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Work Ethic, Culture Led Aaron Smith into Steelers Hall of Honor

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Steelers DE Aaron Smith
12 August 2011: Steelers DE Aaron Smith (91).

Of the Pittsburgh Steelers players that won two Super Bowls in the 2000s, several are superstars that will someday — or already are — in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Players like Jerome Bettis, Alan Faneca Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger. James Harrison, entering the Hall of Honor this season, is also in this category.

Others had careers that don’t quite rise to that level, but are still legendary players for a legendary franchise, like James Farrior and Heath Miller.

Farrior and Miller were two-time Pro Bowlers. Farrior was twice an All-Pro. But the Steelers latest entrant into the Hall of Honor didn’t even rise to that level of fame.

Defensive end Aaron Smith was the embodiment of a defensive lineman in the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme that gives most of the attention — and the glory — to the pass-rushing outside linebackers.

RELATED: Aaron Smith, James Harrison Highlight Steelers Hall of Honor Class

It’s fitting that Harrison and Smith will enter the Hall of Honor together, announced to the class along with four-time Super Bowl winning guard Gerry “Moon” Mullins and two-time winner “Old Ranger” Ray Mansfield.

Harrison got the glory. His 100-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII is still the greatest play in Super Bowl history. His 80.5 career sacks are first in team history, and they came in large part thanks to the block-absorbing and run stuffing efforts of the men in front of him along the line.

But it’s not just that work that made Smith the choice for the Steelers in this class. It was also the way he went about that work. A fourth-round draft pick out of Northern Colorado in 1999, Smith knew he’d have to work hard to make the Steelers team, let alone make a Hall of Honor type of impact. Then, he just never stopped working.

“Coming in as a fourth round pick, you just kind of had to earn it,” Smith said at St. Vincent College on Saturday. “I was a guy that just always felt like you had to work. But then it kind of becomes who you are. I know I need to work. I know I need to hone my skills, get better and better, and then as the younger guys come along, keep teach them how to work. The culture of our team, and especially that defense, through those years, that defense was just a team that was grinding it out. We may not have been prettiest, we may not have been the fastest, the best athletes, but we were going to fight you to the end and work all day and all night.”

His work to carry that work over to the next generation continues to the present day, even though Smith retired in 2011. His final season was the first for current Steelers defensive captain Cam Heyward, who is looking to continue that legacy with another generation.

“I want to give a big shout out to my big brother, Aaron Smith,” Heyward said on Saturday. “You deserve it, man. You’ve been a dawg for so long. I’m so glad I got a chance to play with you and congratulations again on being inducted to the Hall of Honor.”

As a player that was far from a superstar during his career, Smith was surprised to get a call from team president Art Rooney II about his selection.

“At first, you’re in kind of shock,” he said. “Because to me, it’s just one of the biggest honors to be put in the Hall of Honor with this team, because I know who this team is, and the tradition and the legacy, how many great football players have come through this organization.”

Smith joins Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Ernie Stautner and Dwight White as the only defensive linemen in the Steelers Hall of Honor.

“To be on that wall with some of the best football players in Steelers history, let alone the NFL, it’s very humbling.”

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