Now that we are officially where we are, in the knowledge that running back Le’Veon Bell is no longer a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers (or at least might as well not be), I thought it would be a good time to remind you all of what Head Coach Mike Tomlin said of the situation back in September, when the situation was far less clear, in-house and otherwise.
During his first pre-game press conference of the season, Tomlin was asked, obviously, about Bell not being there and what that means for the team. This was of course long before James Conner began to rattle off 100-yard games, or even start one, ever.
That was all well and good. Then Bell’s agent opened his mouth later in the week, and responded after Thursday’s practice that week. Among the many things that reporters asked him was if Bell’s absence would affect the team.
“It can”, he said. “Whether it’s negative or positive, it’s up to the team”.
That is a quote that I have had in mind since he said it back on September 6. The Steelers have a history of rallying for one of their own, or for themselves against the world, and using that motivation to great effect. The drive to get Jerome Bettis to the Super Bowl in Detroit in 2005 is the most notable example.
Entering the season, there was plenty of doubt about what a Steelers offense without Bell, a two-time first-team All-Pro, would be able to do. Conner hadn’t done much of anything up to that point in his career, let alone demonstrated that he could be an every-down back.
I think it’s fair to say, though, that the team met the challenge that Bell through at their feet head-on and made the best of it, turning the situation into a positive. This certainly has the appearance of a tight-knit group that is fighting for each other.
And I don’t think that the Bell factor is absent. It’s not just because they are tired of answering questions about him, or because Conner is just a great story. It’s because he was a guy who was supposed to be part of a championship nucleus who decided that winning a championship in Pittsburgh wasn’t that important to him.
Nobody was more vocal in their frustration than Ramon Foster, 32, who seems to know he is likely in his last season with the Steelers, and who wants more than anything to win a Super Bowl before he retires. Bell not showing up seemed like a dagger to the chest in terms of those championship dreams.
The team, from the players to the coaches and all the way to the top of the organization, did a great job of letting Bell’s absence affect the team in a positive way, and it has prepared them for the journey ahead in which they know they will be going all the way without him.