A lot went into the Pittsburgh Steelers’ last win that goes so much further than just football. And it changed over the course of the week. It went from a celebration of Steelers legend Franco Harris and the impact he made on the franchise and on NFL history 50 years ago to suddenly a memorial as much as anything.
Instead of him being there himself, he was represented by his family. And by defensive captain Cameron Heyward before the game, who was chosen to run out of the tunnel bearing a flag with Harris’ famous number 32 on it. It could hardly have been anybody else, as head coach Mike Tomlin explained.
“Cam’s the right man for just about all circumstances, and not only because of his experience but just because of his leadership and his playmaking ability and his commitment to this organization, his community service”, he said on the Mike Tomlin Show. “He’s repeatedly our Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee for those reasons, and those reasons are why he’s a guy that’s appropriate to bear the flag”.
I think he made that plain as day with his post-game reaction, which was one of just pure emotional relief. The Steelers and everything the organization stands for has become so ingrained into Heyward’s own identity as a point of pride.
Of course, Pittsburgh has long been a special city for the Heyward family. It’s where he was born, and where his dad played college football. He seemed destined to become a Steeler, and fortunately for Pittsburgh, the 2011 NFL Draft was pretty loaded. In just about any other year, he would have been gone, if not long gone, by 31.
Heyward will be one of those generational players, like Harris, who transcends eras for the Steelers. Those who come along 20 years from now will know who he is. He’ll probably be in the building trying to coach up the newcomers in the ‘Steeler way’.
And that’s a way that applies both on and off the field, in the locker room and in the community. Yes, he has the stats, over 600 career tackles, nearing 80 sacks, eight forced fumbles, 45 batted passes, a couple of interceptions even.
But it’s Heyward the man as much if not more than Heyward the player who was selected to be the man to represent the organization and to do justice to Harris’ legacy and memory, both for the organization and for the city itself. The team could hardly ask for a better representative. He checks all the boxes.