Obituary, Justin Strzelczyk - By Neal Coolong

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

I can't say I knew him, either as a player or a person (put it this way, I had to copy and paste his last name). I don't think Steelers fans want to remember a former player for the ugliness of his final moments, either. But there has always been one thing former offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk had for me.

He was the first player I really remember from when I first started watching Pittsburgh play.

Justin StrzelczykClearly, the two most obvious characteristics were a name that fits an offensive lineman much like "Federov" fits a hockey player, and a Grizzly Adams-like beard. Both of these traits screamed "Pittsburgh football player."

He came into the league around the same time I began taking an active (read: obsessive) following of the league. Basically, I don't remember when the NFL Draft was 11 rounds long. That both dates me and attests to my extremely selective memory.

Obviously, it's easy to cheer for a team that is winning, especially when you're growing up more as a fan of the game than any one specific team. My family was right there with the Steelers in 1995, as was Strzelczyk, future Hall of Famer Dermontti Dawson and the quarterback whose name I refuse to mention. It was Steelers football at its very finest. And Strzelczyk could make a case that he was a face-man for a very blue-collar team.

That's when I really got into the Steelers. The excitement adding up every week. Following story after story about the team. Being able to mercilessly taunt Vikings fans week in and week out without fear of reprisal.

It's these thoughts that went through my mind when I saw that Strzelczyk died Thursday. A consistent hard-worker with a classic beard. It wasn't a man throwing beer bottles at cops or exploding in his truck at the age of 36.

It makes you wonder what happened. Steelers fans have ample reason to wonder this now, after the unfortunate ending of Mike Webster recently. I'm certainly not going to sit and lecture on how much the money athletes make would change anyone. But just looking at how decimated some ex-players are gives pause for thought to consider how much:

1. It truly takes to play professional football at such a high level for so long.
2. How angry it makes me to hear people laughing at their fall from stardom, regardless how bizarre the end is.

Right, I'm not condoning anyone leading police on a chase through upstate New York. I'm also of the opinion that police officers don't like glass objects being tossed at them. But Strzelczyk could very well be in the same sort of condition as Webster was at the end of his life. Is he a complete nut? A criminal? A mentally disturbed man? A memorable athlete? I dunno. We could go for days.

All I know is when I think of the times I first started watching the Steelers, I remember Strzelczyk. And that beard.