As one of the two major NFL gatherings during the offseason process—the other being the draft, of course—the Combine always brings together a wide variety of media personalities, which generates no shortage of discussion and content to sort through and process.
When it comes to talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers, it should be no surprise that the discussion often turns to accolades, given that they have been one of the most stable franchises over the course of the past 50 years, even if it took time for them to find their footing by the 1970s.
Among those praising the Steelers recently was Sal Paolantonio of ESPN, who cites working closely with former Steelers running back Merril Hoge as being a major source of his knowledge of the team’s history and workings.
Speaking favorably of their roster, leadership, coaching staff, and ownership, Paolantonio’s comments eventually drifted into a very salient territory when it comes to today’s NFL, and it’s not something that has exactly been a secret.
“It’s become an owner’s league”, he said, in a way that nearly suggests that it hasn’t always been the case. But the underlying implication behind his comment is clear—more and more, NFL teams have become controlled by businessmen, rather than those in the football business, almost as sort of a hobby.
The fact of the matter is that not everybody is equipped to run a sports franchise. It’s not a direct equivalent to the business world, competitive sports. Sure, there is competition, but on a long-term, macroscopic scale. When games are won and lost by a matter, literally, of inches, it takes somebody who understands the ‘business’ of football to steer the ship.
And the Steelers have been owned and operated by a family whose life’s work has been football, the Rooney family. They have carefully and tactfully expanded their ownership circle to maintain the integrity of their business and football operations.
And part of that integrity involves patience, which is in short supply these days—especially in Cleveland. I do not have to regurgitate facts regarding the lengths of time during which certain brain trusts over the course of the past 50 years have been held together in Pittsburgh to those who will be reading this.
When you have teams like the Jaguars, however, with an owner who is an outsider from the game, and a general manager who talks about free agency as a necessity that causes you to overpay rather than a supplementary option, the lessons should become clear.
The Redskins have been perhaps the most guilty in recent years of the ‘throw money at the problem’ philosophy that simply doesn’t work in football, but we see bad football business being done every year.
Of course, even the Steelers haven’t been immune to that, but they have a far higher hit-to-miss ratio than the league average. And a great deal of that can be tied back to the Rooney family and the stability they have provided and the patience they have shown throughout the years.