Those mystical writers who compose the script for the season finale of the Pittsburgh Steelers would have been hard pressed to have produced any more drama and tragic irony.
On one screen, we’re watching an anemic, low energy Steelers team barely eke out a win against a Cincinnati Bengals team so depleted by injuries and lack of hope they had their water boys making plays on the field.
On the other screen, is the AFC North’s two most exciting young quarterbacks ushering in a new world view in the division as Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns was trying to rally his team to an upset of the Baltimore Ravens, who themselves were ably directed by Lamar Jackson.
In one surreal moment, both screens had 4th and 1’s, on about the same exact place on the field, with both offenses headed in the same direction.
On one television, Ben Roethlisberger did the old, fakey, wakey, we don’t have any intention of snapping the ball, but we’ll still desperately hope you’ll jump offsides play…that they’ve run a million times and had it work…like, maybe once in the past decade.
On the other screen, Jackson sneaks the ball to the right of the line for an easy gain and critical first down.
Shortly thereafter, a massive dose of Steelers star power leaves the stadium at halftime to plan for the big Hippo reveal, as the lights dim noticeably at Heinz Field, maybe forever.
Out with the old. In with the new.
Everybody knows it. The Steelers Show has grown about as stale as that fruitcake that was re-gifted for Christmas again for the tenth year in a row.
Wrap it up. Change the bow. It’s good to go for 2019.
If you’re looking for a positive take on the “we’ll just rack it up again and hope for better results” philosophy, you won’t read that here, my friends. Move along, move along.
But, if you’re looking for a little humorous catharsis to clear your gloom, step right in, the Spin is about to begin.
How Big Decisions Are Made
Apparently, the Steelers top brass were ready to respond in a big way to this year’s cataclysmic collapse of what should have been the team’s best opportunity to tag a Lombardi in years.
You can imagine them all sitting around the mahogany conference table, management and coaches leaning back in their leather chairs, some smoking cigars, some typing on their phones as they update their LinkedIn profile.
“I’m serious this year, gentlemen,” says Art Rooney II, the team’s president. “If we don’t make some major changes, we’re going to have riots on the streets of Pittsburgh.”
Coach Mike Tomlin glances up from his phone, disinterested, and then looks down and returns to tapping. “C’mon man. You funny.”
“Really, guys,” Rooney’s voice cracks with forced anger. “We have to do….well…something.”
Just then, Joey Porter walks in with a cardboard tray of Starbucks cups. “Okay…let’s see. Who had the double shot, caramel macchiato, with non-fat steamed milk?”
There is an exchange of knowing glances between the men at the table and then they all turn to look up to him.
“What?” Porter says.
Marty Ball – Part Three
A coach with a 200-126-1 record is a winning coach with an NFL resume that would put him on the top of the recruiting charts for any general manager hoping to have a safe and predictable career.
Any fan of a team with a coach boasting those kinds of written results would be a complete moron for even suggesting that turnover at the top is the way to start winning Super Bowls again.
Except, maybe, if this star coach had the ability to put up good numbers in the regular season, but consistently struggled under the big lights of the playoffs over and over again.
Would you be as excited about that coach if he posted a career record of 5-13 in the playoffs?
Would he be worth keeping if he couldn’t win the critical games when they counted the most?
Oh…you didn’t know I was talking about Marty Schottenheimer?
He was the prototypical winning record coach who could rack up impressive numbers during the regular season, but couldn’t manage success in the postseason.
Because of this he moved from the Cleveland Browns, to the Kansas City Chiefs to the Washington Redskins and the San Diego Chargers. His last hurrah was in 2011 when he was head coach of the Virginia Destroyers in the UFL.
That’s right. A 200-126-1 winning record in the NFL.
It’s too bad for him he didn’t start his career as a head coach with the Steelers in 1984. Because according to the logic offered by most adamant Tomlin backers, Schottenheimer would still be coaching here today.
Yes, winning seasons and winning records matter and should be applauded.
But, if you’re a Pittsburgh Steelers coach, there is a much more important qualifying or disqualifying question:
“Can you take it the house?”
We were asking the same question of Bill Cowher (a Schottenheimer protégé, by the way) in the waning years of his tenure in Pittsburgh.
Fortunately, for Cowher, he was finally able to get his math straight. It turns out the value of a quarterback isn’t one forth of a fullback on an NFL roster.
He can thank Ben Roethlisberger for allowing him to narrowly escape being branded a Marty clone.
Now that Tomlin has been cooking his own groceries for the past ten years, his postseason performances have been consistently disappointing.
Kind of Marty like.
Fire Them All!
Yet, before you misconstrue all of this criticism as some kind of declaration by the Spin as calling for Tomlin to go, we should clear the air.
In truth, I much prefer the 8-8 version of Tomlin than the 12-4 edition. He’s more humble. More motivated to make change. And he’s more willing to learn and grow.
He also is less condescending with Steelers Nation than he is most of the time.
Because, on the collective whole, if you shave off the fringe idiots, and average our opinions all together, we do know what we’re talking about.
We can tell pretty quick whether a shiny, new draft pick is going to be the next best thing, or if they are trending towards wasting away in bustville.
On the whole, we don’t get it wrong that often. Contrary to the opinion of most professional football players and coaches, even if you never strapped on a helmet your entire life, if you’ve been following the team for 40 years, your opinion and perspective does matter.
In many ways, it matters much more than the player who is in his first year of being a Pittsburgh Steeler.
I was as excited as anyone when Tomlin was hired as head coach. He’s a character guy and a dynamic leader who loves his players.
If he would step up to the microphone, admit that he’s poor at time management, awful at challenges, not great on game adjustments, and that his long term plan to rebuild this defense was mostly a flop, I’d be the first to recommend we extend his contract for several more years.
If there is a firm bracing of reality, and there are significant changes to the current underperforming version of Steelers Way 3.0, I think Tomlin is the perfect choice to lead us back to our Super Bowl winning ways.
But, if all of the “unleashing hell” of change in the offseason is the replacement of Peezy and the addition of a few more clever catch phrases, then I may be officially tapped out for the Tomlin Era.
Hippo As Scapegoat
It’s undeniably disappointing to learn of the course of action Antonio Brown chose during the last week of the season.
Walking off the field in practice is bad enough. No matter how shining the super star is, respect for the coaches, your teammates, the organization and the fans is always paramount.
Then, following this up by going AWOL the next few days takes things to a whole new, darkest hours level. On the surface, it does scream of a situation where a player’s future with the team should certainly be on the table for discussion.
The problem is it’s all from the surface. The ridiculous reporting of broad conclusions made from whispery conversations with a few anonymous teammates is no way to honor what Brown has contributed to the organization and its fans through the years.
Heck, if you asked a few of my Steelers Depot colleagues what they thought of me in some whispery anonymous conversation. No…please don’t do that.
In many ways, this has been a gift to Tomlin and Rooney, because the reporting has shifted from an extraordinarily disappointing season of leadership at the top to a welcomed distraction by events which are a microcosm of the big, dysfunctional picture.
The Hippo is proving to be the perfect scapegoat.
As for me, as soon as I saw Brown take off that Hippo head, and the most amazing perfectly pearly white smile in all of football was revealed, I was reminded of the many, many ways the widely gifted receiver has put smiles on all of our faces through the years.
If you want to witness ridiculous behavior, just flip the cameras so they are showing fans react once the man makes another game winning reception, time after time.
We’re talking grown men and women, dancing on tables, high fiving strangers and posting all kinds of crazy things on social media that maybe we probably shouldn’t have.
Am I condoning what Brown has done? No. He’s got some forgiveness to seek. And the damage is deep.
But, he’s got way too many smiles in my bank account through the years for me to be talking flippantly about trading him for one, two or even five first round draft picks.
Since the magical first time we saw him catch a ball on the side of his helmet, this greatest sixth round pick in Steelers history has been entertaining us in unbelievable ways since.
Let’s get this fixed. Let’s hope peace prevails.
Then years from now we can talk glowingly to our grandchildren about one of our favorite Steelers of all time. A man who wore 84.
Speaking Of GOATs
I’m…frankly…shocked the news hasn’t been posted yet on any Steelers Depot Twitter feeds, so let me provide you with this game breaking news.
The Spin won, not one, but both of the championships of the annual Steelers Depot Fantasy Football Leagues.
That’s make three rings for the Spin.
I’m pretty sure that means Adam Schefter will be reporting me as a possible dark horse candidate if the Steelers general position ever opens up.
Or…maybe Antonio will let me borrow his new GOAT ring for a while.
I guess the two of us do have something in common. No wonder our teammates are talking about us in disparaging ways.
Until We Meet Again
And so, like any sad goodbye, it’s time to move on from the 2018 Steelers season.
I’ve always found it’s much better to do so with gratitude, rather than regret.
For many fans, getting some excitement in the way of defensive splash plays, mesmerizing catches, and dazzling runs is all they require from a football team.
Like dolphins cheering on the fish they are getting tossed, they are content with ending the year with more wins than losses, and more cheers than groans.
For me, I’m more of an Old Man And The Sea type of guy. It’s all about the marlins. You either end the season with a Lombardi Trophy, or you come home a defeated man.
That doesn’t mean I’m not thankful for all of the joy the Steelers provided us with this year. It was one week after another of on-field drama and spectacular acrobatics and it provided us with entertainment of the highest level.
So, to all of those throughout Steelers Nation; the executives, the players, the coaches, the fans, my Steelers Depot friends, who are writers, readers and treasured commenters:
So long. And thanks for all the fish.