An Appreciation of the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers

Really, Steeler fans! Take a deep breath. We're almost two weeks removed from the Tebow ass whipping, so there's some perspective. I know, it felt like an ass whipping, but the truth is we went on the road - with tons of injuries – incurred more injuries -- and still made a great comeback to take it to OT. Disappointing, yes. However, there is no reason to set your hair on fire (a difficult maneuver, in my case). We shouldn’t deep six excellent players (certain high salaried vets excepted) and fine coaches (Ariens excepted). We had a great run against great odds.

Enough of that. You get my drift. Injuries were the big story of the year and still, this team sucked it up and won ball games. 12-4. Reserves not only filled in, they played well. They played often, beyond expectations; sometimes, beyond my imagination. They made plays and contributed to victories in meaningful ways. I love this team and I think with some off season moves to get younger, faster and better (hear me, OL) and a little luck, a seventh Lombardi might be attainable next year.

The very injuries which kept us from greatness this year created opportunities for young players to shine. Others, previously described on this site as worthless or terrible, produced at levels no one thought possible. So here’s some love for the men:

Willie Gay. Man, I love it when a dude like Wille keeps his head down, keeps trying and breaks through. He had a pick which sealed a win. His inside coverage was stellar. While his work outside will not place him with Blount and Woodson, it was very much improved. Remember, McFadden was the starter coming out of Latrobe, but was hurt. Willie took the job and kept it. Willie is a real Steeler and I love him.

Antonio Brown. Hearken back to pre-season. AB was the 4th WR. He won that job. He pushed past Hines (not so easy). Sanders injury created the opportunity, but this kid would have beat him out regardless. AB is the hardest worker on the team. The last half of the season, he was our no. 1 receiver. He catches almost everything. AB, who grew up fast, kicked out of his home at age 16. Now, in his second year, voted MVP by his teammates, playing a position where most players don’t break out until their 3rd year. AB is real man, a real Steeler and I love him.

Big Ben. What needs to be said about 7? He went back into the Cleveland game. For all you geezers like me, that was a Willis Reed moment. He played the SF game on one leg. Every week he comes to play and will do anything to win. I don’t know how he is outside the lines, but on the field, he is a warrior and one damn fine QB. He is a true Steeler and I love him.

Marcus Gilbert. He’s not an all-pro as a rookie like Florida teammate Pouncey, but he did a nice job. He wasn’t supposed to start. Willie Colon went down in the first game and Marcus was pressed into service. At camp, he was not as motivated as he should have been. Maurkice took care of that –– showed him the Steeler way. Marcus not only started all year, he had to fill in at LT when Max was injured during the year. Was he stellar? No, but he learned and improved. He’s now considered the LT of the future. He played hard and well on the fractured OL. In one game) he returned to the play with a separated shoulder after his sub went down with an injury. Good job, rook! Marcus is a real Steeler and I love him.

Steve McClendon. This due was a undrated free agent who has been released five times. Five times. Filled in capably for Big Snack and Hokey. I thought we were really screwed when both Casey and Hokey were hurt, but Steve did a great job. He may never be a full time starter, but his unsung contributions this year were large. Stevie Mac is a true Steeler and I love him.

Cam Heyward. The front office did great with pick. Rookies rarely play much on the Pittsburgh defense. Troy didn’t. Timmons didn’t. Ziggy didn’t. It took Deebo years to do it. Cam played a fair number of snaps and played more as the injuries mounted. He played every snap in Denver after Keisel and Casey went down in the 1st quarter. Cam played well at a position where almost nothing buy attentiveness is expected your first year. Ironhead’s kid is a real Steeler and I love him.

Ryan Mundy. Keenan Lewis. Curtis Brown. Under the coaching of Carnell Lake, these guys stepped it up. Mundy played well in relief of both Troy and Clark. Kennan Lewis, much like Willie Gay, kept learning, kept fighting, didn’t get discouraged when the fans called him a washout. Curtis Brown played a lot for a rookie corner. These guys were all integral to the NFL’s no. 1 pass defense. (I may never get used to saying that). Cortez Allen will join this group if his special team play translate to his position. These guys are true Steelers and I love them. Mundy, Lewis and Brown are real Steelers and I love them.

Isaac Redman. You all know this story. Undrafted free agent. Super replacement after Mendenhall blows out his knee. This is our guy and he is as great as we thought he was. Ike is a true Steeler and we all love him!

The Mentors. The above players and certainly others who haven’t been mentioned accomplished a 12-4 record despite a ridiculous number of injuries (plus Deebo’s suspension and Clark’s Denver situation) was possible because the veterans show the way. Read Jim Wexell’s piece on Hokey to get a glimpse of what Chris Hoke means to Stevie McLendon on and off the field. I had tears in my eyes when I read this piece. Wexell on Hokey . What did Hines Ward mean to Young Money – Wallace, Brown and Sanders? Ryan Clark didn’t sulk about not being able to play – he got Mundy ready to play. Maurkice Pouncey, only a second year player straightened out Gilbert. Willie Colon helped too. Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel helped develop Ziggy and Cam.

These are your 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers. Not Super Bowl champions . . . this year. But they are proud men and the achieved what could be achieved this year. I love them as much, if not more, than our Super Bowl teams. As long as I watch football, I hope we have Steelers like these. They are why being a Steeler fan is special and so important to us. God bless these guys – Lombardi no. 7, here we come!

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