By Mike Bires
Even if the 2009 Steelers don’t make the playoffs, it’s been a special decade for the Black & Gold.
It’s the second-best decade of football since the franchise was founded in 1933. Only the “Steel Curtain” dynasty of the 1970s produced a better 10-year stretch.
Think about all the outstanding players who’ve played for the Steelers during this decade.
Jerome Bettis and Alan Faneca will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu could also make it to Canton someday.
We’ve seen the great tradition of linebackers continue with the likes of Jason Gildon, the Steelers’ all-time sack leader, and Joey Porter, James Farrior and James Harrison.
This week, nose tackle Casey Hampton was named to the Pro Bowl for a fifth time.
We witnessed the end of Bettis’ remarkable run in Pittsburgh and Willie Parker’s amazing success story. Parker transformed himself from an undrafted rookie to a three-time 1,000-yard rusher and the record holder for the longest touchdown run in Super Bowl history.
There’s been a 15-1 regular season (2004), five division titles, six playoff berths, four appearances in the AFC Championship Game and two Super Bowl wins.
In the first nine years of this decade, only the New England Patriots (102) and Indianpolis Colts (101) have more regular-season wins than the Steelers (94).
Following is a list _ the Steelers’ All-Decade Team of the 2000s _ of players who perfomed best over the past 10 years.
Steelers’ All-Decade Team (2000-2009)
Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger
“Big Ben” is on the verge of becoming the greatest QB in franchise history, even better than Terry Bradshaw.
Running back: Willie Parker
With respect to Jerome Bettis, “Fast Willie” still gets the nod. In three years as a starter, Parker rushed for over all 1,200 yards each time and started on two Super Bowl teams.
Fullback: Dan Kreider
As a bullish lead blocker, Kreider epitomized the Steelers’ smash-mouth running attack during the last years of Bill Cowher’s regime.
Wide receiver: Hines Ward
“The leader of the wideouts” as Ward often calls himself has led the team in pass receptions in every season this decade.
Wide receiver: Santonio Holmes
Holmes has better numbers than Plaxico Burress posted in the first four years of their careers, plus he latched on to the “The Catch” that won last year’s Super Bowl.
Tight end: Heath Miller
Miller is an excellent pass-catcher and outstanding run blocker who some say is the NFL’s best overall tight end.
Center: Jeff Hartings
Hartings carried on a long and proud tradition of snappers that included Ray Mansfield, Mike Webster and Dermontti Dawson.
Right guard: Kendall Simmons
Simmons never became the star the Steelers hoped he’d be, but still was a serviceable workhorse in the six seasons he started.
Left guard: Alan Faneca
Faneca, who now plays for the New York Jets, is a future Hall of Famer who’ll go down as the second-best O-lineman in team history behind Webster.
Right tackle: Willie Colon
A hard-nosed native of New York’s Bronx, Colon has started more games at RT for Steelers than anyone else this decade.
Left tackle: Marvel Smith
Although Smith played in only one Pro Bowl (2004), he was a solid performer whose career was cut short due to chronic back problems.
Nose tackle: Casey Hampton
Hampton should make the NFL’s All-Decade team for the way he’s anchored the Steelers’ 3-4 defense.
Right defensive end: Kimo von Oelhoffen
Von Oelhoffen will always be remembered as the guy who launched the ’05 Super Bowl run by injuring Carson Palmer’s knee in a wild-card win in Cincinnati.
Left defensive end: Aaron Smith
A true warrior who’s currently on injured reserve Smith is the only Steeler defender to open each season this decade as a starter.
Right outside linebacker: Joey Porter
With due respect to James Harrison, Porter gets the nod for seven years of tenacity and leadership.
Left outside linebacker: Jason Gildon
Gildon, the Steelers’ all-time sack leader (77), had his best two years in 2000 and ‘01 by recording 13.5 and 12 sacks, respectively.
Right inside linebacker: Larry Foote
Foote, who now plays for the Detroit Lions, was an outstanding run stuffer who started every game from 2004-2008.
Left inside linebacker: James Farrior
Farrior is easily the Steelers’ best free agent acquisition since the current free agency system started in 1993.
Cornerback: Ike Taylor
Although his interceptions are low (only 8 in his career) and even though he hasn’t played well lately, “Face Me Ike” has been a solid cover corner the past five years.
Cornerback: Deshea Townsend
Only one corner in franchise history has more years with the team than Townsend, a 12th-year pro. That’s Hall of Famer Mel Blount, who played 14 years in Pittsburgh.
Strong safety: Troy Polamalu
If injuries don’t cut short his career, the man with the NFL’s most famous hair will wind up in the Hall of Fame
Free safety: Chris Hope
There’s been a lot of turnover at this position this past decade, but in the two years Hope started (2004-05), the Steelers went 31-7 and won a Super Bowl.
Kicker: Jeff Reed
A wild and crazy guy off the field, Reed has made 22-of-25 field goals in the last two minutes of games or in overtime _ eight game-winning FGs included _ since joining the Steelers 10 games into the ’02 season.
Punter: Josh Miller
Miller was a free spirit and locker room wit who had eight solid seasons (1996-2003) in Pittsburgh.