It's been a few weeks since I've done a Top 10 list, and that streak will continue, because I didn't do this one, either. A longtime reader named Mike Viola came up with today's topic (and the list) and it was so well-done that I asked to use it for the site. His only qualifier was that the list can’t include someone who has ties to Pgh or Western PA, as it would be too easy and sentimental. On to the list:
The Top 10 Respected Enemies of Pittsburgh Teams
by Mike Viola
#10: Kenny Stabler God I hated this guy in the 70’s, but he delivered the goods. I believe he was the only regular starting QB in the league to have a winning record (6-5) against the dynasty Steelers. That’s pretty impressive. Even more impressive is that, given his reputation, I’m guessing he played more than a few games with either a hangover or possibly still drunk. OK, it’s not quite the same as pitching a no-hitter on LSD, but still……
#9: Mike Schmidt he hit his 500th homer at Three Rivers back when the Pirates mattered (1987 I think). It was a 9th inning shot that would win the game for the Phillies. I remember the crowd reaction…10 seconds of groaning knowing that it probably cost us the game, followed by at least a 1 minute standing ovation recognizing the accomplishment. I doubt a Philly crowd would have reciprocated in kind if a Bucco hit his 500th at the Vet. For that matter, I doubt Schmidt would have gotten a warmer reception at the Vet.
#8 Peyton Manning Many wouldn’t agree because he’s annoying and in 75% of all commercials that run on Sundays. But that aside, he’s already one of the all-time greats. The fact that he didn’t marry a supermodel lowers my jealousy factor as well. I love watching him change plays at the line, trying to get the match-up he wants. He basically calls his own plays, which is unheard of these days for a QB. Best bet against the Colts is to play them in the last month of the season when they have their division wrapped up and Manning plays maybe one series. Beating the Colts with Manning at QB gains instant respect for a team’s defense.
#7 Ivan Koloff In 1971 he was the first man to pin Bruno Sammartino in over 8 years (the match was in New York though, so the fix might have been in). For Pittsburgh wrestling fans, this ranks up there with the 1992 NLCS. I mean, losing the title is one thing, but losing to a Russian with the Cold War at its height? The Horror!!!! However, over the years, hatred turned to respect as I realized that (1) Ivan is considered one of the grandest men to ever set foot inside the squared circle. No one has a bad thing to say about the man, and (2) he’s Canadian, not Russian, and as long as Canada keeps sending guys like Lemieux and Crosby our way, they are OK with me.
#6 Bum Phillips I mentioned his “tombstone” quote above. I also liked his approach to playing the Steelers in 1980. “First we knocked on the door (1978 AFC championship), then we pounded on the door (1979 AFC Championship) and this year we’re gonna kick the sonuvabitch in”. Or how about this gem: When Earl Campbell wasn’t able to finish a 1 mile run in training camp, Bum replied "When it's first and a mile, I won't give it to him"
#5 Nick Lidstrom Honestly, the Wings may be my second favorite NHL team. Classy organization, always make the right moves, great tradition, etc. Lidstrom is a big reason why Sid hasn’t put up too many points against the Wings in the two Cup Finals. I mean, I hate Lidstrom for it, but I respect him. I like how he handled the so-called “handshake-snub” in 2009. Kris Draper got his panties in a bunch over it, Lidstrom didn’t think it was anything to write home about. Good guy.
#4 Roger Staubach What’s a classy guy like him QB’ing the “look-at-me” Cowboys of the 70’s? Completed his service to the Navy before entering the league. Hated the Cryboys, admired Roger the Dodger. Only time I saw him lose his composure was when Jackie Smith dropped the TD pass in SB XIII. Good thing Smith retired after that game, because I suspect Roger would have called a “code red” on him in training camp the next season.
#3 Ray Bourque One of the top 10 defenseman of all-time, yet known mostly in these parts as often playing a supporting role doofus in the Mario Lemieux all-time highlights show. Was stuck on the “always-good-but-never-great” Bruins teams of the 80’s and 90’s, who seemed to always have the misfortune of running into either the dynasty Islanders, dynasty Oilers or almost-dynasty Penguins in the playoffs. Followed the legendary Bobby Orr on defense in Boston and never missed a step. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeGKVWwaKQg
#2 Pete Rose For the past 20 years it’s kind of hard to think about Pete in strictly baseball terms. But he earned his Charlie Hustle nickname and played the game right. The Pirates had a nice rivalry with Reds in the 70’s and Rose the face of the Reds during that time. Almost became a Pirate in 1979 when the Galbreath’s offered him some prize racehorses as part of a contract. He should have taken that contract and bet on horses instead of baseball, hindsight being 20/20 and all. Garners additional sympathy for having to put up with that weasel Jim Gray a few years ago.
#1 Earl Campbell He was everything Steeler Nation would have wanted in a RB. Remember a few years ago when Bettis ran over Brian Urlacher at the goal line? Campbell did stuff like that every game. His freaking thighs were so big that tackling him low wasn’t much better than tackling him high. I’m not sure anyone was ever able to tackle him solo. Check out this run of his when he was with Texas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uaPTIkiYSM or this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsegJVLrmk8&feature=related
Dick Butkus A little before my time, but my lord, the stories about this guy! Would have loved to see him in black and gold. My jealousy is tempered somewhat in that the Steelers had the league’s next Dick Butkis, fella named Jack Lambert.
John Madden: Big fat guys who spend 30 years saying “boom” and “pow” are always likeable.
Joe Louis: Going old school on this one. Crushed the dream of Pittsburgher Billy Conn. If it was anyone other than Louis he would never have been able to set foot in this town.
Ray Lewis: We all hate him with a passion. But admit it, we respect the hell out of him. Would have made the top 10 list but there’s that whole “was he an accomplice to murder” thing from a few years back…..
*And on a related note, here's a link to a list I wrote earlier this year, the 10 Most Disliked People in Pittsburgh Sports today.
Mondesi's House: The Director's Cut (more links, commentary, etc: twitter.com/mondesishouse