Thanksgiving Night 2013 marked an eventful moment in the illustrious history of not only Mike Tomlin’s career, but the rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.
That night, in front of a national audience, then-Ravens’ All-Pro kick returner Jacoby Jones was racing down the left sideline along the Steelers’ bench with what appeared to be a kickoff return for a touchdown. Instead, Tomlin had veered too far out onto the field while watching the return on the Jumbotron, resulting in Jones slowing up and being tackled.
Of course, the incident earned Tomlin a $100,000 fine and plenty of grief from media members across the country, who lamented his alleged tactic in slowing down the dynamic returner.
“It’s just one of those unfortunate moments of life,” Tomlin said in 2020 prior to the Steelers-Ravens matchup nearing the seventh anniversary of the indecent, according to Ravens’ ESPN reporter Jamison Hensley. “I was watching the JumboTron and lost track of where I was. Such is life. I really don’t think about it too often at this juncture because I have more pressing business.”
Two years later, Tomlin still gets asked about. Appearing on The Pivot Podcast with hosts Ryan Clark, Channing Crowder and Fred Taylor, Tomlin addressed the incident with Jones, stating that he was simply watching the Jumbotron and didn’t see Jones at all until he saw himself on the Jumbotron and realized his error.
The incident occurred the Steelers had pulled to within six points at 13-7 following an eight-yard strike from Ben Roethlisberger to Emmanuel Sanders and an extra point from Shaun Suisham.
On the ensuing kickoff, Jones fielded the kickoff at the Ravens’ goal line and raced 73 yards down the Steelers’ sideline before Mike Tomlin popped out in front of him, eventually leading to a tackle from Cortez Allen that saved a touchdown. The tackle immediately drew a reaction from Jones, who, after popping up from the turf following the tackle, pointed at Mike Tomlin on the Steelers’ sideline, highlighting what had happened real time.
“People that know me and know the level of respect that I have for, for the game and the men that play it, then I don’t feel the need to explain it to them. And those that don’t know me, I just assume they think the worst to me. I don’t care, you know what I mean?” Tomlin said to Crowder, Clark and Taylor, kicking off the discussion on the infamous incident. “But man, like, heck no, man, I wasn’t interested in getting run over. It was one Jumbotron in that stadium and I like to see the contour of the coverage unit and the kick return unit come together.”
At this time, while watching the play unfold on the Jumbotron, Tomlin states that he simply had no idea Jones was actually running up the Steelers’ sideline, right towards him. Unbeknownst to what is happening behind him and simply watching on the big board in front of him, Tomlin continues to walk up the field, which happens to put him slightly in play.
Of course, that slowed Jones down and ignited controversy as Jones and the Ravens believed Tomlin did it intentionally looking for any type of winning edge the Steelers could find in the game. That drive after Jones’ return ended in a 38-yard field goal from Justin Tucker, ultimately resulting in a 22-20 win for the Ravens.
That simply wasn’t the case, per Tomlin.
“And I’m looking at, oh man, I’m walking at it and I’m looking and in my mind I’m thinking, ‘he’s going up their sideline’ because the Jumbotron picture is backwards. I didn’t realize I was in danger man, until I saw myself,” Tomlin said, according to video via The Pivot Podcast’s official YouTube page. “I saw myself on the Jumbotron. I dodged Jacoby because I saw myself. I never saw him.
“I saw myself as he was running down the sideline. I came into the Jumbotron, but it did make him step inside. And that gave a better angle for the tackle. Certainly I don’t deny that, but there’s a mistake that was made, and I paid a hundred thousand dollars for that mistake. Hey, that was a big ticket. Hey, you know what though? I paid a hundred thousand dollars for that.”
At least at this point in his career, Tomlin can look back on the gaffe and laugh. At the time it was rather embarrassing and put the Steelers in a bit of a negative light, but based on Tomlin’s explanation then, in 2020 and now, it wasn’t malicious in intent. He simply got caught in the moment watching the Jumbotron, rather than the action on the field, and made his way into the play accidentally.
Of course, it did make his pocketbook $100,000 lighter, and isn’t a mistake he’s likely to make ever again.