Nov 17, 2014; Nashville, TN, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers guard David DeCastro (66) defends against Tennessee Titans nose tackle Sammie Hill (94) as Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) takes the snap at LP Field. The Steelers defeated the Titans 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
When a quarterback lines up behind center, he is also protected by his offensive tackles. But on each side of the center are the guards who really create the base of what is known as the “pocket.”
Throughout the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers, there have been some outstanding players who manned the position of guard. Perhaps the most colorful nickname known to such a player was that of Gerry “Moon” Mullins. Mullins was far from being the best ever, and perhaps that honor goes to Alan Faneca. Sam Davis was a great one in his own right during the Black and Gold dynasty years of the 1970s.
Currently, Steelers Nation has David DeCastro as the rising star, although Ramon Foster is currently listed as that position as well, having moved over from tackle. It was Sam Davis that was Pittsburgh’s first great guard and he played his entire career in Pittsburgh from 1967 to 1979. Moon Mullins played alongside Davis and it is he who gets the first profile in this continuation of all-time players at every position for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Gerry “Moon” Mullins: Born in California, Mullins is a USC product drafted by the Steelers in the fourth round of the 1971 draft. Like Sam Davis, Mullins never switched jerseys during his career in the NFL playing with the Steelers from 1971 to 1979. Now 65, Mullins remains a resident of the ‘Burgh working in the recycling business. In Super Bowl IX, Mullins was an integral part of the game blocking for Franco Harris‘ touchdown in the third quarter. In Super Bowl X, he recovered an onside kick attempt by the Dallas Cowboys. If you are wondering where the nickname Moon came from, it is reportedly derived from a comic strip character of the same name.
Sam Davis: As mentioned, Davis was a Steeler for life. He was also a popular member of the teams during Pittsburgh’s reign of terror on the league from 1974 through 1980. Davis like Donnie Shell, was an undrafted rookie. Davis joined the Steelers in 1967 out of tiny Allen University that these days has an enrollment of under 700 students. Just like other offensive lineman of that era, Davis would be considered well undersized in today’s average weighted lineman. During his playing days Davis tooled the line at just 255 pounds. Moon Mullins was even less at 244.
Willie Colon: While playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Willie Colon endured two season ending injuries in 2010 (Achilles tendon) and again in the first week of the 2011 season (torn tricep). The second injury came on the heels of a five year contract paying Colon $29 million. He would miss the rest of the 2011 season, come back the next year, only to be released by Pittsburgh in the off-season of 2013. Colon was picked up by the New York Jets where he still plays. Colon was a member of the Super Bowl XLIII championship team. Drafted out of Hofstra, Colon was an excellent player for the Steelers during his seven seasons in Black and Gold.
Steve Courson: The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a history of tragic deaths involving players from the 1970s on. Steve Courson falls into that category and was the centerpiece of the steroid-driven Steelers of the Team of the Decade that Pittsburgh was during the 70s. Sadly, Courson’s life came to an end in his own back yard in Farmington, Pennsylvania on November 10, 2005 at the young age of 50. While chopping down a 44-foot tree, the wind forced the tree to fall in the opposite direction Courson had intended. It appeared his dog would be struck by the falling lumber so to protect his pet, he moved into the path of the tree which landed on the ex-Steeler killing him. His Labrador was still standing by his body when Courson was found.
As for the steroid controversy, Courson had written a letter in 2005 expressing his disappointment that other players would not admit to the use of the illegal performance enhancer. Regardless, Courson was a vital member of several Super Bowl winning teams and finished his career with two seasons as a Tampa Bay Buc calling it quits in 1985.
Alan Faneca: For those members of Steelers Nation who have not seen the Alan Faneca of today, they might not recognize him. That’s because the once 316-pounder decided to take off the muscle from his body for health reasons and reduced his weight to 210. He also began taking part in marathons. As a player for the Pittsburgh Steelers, this former guard is probably the greatest at the position in the history of the team. His accolades are many. He owns a Super Bowl ring from the victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. Faneca’s philosophy about the role of the offensive line? “We’re our defense’s ally, … We have to get out there and eat up the clock. We have to win the possession game, keep them off the field and keep our defense fresh.”
Alan Faneca was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s; to Pittsburgh’s All-Time Team; is a member of Pittsburgh’s Pro Football Hall of Fame; has been named as First-Team All-Pro six times; a nine-time Pro Bowler; the Steelers Rookie of the Year in 1998; twice was tabbed as the NFL Alumni’s Offensive Lineman of the Year; and was named Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-QB, Non-RB MVP in 2001.
“We have to win the possession game, keep them off the field and keep our defense fresh.” Alan Faneca
Much to the dismay of Steelers Nation, Faneca was not re-signed by Pittsburgh in 2007 and the New York Jets inked him to a contract where he stayed for two seasons. He tried to play one more campaign with the Arizona Cardinals before he decided to hang up the cleats in 2010. Next year he will be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and chances are he will be a first-ballot inductee.
Chris Kemoeatu: When drafted in the sixth round of the 2005 draft, Chris Kemoeatu came to the Steelers as a very large offensive guard (6’3”, 344 pounds). His career got off to a slow start and in fact in his rookie season, he was inactive in 15 of the 16 games. In 2006, he started two games and his mean streak and aggressiveness meant that it was only a matter of time before he was lining up in front of Ben Roethlisberger on a regular basis. That came in 2007 when he played in every game and then in 2008 replaced the legendary Alan Faneca. He would remain there until the Steelers released him following the 2011 season. He would not play for another team.
Carlton Haselrig: One of the stranger stories regarding the history of the guard position for the Steelers has to be that of one Carlton Haselrig. Never having played football while growing up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Haselrig instead was an outstanding, award winning, champion amateur wrestler. In high school, he won the PIAA state championship in 1984. This despite Johnstown High School not even sporting a wrestling team. After graduating from high school, Haselrig wrestled for the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. There he won the junior world freestyle title in 1986 and the world junior Greco-Roman title in 1985. Also while in college, Haselrig defeated future Olympic champion KurtAngle. In 2009 he was inducted into Pitt-Johnstown’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
Without any football experience, the Steelers drafted Carlton Haselrig in the 12th round of the 1989 NFL draft. In just his third season, he was named to the Pro Bowl. Haselrig would play four seasons with Pittsburgh and one more with the Jets in 1995. However, in 1992, the problems began. He was convicted of a DUI and suspended by the NFL for violating their drug policy after testing positive for cocaine. He had also left Steelers’ training camp at one point without notice disappearing for days. The strangest incident came in 1997 when he violated his probation and was arrested for riding a motorcycle while drunk and wearing his helmet backwards.
Eventually, Carlton Haselrig straightened out his life and used his old wrestling skills to his advantage going into MMA where he had five bouts. He won his first two by TKO before losing by a rear naked choke to Joe Abouata in 2008 at the age of 42. Haselrig would win his next fight by TKO again before taking a TKO loss himself to Shawn Jordan on June 27, 2009 ending his martial arts career. The bottom line on Carlton Haselrig has to be that his athleticism is certainly something to be admired. To step onto a professional football field with zero experience and make the Pro Bowl three seasons later is impressive indeed.
Terry Long: Another of the died-too-soon stories comes with the Terry Long story. Passing away at the age of 45 in 2005, Long had retired from the Steelers just four years earlier after being drafted to the team in the fourth round of the 1984 draft. Long would only play for Pittsburgh his entire career and was a sold and steady offensive guard. Startlingly, Long’s death was not an accident. He died after ingesting antifreeze. An autopsy revealed that brain damage from his playing days and depression led Long to take his own life. In 1991, Long had tested positive for steroids and attempted suicide believed to have been attempted because of the positive test.
As a Steeler, Terry Long started 89 of 105 games in which he played. His college days were at East Carolina University and in 1983 he was named consensus First-Team All-American.
Bruce Van Dyke: For those Steelers fans that grew up with the team in the 1960’s and 70’s, they will remember the name Van Dyke well. While not a regular starter for Pittsburgh, Van Dyke still made his presence known as a solid backup. Despite that role, in 2008 Van Dyke was named to the Steelers “Legends Team.” Not an original Steeler, Bruce Van Dyke was drafted by Philadelphia and then went across state a year later in 1967 where he would play for Pittsburgh until the end of the 1973 season. From 1974 through 1976 he would finish his career in Green Bay as a Packer. For those who knew him as a player, it is mind boggling to think that he will be 71 this August.
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Duval Love: There were many fans who loved Duval Love. That’s because he played the position with immense talent and put in three solid seasons with the Steelers. His career began as a Los Angeles Ram in 1985 but he came to the ‘Burgh in 1992. For the 1995 and 1996 seasons, he would finish his career in Arizona. But as a Steeler, he made his mark in the short time he lined up on offense.
John Rienstra: Rienstra might not be a household name, however, the former Steelers guard out of Temple quietly became a solid offensive lineman from 1986 until he left for the Cleveland Browns in 1991. Reinstra was also a first round draft pick with the ninth overall selection in 1986, marking Pittsburgh’s highest overall pick they had acquired since the early 1970s. They used it on their offensive line and in Reinstra had a very good guard.
Craig Wolfley: Perhaps a guard that does not receive enough recognition is that of Craig Wolfley. Playing alongside another underrated offensive lineman during his playing days, Tunch Ilken, those two men gave Pittsburgh a formidable offensive line in the 1980s. Maybe it was the losing seasons during that decade the prevents the duo from getting proper notoriety, but Wolfley could play the position and did it in outstanding fashion. At 265 pounds during his playing days, Wolfley was a beast on the line with massive strength. So much so that in 1981, he placed fifth in the “World’s Strongest Man” competition. Wolfley has also competed in boxing, sumo wrestling, and other martial arts.
It was 1985 that the ex-Steeler came in second place in the first-ever pro sumo wrestling competition held in North America. Boxing fans know well the name “Butterbean” and that fighter defeated Wolfley in a four round fight in 2002. Wolfley proudly holds a black belt in Jiu Jitsu. Diehard Steelers fans know the name Wolfley well and can recall how great an offensive lineman he was.
Keydrick Vincent: NFL players hate nothing more than to lose their job to injury. In the case of Keydrick Vincent, he not only lost his starting guard job with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008, he lost his job as well. After suffering a season-ending Achilles tendon injury early in the 2008 season on Monday Night Football while facing the Baltimore Ravens, in the off-season that year, the Steelers handed Vincent a pink slip. This after six fine seasons wearing the Black and Gold.
Simmons would also miss the 2004 season but helped the team to their Super Bowl XL victory in the 2005 season. Those who know Keydrick Vincent’s career will remember the 2006 season when Simmons was treating a heel injury and accidentally fell asleep while using a cooling device for the injury that cause a burn similar to frostbite on his left foot. Following his years in Pittsburgh, Simmons would move to the New England Patriots where he only lasted several months before being picked up by the Buffalo Bills but he injured his shoulder and was placed on IR where he decided to retire.
David DeCastro: Finally, we have today’s rising star in David DeCastro. A first round draft pick in 2012 with the 24th pick overall, DeCastro missed most of his rookie season because of a right knee injury and thus his career got off to a slow start. But in 2013 all the expectations Head Coach Mike Tomlin had of DeCastro when he made the choice to draft him first began to come to fruition. A 316-pound guard out of Stanford, DeCastro has dramatically improved since 2013 and had a stellar season last year. A former high school shot putter, DeCastro also competed in the discus. DeCastro’s ancestry included a South African descent and attributed former NFLer Steve Hutchinson as his idol growing up.