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Strictly Business

Written by Dan Gigler on .

Don_Michael_Corleone
Not a picture of Art Rooney II, despite what many think after yesterday.

Of the volumes of quotable lines from The Godfather trilogy, very few have entered the lexicon -- for better or worse -- as paraphrased maxims of commerce than the many variations of "It's business, not personal" uttered by Michael and Sonny Corleone and Tom Hagen among others.

If modern corporations had dainty little pillows with sayings of wisdom stitched on them on the seats their lobbies -- the kind your grandmother might have on her love-seat except they'd be homilies or Irish blessings -- "It's business, not personal" would be chief among them.

At the risk of overstating the obvious, it's been no different for La Familia Rooney over the years. 

Wednesday's release of Hines Ward seems callous to many, especially for such a deservedly beloved figure who gave so much to the Steelers, playing the game with as much passion than anyone whose ever worn the team's uniform. But the Steelers have rarely been wrong when faced with these hard decisions.

To wit: 

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The man who made the play that seemingly altered the entire course of history for an franchise once derisively referred to as the Same Old Steelers, Franco Harris was shown the door during training camp in 1984. He was the MVP of Super Bowl IX, and the team's all-time leading rusher the future Hall-of-Famer. This sounding familiar? He was also closing in on Jim Brown's league rushing record.

But the Steelers thought he was done and cut after a contract holdout during which he himself was derisively referred to as "Franco who?" by head coach Chuck Noll he signed with Seattle.That was ugly for everyone involved, fans included.

His stats with the Seahawks? 68 carries for 170 yards in 8 games played. And then he was done. But all fences have long since been mended.

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He was Iron Mike before anyone ever heard of that creep Tyson. The anchor of the Steelers offensive line for 15 seasons, Mike Webster retired after the 1988 season -- mutually agreed upon by him and the team -- but then came out of retirement to play two more years with the Chiefs.

But the Steelers had his replacement ready to go: Hall-of-Famer Dermontti Dawson.

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Among the rare misses by the Steelers, Rod Woodson wanted to remain in Pittsburgh throughout his career. The Steelers felt otherwise and let him go in 1997 via free agency. Woodson went on to have seven productive seasons with the 49ers, Ravens and Raiders that solidified his Hall-of-Fame career.

During that time, he amassed nearly as many interceptions as he had with the Steelers (33 vs. 38) and more defensive touchdowns (7 vs. 5) while making a successful transition to free safety from cornerback with the Ravens in 1999. He won a Super Bowl with Baltimore in 2000.

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If the 1970's had Jack Lambert and this generation has James Harrison, the 1990's had the menacing presence of Greg Lloyd.

Lloyd will probably never pass into the hallowed halls of Canton, but he's easily among the pantheon of great Steelers' linebackers and was immensely popular among Steelers fans.

But after a season-ending knee injury in 1996 and staph infections in 1997, he wasn't the same. He played most of one season in Carolina under his old coach Dom Capers, and then he too, was done.

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A member of the NFL's 1990's All-Decade team, Carnell Lake was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and the 1997 Defensive Player of the Year during ten close-to-Canton-worthy seasons with the Steelers. He twice had dominant seasons as a cornerback, even though his natural position was strong safety.

As the Steelers grappled with free-agency during the 1990's they let Lake go as well. He played one noteworthy season with Jacksonville before finishing on Baltimore's bench. He is currently the Steelers secondary coach and has earned praise for that unit's improved play in 2011.

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Joey "J. Peezy" Porter, he of "The Boot" sack dance, was immensely popular and the vocal firebrand leader of the Super Bowl XL winning defense.

He was jettisoned in 2007 at  the start of the Mike Tomlin regime, and though he had a few very productive seasons with the Miami Dolphins, including a 17.5 sack season in 2008, the Steelers had another guy they couldn't keep off the field any longer: James Harrison.

Perhaps you've heard of him.

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Another likely Hall-of-Famer to be Alan Faneca and the Steelers probably didn't exchange Christmas cards after the Steelers opted not to re-sign him following the 2007 season.

Faneca, a perennial Pro Bowl selection who paved paths for Jerome Bettis and sprung Willie Parker to his Super Bowl XL record touchdown, went on to two more Pro Bowl years with the Jets, was released and spent a season with former coaches Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona before retiring last spring.

But despite being the Steelers best lineman of the past decade, they still won Super Bowl XLIII without him.

Which brings us to Hines Ward.

Nothing more can be said about Ward's greatness as a Steeler and a football player that Gene Collier and Ed Bouchette haven't done already with great eloquence.

Ward may play somewhere else. And if so, it'll likely be a footnote. But he wasn't the first to leave the Steelers before he felt ready and not of his choice, and he won't be the last. As Gerry Dulac has said, expect some combination of Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith and James Farrior to be next.

The Steelers think Ward's done, and they're probably right. They need the money to pay the Young Money trio of Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Not a one of them might end up better than Ward in the entireity of their careers. But they're better than Ward now. And if the Steelers want to continue making semi-annual Super Bowl appearances, well, there's little room for sentiment in the salary cap era.

It's business. Not personal.

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