Let this serve as the farewell valentine to the now-departed, mercurial talent formerly known as #22, double duces, Duce Staley. The Ducer met his final demise on Monday, when the Steelers finally put him down (as well as placing WR Willie Reid on IR) in order to bring back Lee Mays and Chidi Iwuoma. And thus closes the chapter in Pittsburgh Sports History known as the Duce Staley Era.
The Duce Era officially kicked off in 2004. At the time, it was a semi-controversial signing, because it was a gentle nudge at a certain Steeler running back towards retirement. Staley took over as the feature back, going for 90+ yards in six of his first eight games. And then, the real Duce showed up. Duce was like Terrell Owens: you could count on him to not count on him. Where Owens starts well and has his predictable blow-up with coaches or teammates, Staley simply broke down. Year after year after year. You could not pencil him in as the starting tailback for the next five years. He wasn't that kind of player. He would play in just three games over the last half of the 2004 season.
In 2005, Duce came back, presumably healthy after his long layoff. He was supposed to be a key component of the Steelers' four-headed running back, along with Bettis, Parker, and Haynes. But he was beaten out for playing time by the impressive Parker, and ended up contributing in just two games. He became more famous for his cheerleading in gray sweatsuits than his contributions to the running game. Yet Bill Cowher made room for him on the Super Bowl active roster. Thus setting off another era...the Weird Cowher Loyalty to Duce Staley Era.
As I've stated on several occasions, I could never understand Cowher's undying love for Staley. He didn't draft him, he didn't win any big games with him, he never hitched his wagon to him. To even the casual Steeler fan, El Duce was washed up. But the Steelers brought him back for 2006, despite a training camp in which he ran for 92 yards on 42 carries.
With Parker firmly entrenched as "the man", Staley would have to settle for a backup role in 2006. Not only was he a backup, he wouldn't even be activated. The Steelers signed another running back (Dump Davenport), they promoted another from the practice squad (John Kuhn), all while Duce languished on the sidelines. It was a perplexing roster move, to say the least.
So I felt a little sad when I read on ESPN's bottom line last night that Duce was finally released by the Steelers. We'll no longer have him to kick around, the symbol of the 2006 Steelers: overpaid and non-achieving. And we'll never get any more pictures like this, which has been used so many times, I am now placing it into Mondesi's House retirement:
And they say the Steelers don't have cheerleaders.
We'll miss you, 22.