The Steelers seem like a much happier bunch following the offseason departures of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Coincidence? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Remember when the Pittsburgh Steelers were a circus? It seems like only yesterday, right?
Maybe that’s because it wasn’t so long ago that Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell were the stars of just about every headline related to the Steelers. Even after they left, they were still making noise, at least as it pertained to the shade they were throwing on their former team—namely, the general manager, head coach and quarterback.
It really wasn’t that long ago that I was defending the Steelers on social media while arguing with people—mostly non-fans who supported other franchises—who were laughing at the perceived circus/Dumpster fire/you name it they thought the team had become.
But it’s amazing the difference one day (or a few weeks) can make when changing the perception of a football team.
Maybe it’s my imagination, but don’t the Steelers seem more loving these days? Don’t they seem more joyous? A lot happier? A lot closer?
Instead of negative quotes, images and videos on social media, you’re seeing players yukking it up on the dance floor at Ryan Shazier’s wedding (speaking of joyous, heartwarming and dancing, has there been a better sight in recent weeks than that of Shazier dancing at his own wedding)? Negative rap songs by disgruntled former Steeler running backs have been replaced by terrible singing by happy current linebackers and receivers such as Anthony Chickillo and Ryan Switzer, respectively. Speaking of Switzer, he was recently spotted, along with B.J. Finney, dancing with sick kids at Children’s Hospital’s annual prom. Defensive end Cameron Heyward just celebrated his 30th birthday by hosting kids at his annual “Heyward House Birthday Bash.” Pittsburgh’s defenders were recently in the news for having a spirited cook-off won by defensive end Stephon Tuitt. Ben Roethlisberger just made headlines for inviting his skill position players down to his summer home in Georgia (before you say it, I know he does this with his teammates every year). Alejandro Villanueva and T.J. Watt, a left tackle and a linebacker he probably has to block a lot at training camp, recently went fishing together.
And, last but not least, receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster just continues to do many wonderful things with the world.
Yes, seeing the players so close-knit and happy is wonderful, even if this is behavior they most likely have engaged in in the past (see Roethlisberger’s annual get-togethers with teammates at his summer home). Unfortunately, perception is reality, and with Brown and Bell hogging most of the recent Steelers headlines, there simply wasn’t much oxygen left to allow the good news to emanate from the locker room.
Maybe that’s what head coach Mike Tomlin was trying to convey recently with his “cleansing” comment regarding the departures of both Brown and Bell.
Does this cleansing—this clearing out of all the stuffy, negative air—mean the Steelers will win a championship in 2019? It’s obviously impossible to tell. However, when you see Brown in the headlines for saying goodbye to the murals at his old Pittsburgh home, it makes you realize how, well, “unique” he may have been to deal with in the Steelers locker room. When you see Bell still in the news for perhaps not being fully embraced by new Jets’ head coach Adam Gase, you wonder if controversy will forever be a part of his career (although, in all fairness, it’s kind of hard to blame Le’Veon for that one).
To paraphrase Tomlin regarding Brown’s insubordinate behavior that often included being late to meetings: “We will tolerate his behavior until his play on the field dictates that we shouldn’t.” Obviously, Brown is still very much at the top of his game. And even though he hasn’t played a down since 2017, Bell likely is, too. But this doesn’t mean championships can’t be won without them.
Legendary actor Marlon Brando was notorious for being hard to work with. Same for current actor Christian Bale, who is considered to be one of the most talented at his craft. But that doesn’t mean great movies couldn’t be made without them—Titanic was still a great film, even without Bale, who was in the running to play Jack Dawson before Leo grabbed the part.
Again, the love and joy that has seemingly overtaken the locker room on the South Side may not lead to a title—plenty of close-knit teams come up short every year. But if it does, it sure will make for a great narrative for a future America’s Game film involving the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers.