Former Steelers Center Dead at 60

Pittsburgh Steelers helmet

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Former Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets center Jim Sweeney died October 1 at age 60. The news was announced by the Jets before the team’s game against the Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday. The location and the cause of Sweeney’s death were not announced, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


Sweeney, a Pittsburgh Native, Served as Center for Dan Marino at Pitt

Sweeney entered the NFL in 1984 when the Jets selected him No. 37 overall after a four-year career with the Pitt Panthers (1980-83), where he snapped the ball to future Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino.

He went on to play in New York for 11 years, manning the left guard position for two seasons before spending two years at left tackle. In each of the next eight seasons (seven with the Jets and one with the Seattle Seahawks), he started all 16 games at center.

“That was my natural position. All through grade school, high school and most of college, I was a center. I was just able to play other positions,” he told NewYorkJets.com in 2018, which has described him as “one of the most durable offensive linemen ever to line up for the New York Jets.

“Jim was a typical Pittsburgh guy. He was tough,” said Marty Lyons, who was Sweeney’s teammate on the Jets from 1984 to 89. “He was tough to practice against every day. You could count on him every single Sunday. He had a different personality as soon as he crossed over the lines, though. Hard-nosed, tough football player; a loving, caring friend off the field.”

That dovetails with what former Steelers inside linebacker Levon Kirkland told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

“I loved Jim,” said Kirkland. “I remember his hands, how strong he was and how nice he was. He was always encouraging, always telling me he thought I was a great player. Just a sweetheart of a man. That’s tragic. To lose a good guy like that is sad,” he concluded.

They were teammates during Sweeney’s four years (1996-99) with the Steelers (1996-99), during which time he appeared in 46 games.

After retiring from the NFL, Sweeney embarked on a coaching career, working at Duquesne University from 2000 to 2002 before transitioning to positions at the high school level. He went on to serve as offensive line coach at the University of Albany from 2014 to 2021.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Sweeney is is survived by his wife, Julie, and their five children: Shannon, Liam, Aislinn, Kilian and Teagan.

Per NewYorkJets.com, Sweeney and his former teammate Marvin Powell died within 15 minutes of each other on Saturday night. Powell, the No. 4 overall pick in the 1977 NFL Draft, was a three-time first-team All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler who played right tackle for the Jets for nine seasons before finishing his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Sweeney wore No. 53 for the first 12 years of his NFL career but switched to No. 66 while a member of the Steelers.


Sweeney Helped Make Pitt ‘Offensive Line U’

In the wake of Sweeney’s death, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi issued a statement on behalf of the Panthers football program, writing, in part:

“I want to express my deepest sympathies to Jim’s family and many loved ones…. To play that many years at such a high level is a testament to his physical strength, durability and incredible knowledge of the game. Like Jimbo Covert, Bill Fralic and Mark May, Jim Sweeney helped make Pitt ‘Offensive Line U.’

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