Lake: Degrees of Steelers Pedigrees

Upon his return to St. Vincent College for the first time in more than a decade, Carnell Lake couldn't help but reflect upon a Steelers career that ...

... spanned 10 mostly spectacular seasons but ultimately ended unfulfilled.

"I've come to terms with it over the years," Lake allowed.

He's come to terms with it.

He's come to terms with playing for the Steelers from 1989-98, on teams that won five AFC Central Division championships, appeared in three AFC Championship Games and Super Bowl XXX.

Lake, in his first year as defensive backs coach for the Steelers, has come to terms with all of that.

That's the way it is when you played for the Steelers during an era in which the franchise's collection of Lombardis failed to multiply.

"I enjoyed it for what it was," Lake continued. "I appreciated the time I had here, the friendships I made and the experiences.

"Really, I wouldn't change anything. Obviously, I'd want to maybe change the (lack of a) Super Bowl victory. But other than that it was beautiful."

The Steelers were still in search of "One for the Thumb" back then.

They might have had a shot at it in 1994, except a lead inexplicably got away in the AFC Championship Game against San Diego and then someone named Dennis Gibson got his hand on Neil O'Donnell's last pass.

They could have, perhaps should have gotten it in 1995, except the Dallas Cowboys got their hands on too many of O'Donnell's passes in Tempe, Ariz.

And they would have, in all probability, gotten it in 1997, except that was the year Kordell Stewart was intercepted three times and lost a fumble in the AFC Championship Game against Denver.

But those Steelers never did get it.

The era, thus, is waxed upon fondly, mostly only by those who did the actual playing in those days, by those who came so close.

Those guys are pretty easy to find this week at St. Vincent.

There's Lake, who has taken over the secondary in place of Ray Horton.

There's Jerry Olsavsky (linebacker, 1989-97), who is entering his second year as the staff's defensive assistant.

And there's Brentson Buckner (defensive end, 1994-96) and Myron Bell (safety, 1994-97, 2000-01), who are here on coaching internships, waking up the echoes and remembering when.

"This is my summer vacation," Bell gushed. "I love it."

One of the ties that binds the 1990s Steelers with the present collection in lieu of championship rings is defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. That's gotta be the next best thing.

LeBeau was hired by Bill Cowher to coach defensive backs in 1992 (Lake's fourth season as a player) and served as the Steelers' defensive coordinator from 1995-96. LeBeau had great players then, just as he does now. But those great players continue to embrace their mentor with reverence, figuratively and literally, just as they did then.

"Because I am back I like to compare in my mind our teams to the current teams," Lake said. "It's just amazing, really, to see how the Steelers are able to keep so much talent on one team over the course of the years. There's just a consistency there. You don't see a lot of highs and lows. They may have had one or two down seasons, but they're always right at the top. And that's a real credit to the Rooney family and the coaching staffs that have been here throughout the years, starting with Chuck Noll, when I was here, to Bill Cowher, who I played under, and now Mike Tomlin. It's really amazing.

"I wouldn't be doing LeBeau justice if I didn't say how great of a coach he is, but not only that he's a great person. It comes out in every meeting we have with the players, they can sense that themselves. He's been through it as a player and most importantly he respects the players, and players really appreciate that.

"He knows the game so well and he's been in it so long. If you add that kind of knowledge and you add some talent across the board it's a winning formula."

Bell was more succinct but in complete agreement with his former teammate.

"He's still the same guy," Bell said of LeBeau. "He brings the same energy, the same knowledge, the same intensity.

"It's an awesome time to be here, just like 1994."

That's a beautiful thing, with or without the ring.

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