Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Joe Greene wipes away a tear as the 1974 Steelers are honored at halftime Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, at Heinz Field.
Proving that four decades might rob physical abilities but it doesn't touch quick wit, Mike Wagner explained why he rarely misses an opportunity to attend a Steelers reunion.
“They feed me,” deadpanned Wagner, a safety on the 1974 Super Bowl team that was honored Sunday at Heinz Field. “So I always come.”
Wagner was one of 30 players and several assistant coaches on hand from the Steelers' first Super Bowl team feted at halftime of the game against the New Orleans Saints. As the '74 team gathered for a pregame photo in the Pitt locker room, smiles and handshakes were aplenty. Stories were shared. Family and friends took smaller-group photos.
“These are good memories,” running back Franco Harris said. “You share and reflect. Memories are important, and sharing time is important.”
For some more than others.
Among the eight living Hall of Fame players from the Super Bowl IX team, two weren't present: Quarterback Terry Bradshaw and linebacker Jack Lambert.
Bradshaw works as an analyst for Fox Sports.
“I texted Terry earlier (Sunday), and he's busy. He's working, earning a living, poor guy,” Wagner said. “I told him that we missed him, and he probably wishes he could be here.”
As far as Lambert …
“Nope,” former running back Rocky Bleier said, laughing. “I haven't talked to him.”
Famously private, Lambert — who lives in Armstrong County — rarely shows for events such as Sundays.
“A couple players stay in touch with Jack. As a matter of fact, I think Joe (Greene) had seen him a couple days ago,” Wagner said. “We wish Jack would come here, but he's anti-social.”
Wagner paused, playfully smirked and emphasized he was being tongue-in-cheek.
“(Lambert) doesn't like anybody. Well, he doesn't like certain people,” Wagner, who lives in Pine, continued.
“But seriously, we miss him, and I think we miss any of the players that aren't here today.”
“I wish he was here. He'd be fun,” former linebacker Andy Russell said, noting that he and Lambert had to leave Super Bowl IX because of injuries.
The Steelers won 16-6, a score that seems improbable for a championship game in today's era. Several of the '74 players lamented the changes to the game that tend to favor spread attacks and high-scoring offenses.
“The players today are bigger, faster, stronger,” Russell said. “But they've sissified the game to some extent, and I hope they don't do it anymore because that would not be good.”
Bleier said the defensive players, in particular, were chatting about the lack of contact today's defenses are allowed to have on opposing receivers. Bleier laughed when he reminisced about Mel Blount, physical 6-foot-3 Hall of Fame cornerback.
“Mel loved to play bump-and-run,” Bleier said. “Back then, defensive guys could do that — and they could cut a receiver, if you can believe that.
“It's all changed now.”
Still, the Steelers of 40 years ago insist they could succeed in any era. As proof, they say they already have.
The Steelers' first Super Bowl winner had the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense. The final one of the 1970s dynasty had its No. 1 offense. In between, the league tightened its rules on defenses in an effort to open up the game.
“We won two Super Bowls before the rule changes, and we won two after the rule changes with the same people,” Harris said. “So to me that really showed the talent on this team and, really, the scope of our talent.”
Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total MediaLynn Swann waves to the crowd as the 1974 Steelers are honored during halftime Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, at Heinz Field.
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