Steelers

Rooney: NFL has dropped hints of HOF Game

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Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, Canton. - AP

With Bill Cowher already having been announced as part of the 2020 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class and four other people with ties to the Steelers still being part of the process, there is a good chance the Steelers will take part in the 2020 Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio, in early August to kick off the 2020 preseason.

At least that is what team president Art Rooney II said Monday during an appearance on Steelers Nation Radio with Stan Savran.

“I think there is a pretty good chance we will be playing in the Hall of Fame game this year," Rooney said. "It’s not something the coaches and players love to see, having an extra preseason game. I think it will be a fun weekend in Canton if things go the way we hope they go the next few days and weeks.

“(There is) nothing firm yet. We have been given indications that we should be probably planning on it. It’s not official yet, but I think it’s more than likely.”

That would probably mean the Steelers would have more than one of the 20 members of the 2020 Centennial Class of the Hall of Fame. They'll find out Wednesday if longtime safety Donnie Shell, a member of four Super Bowl teams in the 1970s, and former head coach Buddy Parker also are part of the special 100-year anniversary class.

The Steelers also have two of the 15 finalists for the modern-era inductees this year, as safety Troy Polamalu is eligible for the first time, while guard Alan Faneca is in his fifth year as a finalist.

Polamalu and Faneca will be voted on by the 48-person selection committee Feb. 1, the day before the Super Bowl in Miami.

“You hear things that sound positive. We have been hearing mostly positive things," Rooney said. "I would like to think if Ed Reed got in on his first year of eligibility, Troy would follow suit. A lot of people are saying that. You never know. We are keeping our fingers crossed for Troy and Alan. I think Troy is a first ballot Hall of Famer, so we are praying and keeping our fingers and toes crossed here.”

The election of Cowher gives the Steelers 25 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Only the Packers and Bears have more.

And that could be part of the reason players such as Shell, who finished his career with 51 interceptions, and Faneca, a six-time first-team All-Pro and member of the team of the decade for the 2000s, have had to wait so long for induction.

“I do think that gets factored in. Voters decide there are enough Steelers in and that has hurt Donnie Shell," Rooney said. "That is why I am glad he has the chance to go in through the Centennial process this year. It is there. I am sure most voters would say it doesn’t matter. But I do think it is there. People look at how many Steelers are going in. We are hoping for the best and hope that isn’t a factor.

“Alan deserves to be in there when you compare him to other people who are already in. He clearly belongs. I do think he will get in eventually. You never know whether the number of Steelers going in is going to be a factor going in or not.”

Perhaps the addition of Cowher already shows that might be pushed aside this year.

Cowher and former Cowboys and Dolphins head coach Jimmy Johnson were announced over the weekend, surprised on the sets of the network pre-game shows on which they appear with the news.

It even caught the Steelers off guard.

“I was definitely surprised by the way they decided to do it,” Rooney said. “I went out and took a walk between games and I got this call from (Steelers Director of Communications) Burt Lauten and he said, ‘Are you watching this?’ I said, ‘What.’ He said they just told Cowher he got into the Hall of Fame on television.

“We did not know that was coming. I had a good idea he had a pretty good chance. I had a call from (former Steelers defensive coordinator) Coach (Dick) LeBeau last week, and Dick is on the Blue-Ribbon panel that met in Canton last week and voted on everybody. He felt like things went well in the discussion for Bill. I thought there was a chance.”

Rooney said he has been trading texts with Cowher since, offering congratulations. The Steelers elected Cowher, their head coach from 1992 through 2006 into their Hall of Honor in 2019. This was just the next, and perhaps crowning achievement of the career for the now 62-year-old Cowher.

"In Bill’s case, part of his makeup, part of what he brought to the table, was that attitude," Rooney said of the Crafton native, who was just 34 when the Steelers hired him. "I think there is no other way to describe it but a Pittsburgh attitude. In this case that was clearly an asset we saw in him.

“There is no doubt Bill has that kind of passion. He has a great passion for the game of football. The fact that he grew up in Pittsburgh and was a Pittsburgh guy, he brought that kind of Pittsburgh feel to the team. There was a toughness that he brought and determination he brought. It really was one of those things that I think he certainly was the right guy at the right time for us, and obviously it worked out pretty well.”

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