Outside of the Deacon Jones Award, which is automatically awarded to the player who records the most sacks during the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers were shut out of the awards ceremony for the NFL’s 2020 season last night, though of course they got great news as far as the Hall of Fame goes.
This is in spite of the fact that they had arguably worthy candidate for multiple awards. Obviously, T.J. Watt was a favorite to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award, but he finished second to Aaron Donald, the latter’s 27 votes surpassing his 20. Chase Claypool could have been in the running for the Offensive Rookie of the Year, though he was a longshot.
Prior to the season starting, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was a favorite to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award, having made his way back from major surgery to reattach three tendons in his throwing elbow that tore during the 2019 season. He went on to lead the Steelers to a 12-4 record and a playoff appearance while throwing 33 touchdown passes.
But for most, the fact that Alex Smith even stepped out on a field at all this past year automatically made him the winner. I’m sure almost all of you have at least some level of understanding of the journey he has undergone since fracturing his leg in 2019, which resulted in dozens of surgeries and even life-threatening consequences.
Smith, of course, won the award in a landslide—but it was not unanimous. According to multiple reporters, he received 49 out of 50 votes, with the one outstanding vote going to Roethlisberger. Naturally, this was met by some with outrage, the idea that anybody could vote for anybody but Smith.
Less than two years after coming thisclose to having his leg amputated, Alex Smith led the ##WFT to the playoffs – and got 49 of 50 votes for @NFL Comeback Player of the Year. That 50th vote? Went to #Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger.
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) February 7, 2021
Smith ultimately started six games for the Washington Football Team, going 5-1. He completed 168 of 252 pass attempts for 1582 yards, throwing six touchdown passes, but also eight interceptions, and taking 22 sacks, at a rate of eight percent of his dropbacks.
As for Roethlisberger, he went 12-3 as a starter, completing 399 of 608 pass attempts for 3803 yards, 33 touchdown passes (the second-most in franchise history), and 10 interceptions, taking only 13 sacks all season. In one playoff game, he tossed over 500 yards with four touchdown passes, but of course the story was his four interceptions.
While I absolutely agree that Smith was deserving to win the award, I certainly don’t think it’s unconscionable and morally insulting that somebody would vote for Roethlisberger to win the award, who did return from a major injury and clearly performed better out of the two players.
But people feel good when they note that somebody was a consensus choice, so when somebody defies the consensus, there has to be outrage, and the defiant one must be found and chastised for ruining the perfection.