The Sunday Football-Related Music Post: A Short History of “Renegade”

Since it is clearly time to start getting ourselves worked up for the coming season, what better musical way than a hand-picked selection of “Renegade” videos, combined with a few entirely ignorable facts?

As anyone who has been a fan of the Steelers for more than about 15 minutes and who has gone to at least one home game knows, the playing of “Renegade” to accompany a montage of defensive highlights is a beloved tradition used to pump up the crowd (and perhaps also the defense) when a stop is badly needed. It is a tradition going back centuries decades about 15 years.

The song itself is much older than that. It was written ine 1978 by Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw, but according to the Wilkipedia article fellow guitarist James Young asked to take the solo on it, although each player usually soloed on their own compositions. It was a hit, and remains Styx’s most recognized song. They finish every show with it.

It was in 2001 that Mike Marchinsky, then an intern in the team’s marketing department, came up with the idea of putting a defensive highlights video to the song to be played during a game. It was played during a tense Browns/Steelers game and seemed to work, as related in a 2011 Tribune-Review article:

…[I]n a wild card playoff game versus the Cleveland Browns with the Steelers losing 24-7, “Renegade” was played and the team rallied. The song was played a second time during the game, and the Steelers went on to the win 36-33, cementing the tune’s reputation as a musical talisman.

As you would expect, the Steelers saw the promise in both the video and Marchinsky, who is now a long-time staff member. He is currently their Youth Football and Marketing Manager.

There are approximately one billion versions of Steelers/Renegade videos out on the interwebs. You can find everything from fan cell phone videos which make you seasick with the shaky camera movement and burst your eardrums with nearby screaming to the various professional versions on and a few selected other entities. I will mainly stick with the latter.

First up is last season’s version by Benstonium:

The “musical talisman” idea mentioned in the Trib article was really cemented in the 2008 season, in which Pittsburgh did indeed go to (and win) the Super Bowl. During the season and playoffs Renegade was played 10 times, and only once did the defense fail to produce either a turnover or a stop.

During the 2011 season LaMarr Woodley was the first player shown in the video, and he admitted that the video not only pumped up the crowd but him:

I watch the whole video…During that TV timeout, you’re resting up, the crowd’s yelling and, sometimes, you make a big hit coming out after that song.

It’s hardly surprising that Woodley would be the featured player. He was coming off what would perhaps be his two best seasons in the NFL. In 2010 he had 10 sacks, 50 tackles, and five pass defenses, all less than he had in 2009, but in 2010 he added two interceptions, one for a touchdown. Unfortunately, as we know, this did not continue, although he did have a good season in 2012.

I couldn’t find an “official” version of this, but here is a good fan-with-cell-phone version, which was taken at a pep rally:

It isn’t just the defensive players who like “Renegade,” apparently. Jerome Bettis talks about what the video meant to him:

“I want to let those guys [the members of Styx] know how important it was to me as a player, because sometimes, they don’t know the impact they make,” says Bettis. “‘Renegade’ is a song that has taken on a life of its own, and as a football player from Pittsburgh, I just wanted to let those guys know I appreciate it — the fact that they allowed us to play that song, because it brought us so much joy. But it also brought some wins. It helped the defense pick it up. It made a difference with us, and those guys need to hear it from me how important that was.”

Is there one game where Bettis feels “Renegade” made its biggest impact? “I remember one good one, when we were playing The New York Jets in Pittsburgh, and it was a playoff game [the AFC Divisional playoff on January 16, 2005],” The Bus recalls. “We were losing that game. They played ‘Renegade,’ and I’ll never forget seeing those towels — The Terrible Towels — all waving at us, and it was amazing. I would definitely attribute that song to making a big difference in that game. It was like the 12th man. It was huge.” The Steelers ultimately tied the Jets in the fourth quarter and then won the game in OT, 20-17, with a field goal. Bettis ran for 101 yards in the game and scored a touchdown.

Bettis’ heartfelt words are not lost on the creator of “Renegade,” Styx guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw. “I’m completely blown away by this,” Tommy says. “I wish Jerome knew how much that means to me as the songwriter, and I’m sure the rest of my bandmates feel the same way. I wrote that song in my living room on my piano back when I lived in Michigan. Nobody else was around, and for it to become something like what Jerome described is so surreal to me!”

The above quote is from an article written by Mike Mettler, the Styx official biographer. It originally appeared on My computer felt the connection was unsafe, so the link above is to the reprint on You can watch the highlight video made prior to Bettis’ Hall of Fame induction ceremony here.

Curiously, as Mike Florio reported, the Steelers did not play “Renegade” during the January 2015 Wild Card game, in which they were playing the Ravens at home. They could have used it, methinks:

One key aspect of the Steelers’ home-field advantage is the highlight video usually played at the end of the third quarter.  But on Saturday night against the Ravens, the montage set to the Styx song Renegade wasn’t played.

The Ravens noticed.

“I’ve been here for 12 years now and we’ve been winning a game and they play their little music,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said after the game, via the Baltimore Sun.  “We didn’t hear it this year, so I was like, ‘Oh, maybe they’ve got something new.’

“They play their song and then something terrible happens, and it was something usually we couldn’t overcome.  But we didn’t get to hear it, and we stayed the course.”

I trust they won’t make that mistake again when the Steelers host both pre-Super Bowl games at Heinz Field next January. (Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?) I’m expecting it to have the same effect it did during the 2010 season playoffs. The first game was against the Ravens, and you may recall things were not going well. The Steelers ran into the locker room at halftime down 21-7. and Ben Roethlisberger had a little chat with the offense, who put up 14 points in the third quarter to tie the game. (You can watch this at 4:35 in the video.) Dick LeBeau also had a little chat with the defense (at 5:20 or so). He uses a lot less words than Ben, but the message is clear. At 6:01 in the video “Renegade” begins to play, and right afterwards Ryan Mundy intercepts Joe Flacco to tie the game.

A friend had a ticket for the game, and said he had never experienced anything like what happened when the jumbotron lit up with the “Renegade” montage. He said that the floor actually started shaking, and those are pretty sturdy floors.

The Steelers have not been shy about using Renegade for various purposes, as you can see from the Bettis video. Here are the links for several Renegade videos:

This one is a fabulous Joe Green montagemade in 2014.

Brett Keisel and Da Beard (which would make a pretty good old-school country band name) got their own, in 2011.

There’s even one for the re-sodding of Heinz Field.

And of course there are many Renegade-themed videos. Perhaps none of them are better than this one:

The idea of “pump up” videos has taken off. Some are much better done than others. I like this one, as it features lots of good footage, a variety of music, and is generally well-made:

And finally, as a sort of bonus, here is more of Benstonium’s fabulous work, a great playoffs video on “Nothing Else Matters”:





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