It’s ok to cry.
In 2004, when I was in middle school and the New England Patriots‘ crushed the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 15-1 dreams, similar to today, I bawled like the baby I was. 12 years later, I’m in the same place. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
If you’re above the emotion, go into the other room. And tear up like I know you are. It’ ok, this is a safe place.
As much as it sucks for this team to be so close to their ninth Super Bowl, and in Pittsburgh, Lombardi’s are the ultimate measure stick of success, this year was still successful.
So turn off the SportsCenter highlights, grab a Yuengling, and for a moment, enjoy this season.
Because two months ago, it would’ve been a shock to see this team even go this far. The Steelers were 4-5, suffering a crushing, last-second loss to the Dallas Cowboys. I don’t need to, nor do I want to, rehash it all, but it’s about the lowest point this proud franchise was at. Not just because they were losing, that’s happened before, but because of how it happened and the fact it topped off a four game losing streak.
The season felt over. It was reasonable to assume it was.
But the team regrouped and went on an unreal tear, winning the final seven regular season games. They won fairly convincingly, they won in thrilling fashion, and they even won with their backups in. You already know all that, I’m giving you the Wikipedia version of the season, but it’s a healthy reminder when all you and I want to do is shut the blinds and binge Netflix all day. I don’t blame you. You’ve earned it.
Every team deals with their adversity. But the Steelers dealt with more weirdness than maybe anyone else. The suspensions to Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell. Joey Porter’s arrest after the Wild Card win and Antonio Brown’s Facebook-gate after the Divisional victory.
The fact that things were quiet after Sunday is nearly a win in itself. Nearly.
The injuries didn’t lead the league but they placed a burden on the healthy ones that was noticeable to feel. No Ben Roethlisberger for a game. The loss of Marcus Gilbert for several, Cam Heyward the entire season. All the injuries at receiver, to the point where Cobi Hamilton is a more commonplace than Markus Wheaton.
Mike Tomlin’s next-man-up culture, maybe the aspect he should be lauded for the most, swooped in again. Chris Hubbard filled in admirably, Stephon Tuitt became the leader of the defensive line, and yes, Hamilton made several crucial catches. It’s an identity and mindset that will serve the team will for the rest of Tomlin’s tenure, moments for players and coaches to reflect or remind during those future hardships.
There’s no secret this team goes as far as Roethlisberger sticks around. And when he’s gone, there can only be hope of avoiding the Kent Graham era again. But you have to tip your hat to Tomlin and Kevin Colbert for how this roster has been constructed. The defense entered the year as a giant question mark. It’s leaving as a compliment to the offense and even it’s much maligned pass rush looks better than it did given Bud Dupree’s performance.
2016 looks like a home-run draft class with the top three picks, Artie Burns, Sean Davis, and Javon Hargrave, all starting and playing at a high level, The team won without their leader, Heyward, while Ryan Shazier continued to take his game to new heights. All under Keith Butler, who has settled in nicely in his second year.
On offense, the Steelers’ mission to create maybe the best offensive line they ever have is safely accomplished. It’s a homegrown unit through and through and they’re all under contract with the team for the foreseeable future. The receiver group is a bit murky but the talent is certainly there. Sammie Coates has the whole offseason to rest up that troublesome finger and Martavis Bryant will hopefully be let out of Roger Goodell’s doghouse. Ad oh yeah, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown should be back, too.
For as long as Roethlisberger is still doing his thing, the roster has the potential to make another Super Bowl run. It’s hard to paint that as hope considering how team this close was this season.
The loss is still raw, emotions still running high, but this team will make it back to the Super Bowl. Sincerely, I believe that.