The Pittsburgh Steelers went 15-1 in 2004 and reached the conference finals. They won the Super Bowl the following year in 2005, and then won again in 2008. Even though there were some down years in between, with non-playoff seasons in 2006 and 2009, they were back in the big game in 2010. And they lost, to the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers.
And that was so much more than just a loss, for the Steelers and head coach Mike Tomlin. It was more than just a loss in the Super Bowl, as well. For a team with that recent resume, with the players on that roster, it was a pivot point that went the wrong way, as Tomlin reflected on during his appearance on The Pivot podcast with Ryan Clark, Fred Taylor, and Channing Crowder.
“When I sat down here in this room, and the gravity of that [hit], it was tough”, he said, speaking from his own home. “When it’s all moving and things of that nature, particularly when you’re leading, I can hide behind taking care of others. When I got home, when I got here, man, crazy”.
“You realize what’s lost. It’s more than a game, man. We’re talking about lifetime scholarships for people. We’re talking about gold jackets. We’re talking about a lot”, he went on. “We win that game, Hines [Ward] is in the Hall of Fame right now, for example. What it does in terms of rounding out the resumes of the men in that collective, man…”.
Hines Ward retired after the 2011 season after a 14-year playing career, all with the Steelers, with 1,000 receptions for 12,083 yards and 85 receiving touchdowns. He had another 88 career postseason receptions for 1,181 yards and 10 touchdowns. He had 14 receptions in Super Bowls for 244 yards and two touchdowns.
And if he had a third Super Bowl ring, along with his Super Bowl MVP trophy, then indeed, perhaps that would have been the tipping point that pushed his resume from the wrong side of the cusp to the right side. It’s hard to be a key player on three Super Bowl winners and not be in the Hall of Fame.
Two and three championships is often viewed as the difference between a winner and a dynasty. The Steelers fell just short of establishing themselves as a dynasty of the aughts thanks to Rodgers and Jordy Nelson and, yes, even Rashard Mendenhall.
Things got lean for the Steelers after that loss. They went 12-4 the following season, but were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Then they had two 8-8 years in which they didn’t even make it. in fact, they’ve only won three postseason games since that Super Bowl loss—placing even more weight upon the burden of the ramifications of what that has meant to those who were on that team, and for the organization.