The offseason continues to drag on and there is very little Black and Gold news to decipher. However, with the fact that the Steelers have the usual abundance of camp bodies on the roster, it allows a vast amount of players to focus on. And from one of these players it brought me back to the future.
It was back in 1983 and my high school friends were off to the campuses of our collective colleges. One of them attended Colgate, another Lafayette. The newly minted Colgate Raider’s freshman year coincided with the senior year of one of the better players to pass through the program. She gushed as she spoke of the big man on campus. He was a big fish in a smaller school pond.
But as a running back that fish made quite the splash. Rich Erenberg was a first team Division I-AA All-America in 1983. That year he was the leading rusher, scorer and all purpose runner in the nation in Division I-AA, as he finished with a school record 1,833 yards for the fifth best rushing season in collegiate history.
His career at Colgate’s saw him become the team’s all-time leading rusher with 3,689 yards. Even with that resume, he was not selected in the first 8 rounds of the draft. As a 9th rounder in 1984, he is the equivalent of an undrafted free agent today.
My friend was excited for her college classmate. And she was happy he was a Steeler. Having sat in front of me for many a high school class, she had heard a boundless barage of Black and Gold braggery. But now we had a common player to root for. I told her Erenberg was a longshot and would not make the team. She let me know how mistaken I was.
Even if Erenberg were to make the team, he had no chance to play. The Steelers had the Baylor Backs, the second of which was Walter Abercrombie, picked only 2 slots after Marcus Allen (By the way, Marcus Allen was the player I went to sleep dreaming the Steelers would draft in 1982). For his first two seasons, Abercrombie played in the shadows of the Immaculate Man himself.
But in 1984 Franco was exiled to the Seahawks. So wearing #34, it was now our Walter’s time to show some Steeler sweetness. But as the preseason came to an end, it was another running back that grabbed the brass ring. As Abercrombie fell out of favor, the Emperor anointed another knight to tote the rock. A special teams phenon during the preseason, Erenberg started to garner carries in the practice games. The more he played it was obvious he was the Rudy to Abercrombie’s Vince Vaughn. By game 2 of the 1984 season an ineffective Abercrombie was removed and that long shot to make the team was starting his first NFL game.
Game 5 of that season was a Monday night matchup against the Bengals, back when Monday Night Football meant something. It might be the only time you could see your players if you rooted for an out of market team. And I fell into that lot. What made this game even more fun was I’d be watching it with my Colgate companion. It would be the first time she would see Rich Erenberg as a pro and he came into that Monday night game as the Steelers leading rusher and all purpose back. He would get the start in prime time.
The game began with a slow, scoreless quarter as the Steelers played down to the competition. After the customary commercial that parted the 1st from the 2nd quarter ended, it seemed the Steelers woke up. And they woke up by giving the ball to Erenberg. My friend and I were ready to see his national coming out party. The Steelers began a nice drive and got inside the 35 mostly on the legs of Erenberg. And then it happened…”We interupt this game for a special news bulletin”.
I don’t recall what the emergency was, I just know there are very few things more important to me than a Steeler game. As the minutes seemed to turn to hours we finally heard, “We will now return you to the game”. And what did we return to? Rich Erenberg sitting on the bench being congratulated by his teammates. From 31 yards out, he has scored his first NFL TD. We missed the TD. And for some reason so did ABC and there would be no replay of it for the rest of the game.
To this day I have never seen Rich Erneberg’s Monday night TD run. He would go on to have a magical rookie season. Erenberg started 9 games for the Black and Gold and would finish with 1,338 all purpose yards. He would even score a TD in the AFC Championship game knotting the score at 7-7 early on. Of course the Steelers fell short of the Superbowl that day. The next year Erenberg could not recapture the magic of his rookie season. By 1987 he was out of the game.
The future is now and in Novermber of last year Yankee Stadium hosted the 150th Meeting of College Football’s Most-Played Rivalry…Lafayette and Lehigh. Lafayette boasted a little known running back..well, little known to most. See, my other high school friend who attended Lafayette had long since alerted me to the all star from her Alma Mater. As an alum she obtained tickets for the sold out game. We watched in amazment as Ross Scheuerman stole the show…actually more like he was the only show in town. That game he would carry the ball 45 times and tack on 3 catches. He finished the game with 304 yards rushing, 53 yards receiving and three touchdowns. By May of this year he was a Pittsburgh Steeler. With Le’Veon Bell shelved the first 3 games can Scheuermann capture a little of the magic Erenberg had his rookie season?
Could we be Back, or Running Back to the Future.