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What Would an AAF Team in Pittsburgh Look Like?

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The Alliance of American Football is set to begin their inaugural season this weekend, just a week removed from the NFL’s Super Bowl. The newly formed league will feature eight franchises playing a ten week season, with the championship game taking place around the time of the NFL Draft.

Unfortunately, the itch for football in Pittsburgh will have to wait for September to roll around, as 7/8 teams are geographically on or below the 35th parallel. No plans for expansion have officially been announced quite yet, however if the league finds success in year one, expansion may undoubtedly be on the horizon in the near future.

Outside of the NFL, football in Pittsburgh past the collegiate level hasn’t exactly thrived. Between multiple arena football teams, a women’s professional team and a USFL team, no team has garnered the respect and support quite like the Steelers have.

Yet that could all change if a team lands in Pittsburgh. The AAF appears to have solid ground to stand on, securing big names in football such as Bill Polian and Jared Allen while striking TV deals with CBS and NFL Network. Pittsburgh already has professional connections with the league, as Troy Polamalu (Head of Player Relations) and Hines Ward (Player Relations Executive) are involved with the AAF.

Our very own Alan Saunders also noted the collegiate connections over at Pittsburgh Sports Now, as several former Pitt players will suit up this weekend in the AAF. Panther fans will recognize names like Scott Orndoff and Dontez Ford along with other Pitt alumni playing in the upstart league.

With all of the Steel City connections, it got us thinking… What would a Pittsburgh team look like in the AAF?

Basics

Team Name: Pittsburgh Thunder (As much as this city loves alliteration with it’s sports teams, we can all agree the Phantoms or Power doesn’t sound as great. Plus the weather speaks for itself here).

Team Colors: Black and gold (Obviously).

Mascot: Steely McBeam (Just kidding).

Venue: Heinz Field (Perfect for spring football).

Uniform: I’m a really big fan of Arizona State’s all-black uniforms here. Obviously the team would need to axe the ASU logos, but perhaps a script “Steel City” across the chest and slapping a lightning logo on the sides would do it justice. Keep the sleeves too, and watch jersey sales go through the roof.

Personnel

General Manager: Jerry Reese

In your first season, you need a leader at the GM position who knows how to win. Look no further than former New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese. Reese’s time as GM lasted 11 seasons, seeing two Super Bowl championships during his time in New York. With deep experience in scouting, Reese as the background of eyeing talent while also being a capable winner at the professional level.

Coaching Staff: Bill Cowher (Head Coach), Dick LeBeau (Defensive Coordinator), Todd Haley (Offensive Coordinator)

Man, this is a yinzer dream and nightmare at the same time. It would take some serious money to lure Bill Cowher away from CBS and play second fiddle as a coach in Pittsburgh, yet if Cowher still has the desire to coach, he could dominate in the AAF. With Dick LeBeau out of a job, the coaching itch may be enough to convince him to again join forces with Cowher and coach with half of the pressure he’s been accustomed to in previous years.

Lastly, Todd Haley isn’t a very popular name in Pittsburgh for a variety of reasons. Yet when given the chance, he’s done some great things on the offensive side of the football when the talent is there. It’s up to Haley to put his ego aside and simply coach football. If he can accomplish that, this coaching staff would undoubtedly be the best in the league.

Roster

It would take an eternity to fill a 53 man roster, but just for the sake of time, I will only highlight players of notable recognition. Since we cannot pull from any active NFL rosters, we will use some active NFL free agents mixed with a few former Steelers and Pitt players as well.

Quarterbacks: Robert Griffin III, Tom Savage

After what appeared to be a career doomed to be over after struggling with injuries, Robert Griffin III signed with the Baltimore Ravens and showed serious glimpses of the player he once was. If RGIII’s ultimate goal is to again be a starting quarterback, that simply won’t happen in the NFL next season. Griffin could sign with the Thunder, showcase his dual-threat abilities in Haley’s offense and build his career back from there. Tom Savage, former Pitt quarterback, could be a valuable back-up to RG3, and perhaps a homecoming wouldn’t hurt his progress either.

Running Backs: DeAngelo Williams, Kenjon Barner,

DeAngelo Williams returns to Pittsburgh and picks up right where he left off with the Thunder. After being forgotten about in Carolina and eventually released by the Steelers despite excellent play, Williams still has some gas left in the tank, and is a fan favorite here in Pittsburgh. The Speedy Kenjon Barner would work on special teams mostly, but he could fill a role in Haley’s offense and become a player we all thought Dri Archer should have been.

Wide Receivers: Cobi Hamilton, Devin Street, Justin Hunter, Tavon Austin, Santonio Holmes

The Tavon Austin signing might be a stretch, considering teams may still be able to value him for his positional flexibility. The receiving group isn’t necessarily strong, yet has some Pittsburgh name value/enough talent to carry a team for a couple seasons. We know the potential of Hamilton/Hunter from their few glimpses as members of the Steelers, and Pitt alumni Devin Street may just need a second chance to prove he can perform at a high level after tearing it up at Heinz Field during his college days.

Linebackers: Michael Mauti, Jason Worilds, Arthur Moats, Elvis Dumervil

Secondary: Keenan Lewis, Ryan Clark, Shamarko Thomas, Brandon Boykin,

Special Teams: Shaun Suisham (K), Jeff Locke (P)

Overall Expectations

Pittsburgh is first and foremost a football town, despite what some people may tell you otherwise. The success of the Steelers has instilled a religious following for not only professional football, but all levels of the beautiful sport. With name recognition scattered across the board for Steelers/Pitt fans to flock to, selling tickets should be of no problem, especially if you’re attempting to decide between going to a Pirates game or trying out the new AAF.

Given the history of startup teams in the Steel City, the Thunder may not last more then a handful of seasons. However with a loaded coaching staff, decent roster and great foundation from the AAF, the Thunder could produce a winning football team that can keep Pittsburgh fans entertained during the spring time for years to come.

Pro Football

XFL Suspends All Operations, 2021 Return Uncertain

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The XFL has suspended all operations and laid off nearly all of its employees with no immediate plans to return in 2021, according to a report by Kevin Seifert and Field Yates of ESPN.

Just a handful of league executive remain employed following the league’s mass layoffs.

According NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, league employees will be paid through Sunday, with uncertainty regarding a potential restart in the future.

The league’s inaugural season was cancelled last month after just five games amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan at that point was to return next season.

The Steelers have made five XFL signings in offensive tackle Jardon Jones, safety Tyree Kinnel, long snapper/linebacker Christian Kuntz and defensive ends Dewayne Hendrix and Cavon Walker. Walker led the XFL with 4.5 sacks for the New York Guardians. Hendrix and Kuntz played their college ball at Pitt and Duquesne, respectively.

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NFL

Steelers Release Hall of Fame Enshrinement Details

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The Steelers have released details regarding Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement ceremonies for the Class of 2020, with three members of the organization set to be inducted this year.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame will host two separate enshrinement weeks for the Modera-Era and Centennial classes. Safety Troy Polamalu and head coach Bill Cowher will be inducted during the traditional Enshrinement Week on Saturday, August 8th, while safety Donnie Shell will go in as a part of the Centennial Celebration on Friday, September 18th.

They will both take place at Tom Benson Stadium.

In addition to the enshrinement ceremony, the Hall of Fame Game will take place on Thursday, August 6th, and the Concert for Legends will be held on Sunday, August 9th. The nationally televised Enshrinees’ Gold Jacket Dinner will be on Friday, August 7th, while the Enshrinees Roundtable will also be on Sunday.

Tickets for the Enshrinement Ceremony will go on sale Wednesday, February 26th at 10:00 AM. Prices for ticket packages range from $29 to $175. Teams participating and tickets for the Hall of Fame Game are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

Ticket information and pricing for the Centennial Celebration have not yet been released at this time.

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Pro Football

Bill Cowher Selected to Pro Football Hall of Fame

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Former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher has been elected to be part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2020.

Cowher, a Crafton, Pa., native who served as Steelers head coach from 1992-2006, finished his coaching career with a 161-99-1 record. He guided the Steelers to victory in Super Bowl XL and won NFL Coach of the Year Awards in 1992 (Associated Press and Sporting News) and 2004 (Sporting News).

As head coach, his teams won the AFC two times, made it to six AFC Championships, won the AFC Central or North Division eight times and made the postseason 10 times.

He was selected as part of the Hall of Fame’s Centennial Class, an extra large class to represent the NFL’s 100th season. A blue-ribbon panel of comprised of Hall of Fame selectors, inductees, coaches, football executives and historians made the selection.


The announcement of Cowher’s section was made live during his CBS broadcast of the Tennessee Titans-Baltimore Ravens Divisional playoff game.

“This feels like I did when I won the Super Bowl because I said, it took a while to make sure, was that real?” Cowher said during the broadcast. “This seems very surreal to me.”

Cowher is the second Steelers head coach to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining Chuck Noll, who was inducted in 1993. Founder Art Rooney and chairman Dan Rooney have also been inducted as contributors.

“Congratulations to Bill Cowher on his election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” current Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a statement. “One of our most successful coaches in team history, Bill’s energy and dedication for coaching was evident in every practice and every game. His Pittsburgh roots were perfect for our organization because he knew the history and passion of our fans and he wanted to bring a Super Bowl back to his hometown.”

Before coaching the Steelers, Cowher was a defensive coordinator under Marty Schottenheimer in Kansas City from 1998-91. He was special teams coach and then defensive backs coach for the Cleveland Browns from 1985-88.

Cowher played in the NFL for six seasons, playing with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1979 and from 1983-84 and for the Browns from 1980-82. He joined the Eagles as an undrafted free agent out of NC State in 1979. Cowher played football, basketball and track for Carlynton High School.

After his coaching career, Cowher has broadcast for CBS since 2007.

Amongst Cowher’s former assistants, eight have gone on to become NFL head coaches: current Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians, along with Dom Capers, Chan Gailey, Jim Haslett, Dick LeBeau, Marvin Lewis, Mike Mularkey and Ken Whisenhunt.

The full list of inductees will include one more coach, 10 senior player selections and three contributors. The rest of those selections will be announced on Jan. 15. The five modern-era inductees will be selected on Super Bowl weekend.

Former Steelers safety Donnie Shell is in the running for the senior players selections. Former Steelers safety Troy Polamalu and guard Alan Faneca are modern player finalists.

The Steelers have 18 players inducted into the Hall fo Fame primarily as Steelers, the last coming in 2015, when Jerome Bettis was inducted. Eight players, three coaches and one executive associated with the Steelers have also been indicted largely for their contributions elsewhere.

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