By Jim Lane
For the Mirror
CRESSON - Edmund Nelson thinks 2012 will be a critical year for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"They've been a team in transition for some time, but this is the big year," the former Steeler defensive lineman said Friday morning at Mount Aloysius College's 15th annual Celebrity Golf Tournament at the Summit Country Club.
As an analyst for Steeler preseason games on KDKA-TV, Nelson remains close to the NFL and the Steelers.
"Some big names are gone, particularly Hines Ward," Nelson noted. "He's been a leader for the whole team, especially the offense, and they're going to miss his leadership. As the season approaches, I'm going to be interested to see who steps in and fills that role because those are big shoes to fill."
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Ex-Steeler Edmund Nelson jokes with Steve Lewis (left) and Bill Ritenour (middle) before teeing off on the first hole.
Nelson was an unsung hero for the Steelers defensive line from 1982-87, anchoring three top-five defenses while recording 16 sacks during his seven years in Pittsburgh.
"I had the great privilege of playing with several guys who went on to the Hall of Fame," Nelson said, mentioning Mel Blount and Jack Lambert. "Joe Greene had just left and Gary Dunn was there. They were great, great players and taught us how to work.
"Donnie Shell was another guy I looked forward to seeing every day in practice. John Stallworth was there, too. There was great camaraderie. They were great players, but they were great, great people."
Chuck Noll, who guided the Steelers to four Super Bowl victories, was Nelson's coach and the former Auburn University lineman credits Noll with his success.
"You're in awe when you step on the field and the Emperor is there," Nelson said, referring to Noll. "The Emperor Chaz. You learn soon enough that he's a real tough guy. He expected and demanded a lot from us.
"If it were not for him coaching the South team in the Senior Bowl, I wouldn't have been drafted by the Steelers," Nelson said. "He saw my work ethic and saw I had some potential. When the seventh round came in the draft the following year, he drafted me and I really appreciated that."
The Steelers didn't get to the Super Bowl during Nelson's tenure but he has some fond memories.
"In 1984, we had a really good team," he recalled. "We got to the AFC Championship game. I think it was Dan Marino's rookie year and the only Super Bowl he went to. We lost a heartbreaker down there [Miami], but that was a great experience.
"We were so young we really didn't know how close we were. It was right there for us for the taking. That's a lesson for the young guys. When you have the opportunity, you better seize it."
After leaving the Steelers, Nelson played one season with the New England Patriots and finished his career with the Cleveland Browns, but once a Steeler, always a Steeler.
"It's my home. I bleed Black and Gold," said Nelson, who has been a State Farm Insurance agent in the Pittsburgh area for the past 22 years.
He also enjoys his role on KDKA telecasts.
"I never thought I'd last this long," Nelson said. "My role keeps increasing because I love the game and tell the truth. I call it like I see it and most people like that. I don't know any other way. It's Xs and Os but you don't play the game any differently than it was played 20 or 30 years ago."
Nelson also praised the Steelers ownership.
"You're going to have three generations of Rooneys in the Hall of Fame," he said, naming Art, Dan and Art Sr. "They are the greatest owners in the league and are respected by the other owners as well as the players.
"They're innovators," he continued. "They started the business where minority coaches are interviewed for openings in the NFL. That was fabulous and then they followed their own lead by hiring Mike Tomlin, which in my view, was masterful."