Saturday, August 4, 2012

Steelers Nation bids four former players farewell - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

All four Super Bowl champions. All four Pro Bowlers. And all four again Steelers for a night and forever in retirement.

Joey Porter, Willie Parker, and Aaron and Marvel Smith -- standout players from the past decade for the Steelers -- were honored Friday night in a ceremony before the team's annual night practice at Latrobe Memorial Stadium where they "retired" as Steelers.

It's clear they have left theirs their heart in Pittsburgh.

"This is home. Even when I left -- it was OK to go and play for Miami and Arizona ... but there's nothing like home," Porter said. "Pittsburgh -- once you come through here -- it's a special piece in your heart here, in Pittsburgh.

"That void wouldn't have been filled if I didn't come back and retire as a Steeler."

A notoriously thin-skinned linebacker, Porter -- nicknamed J. Peezy -- was the emotional leader of the Super Bowl XL champion defense, leading the team's "Who Ride? We Ride!" postgame locker-room rallying cries.

He was released by the Steelers before the 2007 season, and played three seasons with the Miami Dolphins before finishing his career with the Arizona Cardinals the past two seasons.

"Fast Willie" Parker's 75-yard touchdown run in Super Bowl XL remains the longest running play in the Super Bowl history and gave the Steelers an insurmountable lead.

An undrafted free agent in '04, Parker famously turned heads with his impressive speed in training camp and went on to become the team's third all-time leading rusher in his six-year career.

"It's finishing off where I started at," Parker said. "The six years of my life were the best years I ever had.

"Meeting some of the greatest people and greatest athletes ... being a part of the Pittsburgh Steelers is something no one can ever take away from me."

Parker, a running back, recently started a coaching internship as tight ends coach at West Virginia Wesleyan College, a Division II school in Buckhannon, W.Va., although he conceded that he knows nothing about tight ends.

Aaron Smith, one of the most dominant defensive ends in recent NFL history, won two Super Bowls with the Steelers and captured hearts when he went public revealing his young son Elijah's struggle with a form of childhood leukemia.

Smith was selected one round after Porter in the '99 draft.

Former Steelers tight end Jerame Tuman, also a member of the Super Bowl XL squad, was on hand, too, but elected not to be recognized. Former running back and running backs coach Dick Hoak also attended the practice.

Though the retirement ceremony is nothing more than an honorarium -- nothing official actually happens -- it clearly is important to some ex-players.

Earlier this year, during the team's organized team activity sessions, former quarterback Kordell Stewart returned to the team's practice facility on the South Side for the first time in nine years to hold a news conference and retire as a Steeler.

And, as to why, former offensive tackle Marvel Smith struggled to verbalize the feeling of being honored by his former team.

"It's really hard to put that into words that someone else would understand," he said.

"It was a blessing to be here in Pittsburgh my whole career."

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