Pittsburgh Steelers: West And South Connections


Dec 29, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Ziggy Hood (96) runs out of the tunnel for player introductions before playing the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 20-7. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Around Steelers Nation, you might have heard in the past rumblings of “Pittsburgh West” or “Pittsburgh South.” For those who are unaware of what that means, it referred to ex-Steelers players who migrated either west to play of the Arizona Cardinals or south to Florida to play for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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So common was the practice that by this writer’s count, 25 such players and coaches can be accounted for that were either cut by Pittsburgh or became unrestricted free agents and signed with either of those two teams. Down in Jacksonville, there are so many Steelers fans living there, you might often hear some of them refer to their new city as “Jackson-Burgh.”

Players come and players go, but the parade of men who have left the Steelers for either the Cardinals or the Jaguars is a bit peculiar. There have been some big named players, and others who simply were not good enough for the Steelers’ liking. Most times however, these players found success wearing Black and Gold but faltered when changing into a jersey of the Cardinals or the Black and Teal of the Jags.

Those 25 players beginning with the ones who went west are:

  • Jonathan Dwyer
  • Nick Eason
  • Larry Foote
  • William Gay
  • Clark Haggans
  • Duval Love
  • Bryant McFadden
  • Rashard Mendenhall
  • Chukky Okobi
  • Oliver Ross
  • Alameda Ta’Amu
  • Ken Whisenhunt
  • Russ Grimm
  • Crezdon Butler
  • Brian St. Pierre
  • Sean Morey

As for those Steelers turned Jaguars:

  • Ainsley Battles
  • Deon Figures
  • Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala
  • Jason Gildon
  • Carnell Lake
  • Leon Searcy
  • Bobby Shaw
  • Anthony Smith
  • Dewayne Washington
  • Ziggy Hood

Naturally, there may be some players not mentioned that like the men above, bolted Pittsburgh or received a pink slip and traveled west or south. But focusing in on some of the more intriguing stories, it begins with one of the best secondary men in the history of the Steelers.

Carnell Lake: In 1989, the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Carnell Lake from UCLA. In his rookie season he started 15 of15 games he played in. Over the years, he and Rod Woodson would combine to create a formidable secondary for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

From 1989 until Woodson left the team in 1996, the duo struck fear in opposing offenses. Lake was making the tackles and providing excellent coverage, while Woodson was picking off passes and blasting opposing receivers. But in 1998, the Steelers refused to bring Lake back for another campaign and he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars where he played just one season despite starting in all 16 games before retiring with the Baltimore Ravens after one season in 2001.

Jonathan Dwyer: With the drafting of Jonathan Dwyer in 2010, the Pittsburgh Steelers believed they had a good, strong, big running back. At 229 pounds, Dwyer couldn’t crack the starting lineup until he got in the Steelers’ backfield for six starts in 13 games in 2012. That season he produced 623 rushing yards scoring twice. He added 18 receptions for 106 yards. While with the Steelers, Dwyer had runs of 76, 34, and 30 yards. In 2013, the Steelers released Dwyer prior to the start of the season but quickly re-signed him after an opening day injury to Larod Stephens-Howling. Dwyer would only get 49 carries the rest of the way and was not re-signed at the end of the season.

The Arizona Cardinals took a chance on Dwyer adding him to their roster prior to the start of the 2014 season, but just after the season began on September 17, Dwyer was arrested for domestic violence and Arizona deactivated him and put him on the non-football injury list as well as keeping him from all team activities. Dwyer has expressed an interest in returning to the field but the Cardinals are saying no.

William Gay, Bryant McFadden, and Larry Foote: For William Gay and Bryant McFadden, they began as Steelers, shot out to Arizona for just one season and then headed back to Pittsburgh. Foote also started his NFL career in Pittsburgh but left for the Detroit Lions to play there for one campaign before re-signing with the Steelers. In 2015 he will return for his second season in Arizona.

Duval Love: Duval Love was an outstanding offensive lineman who came to the Steelers following seven seasons as a member of the Los Angeles Rams. From 1992 until the end of the 1994 season, Love loved playing the line for Pittsburgh. He wrapped up his career in Arizona for the next two seasons after departing the Steelers.

“Football was pretty cool, but I don’t want to play anymore” Rashard Mendenhall

Rashard Mendenhall: Mendenhall was a curious case of players who left the Steelers for the Cardinals. A controversial player, Mendenhall while with the Steelers, used Twitter upon the United States’ elimination of Osama bin Laden to declare his criticism of Americans celebrating the death. A subsequent tweet appeared to show Mendenhall supporting 911 conspiracies. Because of his rant, Champion products released the running back from any future endorsements. Following the 2012 season that saw Mendenhall play in only six games for the Steelers and start in only four, Pittsburgh set him free where he signed with the Arizona Cardinals.

After just one season out west, Rashard Mendenhall abruptly ended his career, telling the media, “Football was pretty cool, but I don’t want to play anymore. I want to travel the world and write.” Traveling appears not be one of his activities these days but instead, he is currently writing for the HBO show “Ballers.”

As a Steeler, Mendenhall’s best season came in his third year when he rushed for 1,273 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. He also caught 23 passes for 167 yards to followup on 2009 when his rushing total was 1,108. Adding more negativity to his resume came on December 12, 2012 when the Steelers back was suspended for one game because he failed to show up for a game against the San Diego Chargers. In his only season as a Cardinal, Mendenhall accumulated 687 yards rushing with eight rushing touchdowns.

Ken Whisenhunt/Russ Grimm: When Bill Cowher called it a career following the 2006 season, Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and Offensive Line Coach Russ Grimm let it be known they wanted to be the next head coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The fact about the Black and Gold and the Rooney family is when they hire a head coach, it’s for the long term.

To make that clear, the Steelers have just three head coaches since 1969. That’s closing in on 50 years and just three coaching changes at the top. So when it came time to replace Cowher, Dan Rooney and his staff wanted to be sure it was the right man.

Unfortunately for Whisenhunt and Grimm, they were ousted by a young man named Mike Tomlin who came to the Steelers from Minnesota and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a reputation of not only being very football smart, but a defensive guru. Instead of keeping Whisenhunt and Grimm around, Tomlin made Bruce Arians his offensive coordinator and Whisenhunt bolted for Arizona to become their head coach and took Russ Grimm while thumbing his nose at the Rooney’s along the way. Whisenhunt also recruited ex-Steelers Chukky Okobi and defensive end Rodney Bailey to join him in the desert.

Clark Haggans: Clark Haggans was one of those players who wanted more money instead of sticking with the team that drafted him. Therefore, in 2008, he took the high rich road to Arizona. His first season was a disaster suffering a foot injury that landed him on injured reserve. The next season, the Cardinals had a cinderella year making the Super Bowl and facing off against the Steelers. Haggans and Arizona played in what might be one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever but Pittsburgh prevailed for their sixth Lombardi Trophy.

Haggans would play in the Super Bowl again as a member of the San Francisco 49ers in 2012 but following that game he called it a career. While playing for the Steelers, Haggans was an outstanding linebacker, making nine sacks in 2005and 32 ½ as a Steeler in eight solid seasons in Pittsburgh.

Oliver Ross: Another fine offensive lineman that make the trek from Pittsburgh to Arizona was Oliver Ross. Originally a Dallas Cowboy, Ross came to Pittsburgh his sophomore season and played in 64 games for the Steelers in his four seasons wearing the Black and Gold, starting in 36 of them. He would play two seasons with Arizona before retiring in 2006.

Brian St. Pierre: Brian St. Pierre is a bizarre story of a quarterback who hung around the NFL from the time he was drafted in the fifth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2003 until he finally ran out of chances and teams in 2010 with the Carolina Panthers. Along the way, the former Boston College product actually only played in three games, and started behind center just once. Despite hanging around the NFL for eight seasons, St. Pierre finished with just 33 passing attempts and 15 completions and tossed just two touchdowns.

St. Pierre who wore jersey #2 when he was on the sidelines for Pittsburgh, seemed to have spent more time on and off the practice squad then actually suiting up for a regular season game. Brian St. Pierre only dressed for a regular season game once for Pittsburgh in 2004, once for Arizona in 2009, and once for the Panthers in 2010 making his only career start. In that game, St. Pierre threw for 173 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted twice. These days, the ex-NFLer is the head coach for his high school alma mater, Danvers St. John’s Prep in Massachusetts.

Deon Figures: Deon Figures was from a tough neighborhood in California. So dangerous that he in fact was a victim of a shooting in the offseason of 1996. That injury that resulted hampered his ensuing season to the point it cost him a starting role in that year’s Super Bowl. It may have also cut his Steelers career short as Pittsburgh released him following that campaign and like so many other Steelers players, he went south and signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Figures who had started in 23 of 61 games with the Steelers, started in 17 of 32 with the Jags. In his first season playing in Florida, Figures intercepted five passes. That was two more than he had for his entire four seasons in Pittsburgh. Figures would play in one more season in 1998 before retiring.

Jason Gildon: Another great Steelers player that the coaching staff had believed his best days were behind, happens to also be the team’s all-time sack leader. Jason Gildon who 77 sacks as a Steeler in 10 seasons, added three more in his only season wearing the Black and Teal. Gildon’s best season came in 2010 when he nailed 13 ½ sacks on opposing quarterbacks.

Gildon also added four forced fumbles that year. With Gildon, it appeared Jacksonville was the place for Pittsburgh to put their Steelers out to pasture. Most players who departed for the southern city either did not fare well or play much longer.

Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala: Probably the most difficult name to pronounce in Steelers’ history, football fans and media alike preferred just calling the stout running back, “Fu.” at an even six foot tall but weighing in around 250 pounds, Fu was easily one of the biggest running backs in Steelers’ history. He certainly was one of the most bruising as well.

Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala did not get many chances to be a starter in his five seasons with Pittsburgh but instead he was their primary short yardage back. The most carries Fu ever received was in 2001 when he rushed the ball 120 times and picked up 453 yards but for an average per-carry of just 3.8. He had his longest run from scrimmage that year as well, a 46-yard romp. But in the end, Fu handled the ball for Pittsburgh just 172 times and had a rushing total of 751.

The Steelers released him following the 2002 season, and a Jaguar he became. In Jacksonville, Fu finished the 2003 season without a start for the Jags but appeared in 13 games, carrying the ball just 35 times for 144 yards. The next season, he played in just seven games, got one start and then promptly retired following the season.

"“A bad Ma’afala” Chris Berman on Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala"

If anything came of Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala’s career, it was that fans and sportscasters alike, loved his name and using it creatively. Chris Berman of ESPN fame, repeatedly would refer to Fu while showing highlights of his play as “a bad Ma’afala.” Naturally in Pittsburgh, chants of “Fu” could be heard loudly whenever he touched the ball. Today, you will find Fu in Hawaii where he works with the organization “Army Youth Sports.” The purpose of that non-profit is to coach and organize sporting events for the children of military personnel.

Leon Searcy: In Bill Cowher’s first year as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, his first-ever draft pick with the 11th selection in the first round was a big man from the University of Miami named Leon Searcy. At 6’4, 313 pounds, it took until his sophomore season to show his skills to Cowher. His rookie campaign saw Searcy dressing for 15 games, but in 1993, he started in all 16 at left tackle. Searcy would only play until 1995 with the Steelers, but from 1993 until he left via free agency in 1996, Leon Searcy was a symbol of consistency. He failed to miss one start during his tenure with Pittsburgh following his rookie campaign.

Searcy would round out his NFL career with Jacksonville, starting in every game he appeared. Searcy tried to hang on to his career in 2001 and 2002 with the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins but did not play during the season for either team. If you take away the 15 games during his rookie season. Leon Searcy started in every game he appeared during his NFL career. He is also a member of the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 2003. He was also a starter for the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX.

Anthony Smith: Drafted in the third round in 2006, the Pittsburgh Steelers thought they had a pretty good safety in Anthony Smith. Little did they know that the Syracuse product would produce one of the most embarrassing moments in Steelers’ history the following season. Smith started in four games his rookie season and picked off two passes. In his sophomore season he started in 10 of 16 games but on December 9, 2007, the Steelers traveled to New England to take on the Patriots. A year before New England had narrowly missed the Super Bowl losing to the eventual champions, the Indianapolis Colts.

2007 was a special year for the New England Patriots, as they were trying to match the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only team in history to finish a complete season and win a championship without losing a game. They would finish 2007 undefeated and cruise to the Super Bowl, only to be embarrassed themselves losing the NFL’s final game of the season the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

Heading into that December matchup, the Steelers were 9-3, and New England had not yet lost winning their first 12. Prior to the game, Anthony Smith went on record guaranteeing a Steelers victory by simply stating, “We’re going to win. Yea, I can guarantee a win. As long as we come out and do what we got to do. Both sides of the ball are rolling, and if our special teams comes through for us, we’ve got a good chance to win.” Steelers Nation members were furious over his comments and Tom Brady and his Patriots subsequently went out and crushed the Steelers focusing primarily on throwing the ball to Smith’s side.

The final score was an embarrassing 34-13, and Smith was burned repeatedly by Brady with a moment never to be forgotten following one touchdown pass when Brady got in Smith’s face. Smith ended up being replaced by Tyrone Carter and the following season was used sparingly without a start over the course of 14 games.

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  • The Steelers released Smith after the 2008 season and his career was in shambles as he bounced from team to team. Smith would end up on the rosters of the Jacksonville Jaguars first in 2009 where he failed to make it through the season being cut and then signing with the Rams. Then it was the Packers, back to the Jaguars, and finally with the Tennessee Titans in 2011.

    The only success Smith has found since then is in music videos where he made an appearance for Natasha Mosley in her video “Tattoo” and he also created the rap group FaceCard Bosses. He is currently working on their debut album set to be released this year.

    Bobby Shaw: Bobby Shaw was a promising wide receiver originally dratted by the Seattle Seahawks but signed with the Steelers in his rookie year before the season began. With 28 receptions his rookie season, it appeared that Pittsburgh had found a nice receiver to add to their arsenal. Shaw would score three times in 1999 and followed that up with 40 receptions the next season for 672 yards and four touchdowns.

    In 2011, Shaw was thrown to less and following the season was released where he ended up in Jacksonville. Just one season with the Jaguars saw Shaw start in 10 games and haul in 44 passes, but Jacksonville cut him following the season. Shaw would round out his NFL career with the San Diego Chargers and the Buffalo Bills in 2004.

    Dewayne Washington: Dewayne Washington had a solid career to begin his NFL trek with the Minnesota Vikings. The Steelers added him as a free agent in 1998 and for the next six seasons, Washington was a steady and reliable cornerback that excelled in the Steelers secondary. But age caught up to Washington and the Steelers released him in 2003.

    As the Jacksonville Jaguars have done so often, they picked up a player the Steelers no longer wanted. Apparently, they must have believed that Washington was in fact past his prime as he lasted just one season in 2004 with the Jags. Washington started in all 16 games that season but had just two interceptions. He would play one more season of pro football in Kansas City in 2005 before calling it quits in 2005. With the Chiefs, Washington started in just one of 16 games.

    Ziggy Hood: Finally, we have a more current player in Evander “Ziggy” Hood. With a troubled defensive line that was aging, the Steelers picked up Hood in the first round in the 2009 draft after playing his college ball at the University of Missouri. While appearing in all 16 games his rookie season and picking up a sack, he would start in nine games the following season.

    Hood was showing signs of being an impact player and started in 14 games in 2011. Finally in 2012, Ziggy Hood became an every day starter, taking his position on the line for all 16 games as a starter. With one more season on the defensive line for Pittsburgh in 2013, Hood’s season was not complete as he was the starter in just seven of 16 games and he became an unrestricted free agent following the season.

    Off to Jacksonville went Hood where he remains today. In his first year as a Jaguar in 2014, Hood did not start in any of the 16 games he played and finished the season with just one sack and only 47 tackles. Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, their defensive line has improved and the loss of Hood has not appeared to have done damage to the quality of the Steelers front line on defense.

    Next: Talking With Pitt Commit, Chase Pine

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