 27. The Cardinals? Sixteen runs, 49 passes. The Cardinals allowed four sacks and threw a pair of interceptions. Neither of either for the Steelers.

Randle El does not look back on his departure from the Steelers with regret. He just remembers very well what the Steelers were and he knows what they are.

He can probably tell you with a fair amount of accuracy what they will be five years from now. They will be the Pittsburgh Steelers. The same Pittsburgh Steelers.

Larry Weisman covered professional football for USA TODAY for 25 years and now joins the Redskins Broadcast Network and Redskins.com to bring his unique viewpoint and experience to Redskins fans. Go to Redskins.com for the Redskins Blitz column and NFL Blitz on Friday. Larry also appears on Redskins Nation, airing nightly on Comcast SportsNet, and on ESPN 980 AM radio, both in the Washington, D.C. are