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Saluting an All-Time Great

By Jeff Snedden
October 22, 2011
 
Steelers DE Aaron Smith has been placed on IR, possibly ending his career.
 
The Bill Cowher led-era of Pittsburgh Steelers football can be accredited with many draft day “steals”. Joey Porter, Levon Kirkland, Joel Steed, Chad Brown, Jason Gildon…..all players that were taken after the 1st round and all players who contributed to hardware sitting in that huge trophy case at the Steelers headquarters. Cowher had a knack for finding young, hungry defensive players from smaller schools - players who were undervalued by the draft gurus and not given the Mel Kiper Jr. treatment prior to draft day. The Steelers coaching staff would get these players into camp and within two seasons, mold them into starting-caliber 3-4 defenders.
 
In 1999, the Steelers made perhaps their finest draft day heist under Cowher, when they drafted an unknown Defensive End out of tiny Northern Colorado in the 4th Round of the 1999 NFL Draft. Aaron Smith was the 109th player drafted on that weekend, and 12 stellar seasons later, it is safe to say that Smith developed into not only a star DE for the Steelers, but also into one of the all-time leaders of a franchise that has seen its share of locker-room martyrs.
 
From 2000-2006, Aaron Smith played in every Steelers game at his spot on the defensive line. As with any players who are saddled with a line spot in a 3-4 defense dominated by playmaking LBs and ball-hawking safeties, Smith has spent his dozen NFL campaigns with little or no fanfare outside of the Steel City. In 2004, Smith was selected to play in the Pro Bowl, the only appearance he would make. His contributions to the franchise were made in the trenches, opening up holes for a solid stream of pass rushing specialists and blocking running lanes for opposing backs. His play was a major reason the Pittsburgh Steelers stand today as the only NFL team with 6 Lombardi Trophies. In the thrilling runs this team made to both Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII, Smith was a prime factor. Over his career, he has been the “rock”, the man this history-making defense relied on to provide both steady play and leadership in game situations.
 
As the years have progressed, Smith has battled injuries which have forced him to miss parts of the past 3 seasons, and now it seems that those injuries may have finally caught up to the man many have called “the greatest 3-4 lineman in Pittsburgh Steelers history”. Today, the Steelers announced that Aaron Smith would be place don season-ending IR once more, effectively ending the career of one of the greatest players in team history.
 
While the fantasy football mindset has expanded over the past decade, players like Aaron Smith have been overlooked. He was never a guy who would make a big sack, or pick off a pass and run it back to the house, all because Smith knew his job wasn’t to make those plays, but to excel at his position, allowing others to make those plays. A true team player in every sense of the word, Aaron Smith has made superstars out of good players, and turned mediocre players into stars (here’s looking at you Clark Haggans and Earl Holmes). Since 2001, Smith has teamed with NT Casey Hampton to provide the Steelers with a brick wall up front. During this time, the Steelers have led the NFL in rushing yards against an astounding four times and finished in the Top 3 on five other occasions. A run of stability and performance unmatched in team history, and a main reason for the Pittsburgh Steelers being participants in 5 AFC Championship Games, 3 Super Bowls, and winning seven AFC Central/North Division Titles, the defensive line of the Steelers has been anchored by Aaron Smith since 2000.
 
His play on the field notwithstanding, Aaron Smith has contributed to the Steel City in more ways than could ever be counted. His charity work is unparalleled by any athlete in the city since Roberto Clemente. The personal battle his family has fought against Acute lymphoblastic leukemia in the wake of his son Elijahs diagnosis has been one of the most heartwarming stories in Pittsburgh sports history. The list of charities that Smith has donated time and money to over the years is amazing, and his leadership has brought the importance of giving back to all of the younger Steelers players, who have seen the effect Smith has made and want to do the same.
 
If 2011 is truly the final time we get to see #91 suited up in the Black and Gold, it will be a sad day for Steeler Nation all over the world. A career Steeler, a Pittsburgher to the soul, a father, a husband, and a role model to so many young fans. Aaron Smith will forever be remembered as one of the true real-life heroes that the City of Pittsburgh was so lucky to have in its corner. The odds of a comeback at age 36 will be long, so if this is the end, let us celebrate the player and the man that is Aaron Douglas Smith.
 

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