Since Thanksgiving is upon us and it is tradition to reflect on everything we are thankful for during the holiday season, below are several narratives Pittsburgh Steelers fans can reflect on and be thankful for as they enjoy a day filled with food, fellowship, and football.
Ben Roethlisberger’s Illustrious Career
Many Steelers fans recognize that Ben Roethlisberger’s’ days as the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers are numbered as we pass the halfway point of the 2021 season. While his play has noticeably dropped off the last few seasons in terms of arm strength, mobility, and level of execution as a passer, there is no denying what #7 has meant to Steeler Nation the better part of two decades. Ben is a two-time Super Bowl champion, having led Pittsburgh to three world championship title appearances. He currently ranks sixth all-time in passing yards, eight in TD passes, and fifth all-time in wins at the QB position.
He helped Pittsburgh finally reach the mountaintop after not tasting championship glory since the 70s, steadying the ship for an organization that has been near the top of the AFC for nearly his entire NFL career. We often forget how blessed we are as Steelers fans to have had the most important position in possibly all professional sports filled as long as we have with Roethlisberger at the helm. It will be interesting to see how the organization moves into the post-Ben era, but at the end of the day, it’s best to cherish everything Ben has done during his time in the Black and Gold and take in every game knowing that we are witnessing an end of an era.
Mike Tomlin’s Standard For Greatness
I can say that I have gotten on Mike Tomlin’s case for his in-game decision making at times as well as seemingly the failure to make a heavy playoff run in the mid 2010s with a talented roster seemingly destined at times to contend for a title. However, there is no denying the success he has had as the head coach for the Steelers since he took the position in 2007, winning 150 regular season games compared to only 80 losses. He has an even 8-8 record in the playoffs during his tenure, but the man has never had a losing season in Pittsburgh, regardless of the roster he must work with, injuries, etc.
As Tomlin commonly states, “The standard is the standard.” The thing is: Coach Tomlin abides by his own words, refusing to let his team to fall into mediocrity and strive to always compete. Rebuilding/reloading the roster aside, you have to love a coach that hates to lose. Many question whether Pittsburgh would be better off looking for a new coach at times during Tomlin’s tenure, but often times you don’t appreciate what you have until its gone. Tomlin is a winner and may go down one day as one of the winningest coaches of all time. He is a coach that players love playing for, and he just so happens to be the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
T.J. Watt’s DPOY Caliber Play
Having already missed two games this season with groin, hip, and knee injuries, it seems unlikely that T.J. Watt secures that elusive Defensive Player of the Year Award. However, Watt has far exceeded any expectation of him coming out of Wisconsin back in 2017 as “J.J. Watt’s younger brother”. He is on a record-setting pace for sacks both in Steelers’ history and has been pacing all-time sack leader Bruce Smith to start his young NFL career.
He makes his biggest plays in the most crucial moments of the game and has become a dominant force in the league. He and Cam Heyward are the clear emotional leaders of the defense, and he just inked the richest contract for a defensive player in NFL history. Simply put, we are extremely fortunate to have Watt playing in his prime as a member of Steeler Nation.
Diontae Johnson’s Maturation
According to Pro Football Focus, WR Diontae Johnson led the NFL in drops last year with 15. He was heavily scrutinized for his inconsistencies as a pass catcher leading him to get benched against the Buffalo Bills in primetime for everyone to see on Sunday Night Football. However, Johnson went into the lab this offseason on a mission to prove the doubters wrong. Some stat heads have Johnson for one drop on the year, whereas Pro Football Reference charts Johnson with zero. Add in the fact that he is averaging his highest YPR (12.1) of his career, winning consistently against man coverage both on intermediate routes as well as down the field, you can say that Johnson is enjoying a breakout season.
Pittsburgh will have to decide whether or not to extend Johnson this offseason heading into the final year of his rookie deal. Regardless of how that decision plays out, Johnson has showcased the clutch plays on various occasions that former WR Coach Darryl Drake had in Johnson when they selected him in the third round out of Toledo back in 2019. Drake stated after the selection that he had never seen a receiver run routes the way Johnson does coming out of college, and had confidence in his projection to the pros. Drake shortly after passed away, and I would reckon to say that Diontae would be making Coach Drake proud of the adversity he has dealt with and the player he has become.
Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth’s Immediate Impact
Whatever end of spectrum you are on regarding selecting a running back in the first round, you must acknowledge the addition Najee Harris has been to this offense. The rookie acts like a ten-year veteran out there, refusing to leave the facility and dedicating endless hours to practice rehab, and film study to improve at the game. He runs hard and finishes falling forward on nearly every play, maximizing the opportunity despite less than favorable circumstances. Take away what he has done on the football field, and you see a first-class human being, having a great personality and helping with the homeless community. Pittsburgh got a Grade-A player in Harris and a Grade-A person that will be a leader for years to come.
I was a little hesitant of the selection of Pat Freiermuth in the second round in the 2021 NFL Draft, but his impact in Pittsburgh thus far has also been profound and immediate. He has been instantly embraced by the fanbase in Pittsburgh, getting his own chant reminiscent of former Steeler great Heath Miller. He is a skilled catcher of the football, coming down with nearly everything that touches his hands. He is a weapon in the red zone, having the size, athletic ability, and body control to make circus catches look routine when the offense needs it most. He has already gained the favor of Ben and looks to be set up to take that big slot role from JuJu Smith-Schuster moving forward.
The Legacy Of Being A Pittsburgh Steelers Fan
So, the story goes that I was watching a Lions-Steelers preseason game back when I was seven years old, and I told my dad that I wanted to be a Lions fan because of my love for animals and dinosaurs at the time. My father, a Steelers fan since the early 70s, took me to the front porch and presented me the choice of either being a Steelers fan or being disowned and kicked out of my father’s house.
Needless to say, the decision was an easy one to make at seven, and looking back on it, that ultimatum saved be from a life of pain and misery being a Lions fan. Seriously though, I sometimes often forget how good we have it as Steelers fans. I have witnessed three Super Bowl appearances and two victories in my time as a fan, convinced I watched the great performance in Super Bowl history when James Harrison intercepted that pass and took it the distance before halftime or watching Ben drive the length of the field and throw that iconic pass to the back of the end zone at Santonio Holmes somehow comes down with inbounds to put Pittsburgh on top and win the big game.
While there have been plenty of moments of disappointment since that moment where I was convinced Pittsburgh could have gone farther than they did, I have to be content in the fact that plenty of NFL fans of other franchises don’t know what that feeling is like having their childhood team win it all. I live in a community full of Vikings fans, hearing them lament about how their team proceeds to always let them down.
Steeler Nation is something that cannot be replicated in all professional sports. Hearing Renegade come on the radio, seeing all those Terrible Towels twirl all game long, and watching iconic victories featuring Steelers legends have me coming back every Sunday to watch them play regardless of what I have going on. The Steelers began my passion of scouting college players, leading to me doing my own personal draft analysis every year which would eventually lead to this opportunity to contribute to Steelers Depot. I am incredibly blessed to be a part of such a good company, covering my childhood team and having the opportunity to connect with fellow Steelers fans like you.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the constant that has brought us all together from all walks of life, and for that, I give thanks.
What are your thoughts on the narratives presented above? What other narratives would you bring to the table regarding your thankfulness for being a Steelers fan? What is your story of becoming a Steelers fan or your iconic moment during your fandom? How has Steeler Nation brought you into contact and friendship with other Steelers fans? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!