Whether it is from their own fans or from general sources around the league, it would be fair to say that the Pittsburgh Steelers have had a solid reputation as a team that players would want to play for for a good while now.
It always helps to have the winning tradition, and the Steelers have, by and large, had that, in spurts, more than just about anybody over the course of the past four-plus decades. Many free agent visitors find themselves drawn to their trophy case, for example which is unrivaled by any other organization.
Sometimes the most authentic light, however, is shined on the organization by those fringe, journeyman free agent signings, the sorts of players who come in here without expecting much and having little expected of them, yet bringing a certain type of knowledge along with them about how different teams around the league works.
When the Steelers brought in Steven Johnson as a relatively under the radar signing, that was just the sort of player that they were getting. But Johnson is a veteran of four seasons who has worked with two organizations, and back in May, he used that knowledge to compare his past experiences with what he found in Pittsburgh.
This was back in the spring, and Johnson was already talking about the competitive nature of the team, saying that “there are certain things that happen here that don’t happen everywhere else”, having previously experienced the locker rooms of two other professional football teams in Denver and in Tennessee.
After Sunday’s abysmal loss to the Eagles, another bottom-of-the-roster linebacker, L.J. Fort, also found himself in a situation unique to Pittsburgh, in contrast to what he has experienced with the Browns or Seahawks, or with the Bengals or Patriots.
Fort relayed the tenor of the locker room after the loss, talking about how the team’s defensive captains, William Gay and Cameron Heyward, held the locker room together, unified, and on the same page.
The two captains addressed the locker room, and had one very simple message to convey, said Fort, according to Jeremy Fowler for ESPN: “sticking together, looking at yourself first, not blaming other people”, he said. “Cam did a great job and Will Gay of getting everybody together, making sure no one started pointing fingers”.
That might sound like par for the course, but that hasn’t exactly been Fort’s experience, nor his perception, of other locker rooms around the league. “A lot of teams that are winning organizations, they start to blame each other and nobody really steps up and silences that”.
That is one area, at least, in which the Steelers have been strong for the most part for a good long while. The team has fairly consistently had a strong locker room presence that was capable of policing itself and keeping the group in line. This was no more true than in the mid- to late-2000s, but today’s leaders in Heyward and Gay are holding the fort, and people like Fort and Johnson are taking notice, and are happy to be a part of it.