Published August 03, 2011
LATROBE, Pa. – Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley had reporters crowded around him in the middle of the sidewalk on the way into the dining hall at St. Vincent College on Wednesday morning.
Veteran linebacker James Farrior had to sidestep his way around the group, walking into lunch largely unnoticed.
Woodley is the Steelers' franchise player — going by the contract tag placed on him by the team.
But the man who lines up next to Woodley has been a part of Pittsburgh's run of dominant defense longer than anyone.
Two-time Pro Bowler Farrior is going on his 10th season as a mainstay on what has been the league's consistently best defense in that span.
Since Farrior signed with Pittsburgh as a free agent from the New York Jets in 2002, several other linebackers have gotten the name recognition and star power.
But while players such as Jason Gildon and Joey Porter fade away, Farrior is still going strong at age 36.
"Man, by the time I'm 36, I'll be home watching TV," Woodley said, shaking his head and marveling at the team leader they affectionately call "Potsie."
"It shows what he's doing in the offseason. He continues to work hard and continues to keep his body right so that when he comes in here, he's ready to play football."
Farrior had 109 tackles last season, second on the team. His six sacks ranked third for a unit that led the NFL in scoring defense.
Since Farrior arrived, Pittsburgh has led the league in total defense and/or scoring defense four times in a season. Only once have they not been among the top five in total defense and never lower than ninth.
Sure, he's the group's oldest player now. But he's been a team defensive captain since 2004.
"He's not only the vocal leader but the one who will go out there and play and show it," Woodley said. "With his experience and the way he plays and being that he's so vocal, everybody will rally around a guy like that because this is year (15) for him and he's still playing at a high level. You have to have respect for a guy like that."
The 6-foot-2, 243-pound Farrior has led the Steelers in tackles in six of the past eight seasons, finishing second the other two times. He's known as the quarterback of the defense, making the calls and ensuring everyone is lined up in the appropriate spot.
In terms of work ethic and how to conduct yourself, early on every season, Steelers veterans give the rookies a mantra: Follow Farrior.
"I take pride in that," Farrior said. "I know the guys have a lot of respect for me and a lot of the younger guys look up to me, so it always keeps me in line to know that I've got eyes watching me. I know I've always got to be doing the right thing."
Pittsburgh's defense certainly had flashier players who are more ubiquitous in national television commercials (Polamalu) or who are much more talkative (Porter).
Despite Farrior's easygoing demeanor and relatively soft-spoken voice, the Steelers turn to him in the huddle and in the locker room.
"I just love how before the game, he makes it feels like a battle," linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. "He gets the troops all geeked up."
"His calming presence in times of adversity, we know 'Pot-Dog' gives us that when we need it," cornerback Ike Taylor said. "He's consistent year-in and year-out."
Since the days of Hall of Famers Jack Ham and Jack Lambert, the Steelers have been known for their linebackers. Fifty times in the past 40 years, a Pittsburgh linebacker has been selected to the Pro Bowl.
It's difficult to compare players across eras, but the current linebacker group of Farrior, Harrison, Timmons and Woodley is among the franchise's best.
"Whenever you've got an opportunity to play for an organization like Pittsburgh, who's always historically been known for great linebackers, you definitely love to be a part of that," Farrior said. "It's something that I definitely take pride in and our group as a whole definitely takes pride in. Looking back on the older guys who have paved the way, we definitely don't want to let those guys down."
Having missed only two games over the past eight seasons, Farrior is there for the Steelers. Avoiding major injuries has played a factor in his longevity. Only Ray Lewis of the rival Baltimore Ravens is older than Farrior among active linebackers.
"I never even dreamed of playing this long," Farrior said. "It's definitely a blessing.
"I think I've gotten a lot smarter, and I think that's helped me keep up with the younger, faster guys. The league gets faster and stronger every year, so you've got to try to do other things as you get older, try to supplement those things that you can't do as good as you used to with your mind."