It's been a disquieting week in Steeler Nation. Things ain't all that bad, but they certainly ain't all that good either. The playoffs are still a possibility and the team holds its fate in its own hands, with the likely deciding game coming this weekend at home against the Bengals. The 80th Anniversary celebration climaxes with the 40th Commemoration of the Immaculate Reception. But during a week when we observe both the coming of Christmas and the end of the world things are bound to get a bit complicated. The seemingly dead media manipulated Ben versus Todd conflict suddenly revived. And there is a lot of prickly talk about the quality of the coaching, leadership in the locker room, performance by key parties on the field, and on it goes. We all know (or should) that if a win comes this weekend without an accompanying rash of injuries or other disturbing issues then all is well. Merry Christmas, let's get those Browns, Happy New Year! Yes, there are some troubling questions and other issues, but they can wait until next year. Who do we have to molest in the playoffs? On the other hand if we lose to Cincinnati then in the minds of many the world really did end this weekend.
The Immaculate Reception
You can know a lot about Steelers football but without knowledge of the Immaculate Reception you just can't get it. The Old Testament without Exodus, Christianity without the Crucifixion, America without the Civil War, baseball without Jackie Robinson, something critical to understanding the essence would be missing. Rarely can we say that one event so neatly and profoundly distinguishes what preceded it and what followed. NFL Films presented their take on the 40th Anniversary of arguably the most remarkable play in football and perhaps all of sports this past Wednesday on the NFL Network. Significantly and proudly, our own Homer J. was part of that program, having been present and a witness of the event. Homer also provided a more detailed account of the day in his own words. And I also added my own perspective on that day as well as that of Hombre de Acero.
Ben and Todd
Who wasn't frustrated by the overtime loss to the Cowboys? Certainly quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can be included in that number. And as many of us can attest it is often unwise to open one's mouth when angry or frustrated. What is likely to come out may or may not be true, but will often not be politic. Ben gave what the media had been hoping for ever since Todd Haley was named the Steelers Offensive Coordinator, the opportunity to feast on the idea of a conflict between two strong personalities. The rest of the week has been an exercise in backtracking, as Mike Tomlin declared Ben's words to be just an exercise in frustration. Ben followed with an apology to the owner, his head coach, Haley and the team. And Haley declared the issue dead. Whether this issue has any life beyond the present moment will likely depend a great deal upon what occurs with the remaining games this season. Long term the situation may be rendered moot as Haley's name is coming up in conversations concerning other head coaching jobs around the league.
As Ben was attempting to patch things up running back Rashard Mendenhall seemed intent upon shoveling dirt on his own grave. Tomlin provided trap doors for both players, Ben took the opportunity, Mendenhall refused, insisting that his decision to not show up for the game against the Chargers was not an indiscretion fueled by frustration, but was, presumably a sober minded decision. That may very well be true, but the other scenario would have been best for all involved, including, perhaps especially Mendenhall.
Injuries? Of course. The football gods continue the cruel joke they have been playing on the Steelers. Just when Pittsburgh managed an infusion of not just talent but depth in their defensive secondary, one by one they have been cut down to the point where practice squad players have been summoned into starting roles. Manny Sanders took his turn among the wide receivers, damaging his ribs early in the Dallas game. Those Steelers consigned to Injured Reserve has expanded to two with the additions of Willie Colon and Marcus Van Dyke. But in spite it all the injury situation may be as bright as it has been all season which probably says more about how abysmal the rest of the year has been rather than how good things all now. On the positive side David DeCastro finally made it on the field to positive reviews and Kelvin Beachum continued to be respectable easing the loss of Colon. Sanders is expected to return to the lineup this week, as will Cortez Allen. Only the continued absence of Ike Taylor is an issue of great concern as the secondary must find a way to contain Andy Dalton and A J Green on Sunday.
Ike and Willie
They say you should be careful what you wish for. Earlier this season a number of Steelers fans and critics opined on this site and elsewhere that the team would be better off if Ike Taylor would begone. Well, how's that working out these days? The Post Gazette's Ron Cook weighs in declaring that Taylor may well be the second most indispensable Steeler behind only Ben Roethlisberger.
To me the most unfortunate aspect heading into Sunday's game besides the absence of Taylor is that of Colon. You'll recall in the first meeting between the two team's this season it was Willie's mauling of a Bengal's defender that turned the tide of the game emotionally. It would be nice to have him around.
And speaking of ill conceived sentiments, whipping on Mike Tomlin has also become sometime of the rage these days as well. Let me go out on a limb here and suggest that if you are thinking along those lines please review the sections above concerning speaking out of frustration and specifically as it relates to Ben's comments and especially the part about Ike Taylor. And you also might want to check this piece out.
In trying to maintain a positive perspective as we navigate this holiday season it is worth mentioning that while Ben was in dry dock due to his injury that the captaincy was transferred to center Maurkice Pouncey demonstrating the confidence and trust the he has earned in the Steeler locker room among both his fellow players and the coaches.
I started out saying that one present for Steeler Nation this holiday season was the 40th Anniversary of the Immaculate Reception. Another (besides a victory over Cincinnati) was mentioned last week. Dan Rooney resigned his position as United States Ambassador to Ireland and is returning to the team. Alan Robinson of the Tribune-Review reported last week that Rooney will resume duties as Chairman. Rooney has also been honored this week by the City of Pittsburgh. I'd say that was a pretty nice present for Steeler Nation.
Merry Christmas everyone.