Remember back when Steelers Nation didn’t have lofty expectations? It was the time when fans didn’t expect…nay demand…the team win a Super Bowl every season?
Yeah, it was the 1960’s and I don’t remember that far back either. In fact, it wasn’t even Steelers Nation back then. It was more of a Steelers Suburb or something like that.
Like many of you, as a young laddie my fair-weather fandom started with the first Super Bowl ring, and frankly, I’m frustrated we don’t have at least…say…forty Lombardi’s since then.
So after the Pittsburgh Steelers failed me once again, imagine the challenge I have here in sprinkling some sunshine on a less than Super season.
You talk about Spinning it? Wish me well, my friends:
A Season Of Winning
By Steelers Nation’s lofty trophy closet standards we can’t call it a “Winning Season”, but it certainly would be accurate to call it a “Season Of Winning”.
Did the Steelers win it all in the 2017-18 season? No. Should they have? Probably, with the team they assembled. But did this mean the entire year was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? I don’t think so.
I used to be in the Lombardi or bust camp. Basically, I didn’t care if the team went 1-15 in the regular season as long as they somehow managed to eke into the playoffs and cajole or connive their way to a Super Bowl championship.
But, I must admit I’m coming around to the notion that winning during the regular season is much more intrinsically valuable than I used to believe.
Let’s face it. An NFL season is broken down in mostly equal parts of Sundays (with an occasional Monday or Thursday thrown in to feed the advertisers). This is true whether you are dropping a cool grand to take your family to Heinz Field or whether you’re experiencing the game in some dimly lit bar in Anchorage with moose and grizzly heads staring you down.
It’s no fun to be heckled by scraggly bearded lumberjack Cowboy fans.
Happiness comes from winning. Pointing fingers, moonwalking on the bar, and laughing as Baltimore Ravens fans do the walk of shame following another Steelers victory.
From that perspective, the Steelers season pumped ample portions of joy into the hearts of Steelers Nation. There was a lot of winning going on, and often in exciting fashion and it made for one of the most pleasurable seasons in a long time.
When news came out at the end of the season that the Steelers were parting ways with former beleaguered Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley it was a “What you talkin’ bout Willis?” moment.
I mean, if you chart the improvement of performance of the offense from game one to the end of the year and put on the same graph a line representing the defense’s sharp decline, it was a no brainer which coordinator should go. Get rid of Haley while retaining Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler? Huh? How does that work?
But, it makes sense when you consider this decision coincided closely with Ben Roethlisberger announcing without fanfare or delay he would be returning again for another season. In fact, according to his good friends on the O-line, Big Ben plans to play for three more years. And what’s this now? We hear about him possibly having his contract extended?
You know how it is. A change of boss at work can equal a massive change of heart. It can even make your job enjoyable again.
So let me get this straight. We give Big Ben an offensive coordinator he enjoys working with in Randy Fichtner and in exchange we get three more years of Hall of Fame-level quarterbacking. Done!
Sorry Todd. I do think you got the bum treatment in this, but this is what I would call a Blockbuster Trade. Don’t worry, it’s not like you’ll get stuck working for the Cleveland Browns or something.
Following a slow start last season, Big Ben soon became Big Ben again. Why he doesn’t win Most Valuable Player for the team every year is a bit of a comedy routine, but the development of him staying is enough sunshine to brighten up even the cloudiest of season finishes.
In fact, I am treading on waters of pure sacrilege, but if you asked me, “Would you have rather the Steelers won the Super Bowl and Ben retires…or would you rather have three more years of enjoying Roethlisberger play?” my answer would have been….
Actually…I’m a gonna plead the Fifth on that one.
But, that being said…I wouldn’t object to the Steelers drafting a quarterback in rounds one, two and three of this year’s draft if there are good ones available in what is expected to be an unusually quarterback-rich draft. (As long as ahead of time we explain our reasoning gently to Mr. Roethlisberger.)
Why such foolishness, you ask? Well…there was more than a thirty year drought of Steelers quarterbacks between Terry Bradshaw and Roethlisberger. It was one Nothingberger after another taking sacks and throwing the ball to the opposition. Didn’t matter if we had the most dominant defenses on the planet. Even an impressive running game couldn’t bail us out. Just ask Bill Cowher.
No. We must NEVER make that mistake again as a franchise.
The Steelers need to find their Aaron Rodgers to their Brett Favre or their Steve Young to their Joe Montana and that search needs to start earnestly now. If this is the year when quality quarterbacks are falling out of trees like coconuts on a hot Hawaiian afternoon, then we need to have our basket ready to catch them.
I know, I know. We have all of these impending needs on defense. No problem. We can have our cake and eat it too.
Quarterbacks are among the most valuable players to trade away, so the team could keep the best prospect, and trade away the rest and end up with a boatload of picks in exchange.
You better believe that San Francisco would have traded their entire draft class to get Jimmy Garoppolo. They are not the only team with that same value mindset when it comes to quarterback.
In the NFL, there are good players, great players, and then there are the transcendent stars.
It’s a combination of unique talent and extraordinary charm. These are the Joe Greene’s, the Rod Woodson’s, the Jerome Bettis’s, the Hines Ward’s and the Antonio Brown’s.
It looks like the Steelers got a steal in the second round with Juju Smith-Schuster as he’s on the fast track to being the team’s next transcendent personality.
Remarkably, as a rookie, he photo-bombed the team’s highlight reel with spectacular play after amazing play.
He is beloved by his teammates and perhaps even more so by the fans. The only caveat is…he is a wide receiver…and you know, the divas got div. I’ve got a useless number 17 Mike Wallace jersey hanging in my closest as a sad reminder.
But, if Juju can keep it real, the Steelers have a marquee player for many years to come.
The Bell Was Rung
Contrary to popular opinion; I think Le’Veon Bell had an excellent season in terms of lack of drama. For a guy who was clearly disappointed with his contract at the beginning of the season, once he rejoined the team, he firmly and professionally strapped on his boots and ran and competed hard each and every game.
Although it wasn’t as successful of a season in terms of yards-per-carry compared to the prior one, he certainly played his part in making the Steelers offense one of the most potent attacks in team history.
Will he be in the Steelers long term plans? Or will he follow through on his threats of pulling out the golf clubs and retiring rather than playing for less than he feels he is worth?
Hopefully he’ll see the wisdom in being the Bell Cow for Pittsburgh for years to come. The math is simple. If you really want to milk a career to its maximum financial and glory potential, you stick with the ones who brung you.
Le’Veon. Let’s be real here. You haven’t always made the best decisions when it come to your time in Pittsburgh. For your own good, now is the time to get it right.
Got To Wear Shades
So, even though the tears of remorse haven’t entirely dried up from a disappointing finish to the end of last season, there is plenty of sunshine on the horizon. The New England Patriots lost. There is that. And the Steelers have as great a chance as any to go all of the way next year.
A future this bright? You got to wear shades.