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Why are the Steelers Offensive Tackles Forgotten by the NFL Every Awards Season?

George Gojkovich / Getty Images

Why are the Steelers Offensive Tackles Forgotten by the NFL Every Awards Season?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have eight Super Bowl appearances and six Lombardi Trophies. The franchise has been best known in the Super Bowl era for playing historically great defense. It is their calling card, but except for the latter half of the Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger era, they were known for running the football. The Steelers did not invent the trap play, but Chuck Noll perfected it. Bill Cowher continued the tradition and with the rise of Najee Harris, Tomlin would be wise to revisit it.

The Steelers have produced two Hall of Fame running backs that won championships in the black and gold in Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis. The running back with the longest run in Super Bowl history, Willie Parker, and a multitude of good running backs took advantage of their roles in a Steelers offense that favored smash mouth football. The Steelers center position has produced two Hall of Fame players and Maurkice Pouncey may join Mike Webster and Dermonti Dawson in Canton someday. The Steelers center is one of the premiere offensive line positions in all the NFL. Despite the team’s success in running the football during the last six decades, and protecting Roethlisberger and Terry Bradshaw during Super Bowl runs, the Steelers offensive tackles have received very little recognition in their roles during that period.


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Since the Super Bowl era started, the Steelers have had 10 offensive tackles start 80 games or more and seven have started more than 100 games at tackle for them. The top 10 in games played at offensive tackle for the franchise have accumulated 1,143 starts, but only six Pro Bowl appearances and 0 All-Pro teams. The Steelers offensive line unit has been praised multiple times as one of the best units on the team over the years, but curiously the tackles are ignored year after year when the NFL hands out awards and Pro Bowl berths.

Steelers Offensive Tackles

PITTSBURGH, PA – SEPTEMBER 22: Offensive lineman Tunch Ilkin #62 of the Pittsburgh Steelers blocks against defensive lineman Ray Childress #79 of the Houston Oilers as running back Frank Pollard #30 runs with the football during a game at Three Rivers Stadium on September 22, 1985 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers defeated the Oilers 20-0. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

Tunch Ilkin is the franchise leader for games played at offensive tackle with 143 games started. He made two Pro Bowl appearances. Ilkin did have the misfortune of arriving just after the great Steelers teams of the 1970’s and retired before Cowher got them back to the Super Bowl in 1995.

Jon Kolb started 138 games for the Steelers and was the starting left tackle on all four Super Bowl championship teams in the 1970’s and the 1976 squad that produced two 1,000-yard rushers in Harris and Rocky Bleier. Of all the tackles I have seen play during my time watching football, he was the best one I ever saw in a Steelers uniform. Kolb was a legendary strong man and was widely regarded as one of the strongest players in the NFL. He participated in the second and third annual World’s Strongest Man contest and placed fourth both years he participated. He never made a Pro Bowl.

Steelers Offensive Tackles

Michael Fabus / Pittsburgh Steelers

Kolb’s teammate at right tackle who was a converted tight end, Larry Brown started 121 games at tackle and was the starter when they won Super Bowls XIII and XIV. He managed one Pro Bowl in 1982. Marvel Smith made one Pro Bowl in 108 starts for the Steelers and Alejandro Villanueva like Ilkin, made two Pro Bowls protecting Roethlisberger’s blind side in 90 career starts in Pittsburgh. John Jackson, Craig Wolfley, Max Starks, Marcus Gilbert and Leon Searcy round out the top 10 in starts for the franchise (not in that order, Jackson is third with 130 games started). The quintet started 495 games for the Steelers and not one was invited to Hawaii. Searcy did make a Pro Bowl after signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Steelers Alejandro Villanueva

Michael Hickey / Getty Images

The Super Bowl era is now 56 years old, which means that the starting tackles for every team have a possible 112 seasons worth of appearances during that period. The Steelers top 10 tackles in starts have accounted for 71 of those 112 seasons or 63% of the possible seasons. That is remarkable stability for the franchise that is tied for the lead in Lombardi Trophies. It begs the question, are the Steelers okay with mediocrity at tackle, or has the NFL, Pro Bowl voters and national media overlooked these players for too long?

 

What do you think, Steeler Nation? Why are Steeler tackles long term fixtures when they are named starters, but ignored during award season? Please comment below or on my Twitter @thebubbasq.

I have been rooting for the Steelers actively since 1975. I love the Black and Gold and support them through thick and thin. I am a Navy Veteran, living in Jacksonville, FL and never miss a chance to go to the neutral site games here in Jacksonville. I am new to the Steeler Nation website, but I love discussing Steelers Past, Present and Future.

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