In a bygone era of Free Agency, what it truly meant to be a Pittsburgh Steeler

JACKSONVILLE,FL - DECEMBER 01: The helmet of Chidi Iwuome #29 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on December 1, 2002 at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE,FL - DECEMBER 01: The helmet of Chidi Iwuome #29 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on December 1, 2002 at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a history most players would love to be a part of. But when someone doesn’t want to be here, they won’t be, but that doesn’t mean it always works out in their favor.

With the frenzy that is NFL Free Agency nearly upon us, I would like to take you on a stroll down memory lane; let’s enter the way-back machine and set the time dial to 1989.  By that time, I had been a Steelers fan for 11 years.  I was a sophomore at Temple University. Having been born and raised in Philadelphia, it seemed only logical to attend a Philly school; not to mention the fact that I was awarded a full academic scholarship to attend Temple, so that was an easy decision, but, I digress.

Prior to the current incarnation of Free Agency, there was something called “Plan B” Free Agency, In many respects, it laid the foundation for Free Agency as we know it today.  Although I remember Plan B Free Agency well, albeit, not very fondly, for purposes of this discussion, here is a description from Front Office Football.

“Plan B” Free Agency (1989-1992)

"“With an anti-trust suit still pending and multiple offers proposed from each side, the owners unilaterally imposed Plan B free agency with the absence of a labor agreement. Owners had the right to protect 37 of its players (when the league had 47-man rosters) from becoming free agents. Players protected under Plan B were subject to the same compensation rules if signed by another team.Unprotected players were not subject to right of first refusal or draft compensation rules. They were free to negotiate and sign with any team. This led to an influx of player movement in the NFL. However, players who were protected, essentially the team’s best 37 players, were not given the same freedom and faced the same market restrictions as players before Plan B. Only one restricted player, linebacker Wilber Marshall, changed teams while the system was in effect.”"

Being a Steelers fan during the time of Plan B Free Agency was wrought with trepidation. I remember grabbing the sports section from the local newspaper before my Dad had a chance to get to it.  I perused the names of unprotected players, team by team. I saved our team for last; I had to build up the courage to see who, most likely, would no longer be a Steeler; however, there was one player who epitomized what it meant to be a team player, to be selfless and to, perhaps, be a role model for younger players; in other words, what it truly meant to be a Pittsburgh Steeler.

Bryan Hinkle, who wore #53, was a linebacker drafted in 1981 in the 6th round out of Oregon.

Hinkle played in 12 NFL campaigns, playing in 163 games, snagging 15 picks, recovering 11 fumbles and tallying 22.5 sacks.  By the time Plan B Free Agency rolled around, I knew that if Bryan Hinkle’s name was on the unprotected list, he would be a Steeler the following season.  This is an excerpt from the Philadelphia Times from February of 1991:

The Philadelphia Times caught Hinkle saying, “The Steelers indicated that Hinkle, a 1981 draft, would not leave the team.  Hinkle said in a team statement that he agreed to be put on the unprotected list ‘in order to keep someone else’.”

Full disclosure, I remember reading this article. I may be getting older, but when it comes to the Steelers, I am a veritable cornucopia of information, although my wife would argue, it is useless information.

What player today would volunteer to be unprotected, essentially becoming a free agent, in order to protect a teammate who would be more sought after than he (would be sought after)? What player today would display the level of selflessness, of the team first mantra and of the lead by example trait that Bryan Hinkle possessed?  Alas, I dare say there are but a handful of players who would give up their seat at the table, as it were, so that a teammate could sit down at it.

Bryan Hinkle was a Steeler through and through. His actions were such that he proclaimed, “Hey, I want to be a Steeler; I want to play for this organization.”

dark. Next. What the NFL Combine really means for players

Unfortunately, there are some Steelers who seemingly no longer want to be Steelers.  To those players, I would suggest taking a history lesson from one predecessor, in particular, and learning what it means to be a Pittsburgh Steeler.