HOW THE STEELERS DRAFT: ESPN’s magazine explains the secret to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ success: draft smart, draft for character, don’t waste time on guys who don’t have their heads screwed on straight, even though they have blazing stats:
The teams that won that Super Bowl hardware were stocked through the draft. Or, some say, a draft. In 1974, the Steelers chose four future Hall of Famers with their first five picks: Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster. “There are a lot of ways to get to the finish line,” says Buffalo director of football operations Tom Modrak. “But how do you argue with the Steelers’ results? The ’74 draft is the gold standard.”
Until the mid-’60s, the Steelers were like everyone else — picking guys based on press clippings and word of mouth. (This is the team that cut eventual Hall of Famers Johnny Unitas in 1955 and Len Dawson in 1959.) Then, owner Art Rooney put his son, Art Jr., in charge of creating a methodology to select talent. When future Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll arrived in Pittsburgh in 1969, he gathered up the Steelers staff and succinctly put the philosophy into words: “I don’t care what color, what religion, what school or what state these players are from — just find me the best athletes. Find them. They have to be smart and they have to be good people.”
“We really took off after that,” says Art Jr., now a de facto VP for the team. “By now, the standard operating procedure we created may seem as boring and basic as breathing, but back then it was revolutionary.”
Since 1970, the Steelers have drafted eight Hall of Famers, twice as many as any other NFL team.