Leave it to the 2017 version of the exhilarating and perplexing Pittsburgh Steelers.
They just gave a Texas-sized walloping to the Houston Texans on Christmas Day which allowed them to clinch a bye in the playoffs while adding to their impressive 12-3 regular season record.
But they managed to do this in the same week they unceremoniously bounced one of their all-time defensive greats in James Harrison.
Worse yet, the Departed shows up in enemy headquarters doing selfies with Tom Brady and making the keynote drones of Bill Belichick’s press conferences.
Whah? Did somebody drop some LSD tabs into our stockings? What was in that eggnog?
Then again, it’s probably par for the course for one of the most exciting, and bizarre seasons ever experienced in Steelers Nation.
Any other year, we would be parading the streets singing triumphant versions of “I’ve Got A Feeling”, but this certainly hasn’t been any regular season.
So, as if this room isn’t spinning enough, let’s take it for a Spin.
Lack Of Patriotism
Well, let’s start by saying that James Harrison just made the second worst decision of his career. The first was followed by him wearing stripes in Cincinnati for a forgettable year. Having him now in New England, being a war propaganda tool of Belichick is almost unwatchable television. It’s as if he’s a Rhinestone Cowboy, a thoroughbred giving pony rides in the Patriots circus.
Easy As Peezy Win Win
But that being said, this situation was one hundred percent avoidable. For the last few years, James played second fiddle to Jarvis Jones of all people. He served as a…yes Bud Dupree…mentor to the young, blue chip linebackers both in the off season and the regular season. This is a once undrafted player who had to scratch and claw and earn his brilliance from the depths of obscurity.
For better or worse, his career was built on pride and having a chip on his shoulder. All they needed to do this year was be truthful with him and give him his proper reps. You felt he was “over the hill”? “Washed up?” “Had nothing to contribute?” Then tell the man that in April so he can make an informed decision.
A man like James Harrison has no interest in playing the role of Steely McBeam. That doesn’t make him any less of a team player. It wouldn’t have hurt the team at all, and in many opinions, would have helped the cause, if he got his fair share of reps. He would have settled for less. But getting nothing was too much of an insult and a lie for this great warrior.
Show Some Respect
This was a disaster. Neither James nor the Steelers are going to win with this one. And bleakly, this has provided nothing but great material for the comedy team of Belichick and Brady. Score one again for the Patriots. But Steelers fans and players shouldn’t make it any worse than it has to be. Dupree needs to focus on sacking opposing quarterbacks and not his own former teammates. Maurkice Pouncey? You’ll be an expert on being the perfect team player after you have to stand on the sidelines for a full year as a healthy backup to B.J. Finney. Then I’ll listen to how well you would have handled the situation if you were in James’ cleats.
And for those “fans” burning Harrison’s jersey and saying they are already “over him”? How do you so easily forget the countless times the greatness of Deebo on a Sunday caused you to joyfully spill your beer, and high five strangers in a bar allowing you to briefly cheer away your sorry old, 9-5 cubicle existence? Man. Show some respect.
My apologies for the rant. Nobody wants to end the year on a sour note. Sometimes the Spin is just flat out grumpy. But, while I’m on this bender, have you noticed the empty seat shots in NFL stadiums? Did you hear the announcement about the Sunday Night game getting cancelled? The official explanation is pure hogwash.
America’s favorite sport is wounded.
And, yet, Roger Goodell gets his contract extended? I mean, with billions of people on the planet, we can’t find someone to run the league who won’t get booed every draft day?
This reminds me a little about baseball in the 80’s. I was a massive fan, and played the original fantasy sport of Rotisserie Baseball. I not only knew all of the players on every team, but I tracked the stars in the minors. But then, baseball had their first strike. Then their second strike. And…then, impossibly, they had a third strike. Three strikes and you’re out. I stopped following baseball after that. I couldn’t tell you who plays for who these days, nor do I care. This year, I found myself falling a little out of love with football. Maybe it’s all on me. Perhaps, I just need some counseling. Or maybe they oughta stop messing with the game so much. Letting politics leak in. Overreaching high tower play reviews. Changing this. Changing that. Goodell making the game better.
And all of the while, never asking the fans if we really want it changed.
Calves Of Steel
Wouldn’t it be great to have a fully healthy Pittsburgh Steelers team for the playoff run? It seems every year we’re either missing Le’Veon Bell or Antonio Brown on injury or Martavis Bryant on suspension. Oh…if we could only be fully locked and loaded for the playoffs! Sadly, our defense will have to make do without Ryan Shazier.
And, unfortunately, I’ve got my concerns about Antonio. I’ve personally blown out one of my calves on three separate occasions over the past twenty years and each time it took three full months before I was 100% back. (This is the part where my friend says, “Yeah, but you old.”) It is true that Antonio is a supremely fit world class athlete, and will benefit from the finest healing technology and techniques on the planet. However; anyone who has suffered one of these injuries will tell you that all of your explosion in sports comes from your calves. That turbo boost is exactly what makes Antonio so unique. And, unfortunately, it’s super easy to reinjure, and that’s playing in your mind every time you plant your foot.
Will Antonio be back? Yes. But to what level? Count me as a bit skeptical. But then again. Antonio? He’s special.
My New Almost Favorite
Fortunately, in Antonio’s absence, the other receivers are stepping up big time. What a play by JuJu Smith-Schuster at the end of the Patriots game! Lost in the smoke of the dreadful Al Riveron call was yet another fantastic performance by the rookie. And he followed this up with another stellar outing against the Texans. The kid is talented. He’s clutch. He’s tough. He’s loved by teammates and fans. He’s the next big-time offensive player on the team.
There’s just one…little…thing…that’s keeping me from running out and buying his jersey quite yet. I’m a bit concerned that he’s got a little too much OchoCinco in him. JuJu, let’s make a deal. You keep making the big plays. We’ll handle the celebrating. We’re good at that. That’s our job.
Rest And Rust?
The Steelers coaches are faced with a significant decision this weekend. Do you sit Ben Roethlisberger and give him three weeks to heal his body before the games start counting again? The truth is Ben has a bit of a history of been made of iron. In other words, he tends to be rusty when he’s sitting out a while. And right now, after a sluggish start to the season, he’s lights out, spot on, MVP level brilliant. So do you risk injury, and have him play until there is a two or three touchdown lead over the woeful Cleveland Browns? Or do you sit him out, eliminating the risk of injury, but increasing the risk of rust? It’s a tough, tough call. But, if it was me making the decision, I would start Big Ben, keep the offense continuing to rip away…and then work on my prayer life.
Nothing To Lose
I strongly believe there is always a big cost to ending the season with a disappointing loss. It’s not as easy to excuse away with a “this game didn’t count for anything”. The reality is the Browns have nothing to lose, including winning. They win this game and they still retain their overall number one draft pick in 2018. So they will be going full barrel to try to end their season on a high note. It won’t be an easy game even if the Steelers go all out.
As it turns out, this game does matter for the Steelers. They still have a chance to clinch home field advantage if the J-E-T-S Jets, pull off an upset over the Patriots. I say, sit the wounded, but finish the season out strong with all guns a blazing. This Steelers team remains very much a work in progress, and polishing off the Browns in style would put them that much closer to the prize.
Ode To A Great Warrior
My favorite Steelers player was released this week, so it’s been a rough one. I also know what’s it like to have an “organization” hand you a box, tell you to pack up your things, and say, “you’re just not a fit”. The great NFL stars rarely go out easy. It often is a mess. But, James’ legacy as a Steeler will never be erased in my mind, regardless of how this plays out. For me, these words penned hundreds of years ago by Alfred Lord Tennyson in his poem Ulysses explains well the spirit of a great, old champion in his last days of glory:
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Good luck to you James, and thank you for all of your awe-inspiring moments with the Steelers through the years. I spin my Terrible Towel in your honor.