Diving right into the headlines, much has changed since the 2011 Jersey Rules were forged, once again, over beers and observations outside Heaquarters, on the plaza at Target Field in Minneapolis.
Variations of rules were discussed intensely (at one point nearly coming to blows). Modifications were put through the ultimate test; standing out in the crowd for good reasons in the public.
And the rule the Committee did not expect to discuss, but passed upon strong recommendation from family men and women; The Child Rule.
For those Book of Revelations fans among us, this is, in some interpretations of the Bible, the fourth sign of the Apocalypse, my first child is due January 26, 2013.
I don't believe it's a coincidence this due date falls smack dab in the middle of the off-week between the conference championships and the Super Bowl. The date itself suggests - mandates - the purchase and adornment of an infant-sized jersey to be worn by Child No. 1 upon his/her first trip home.
That, of course, means a rule must be written. But first things first. Let's highlight the past Jersey Rules.
Last year, the Jersey Rules Committee was caught in the quagmire of lockouts and unknown contract situations. Was LaMarr Woodley going to play through his franchise tag? The uncertainty of his future in Pittsburgh drove the value of his contract down, but he immediately shot up to Qualifying status the second his extension was announced.
What about Lawrence Timmons? Fit all Committee-established criteria, but without the contract, which he did not have in place at the time of publication, Timmons was given a "Don't Buy" rating (just like The Bluth Corporation).
Despite a lack of contract extension (at that point), SS Troy Polamalu was given a Qualifiers rating, as was Heath Miller, Maurkice Pouncey and Ziggy Hood. RB Rashard Mendenhall was given an Avoid rating (changed to "Don't Buy" in 2012), as was Aaron Smith.
Why? The answer lies somewhere in these rules.
The Oversaturation Rule: "While allowable, it is discouraged to buy the jersey(s) of the most popular player(s)."
This is kept as a rule in name form, but is generally treated more as a guideline. It was determined last year impending salary cap constraints, and the influx of younger players led the market to become top-heavy. Due to the fact so many younger players were going to quickly become the catalyst of the future Steelers, it would inherently create a paradox between Oversaturation and The Wary Rookie Rule (more on that in a minute). The Committee decided to favor more of the guys who fit all criteria, even at the risk of creating an oversaturated market.
Hence a big reason why, once again, Woodley is a Qualifier.
The Bandwagon Rule (Silverback Clause): "A breakout Steelers player will emerge every year. Find the breakout player before he breaks out. Conversely, be careful not to join the masses in buying his jersey a year too late."
Named for James Harrison, who, in 2004, was concrete evidence behind how a true fan could have spotted his future success, thus demonstrating a perfect opportunity to get the right jersey at the right time.
The Bandwagon Rule involves quite a bit of risk, but it's the ultimate challenge for a true fan. What's exciting about this season is the dearth of candidates for this has arguably never been higher. RB Isaac Redman (angels chorus) becomes a first-time Qualifier because of this rule. Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen (Qualifier), future outstanding defensive backs in the NFL fit this rule.
The Commitment Rule (Dermontti Dawson Clause): "A player has to be assured of being on the team for at least another few years."
This rule hamstrung the Committee the entire offseason, but 2011 showed why it's in place. Hines Ward, the jersey of one Committee member since 2001 (Bandwagon Rule), is no longer on the team, therefore, he must seek his first new jersey in 11 years. But the rule is in place for a reason. The Ward jersey has been placed in a vaccuum-sealed bag and will be hung on display for future generations to marvel in and revere.
With a few Steelers getting contract extensions recently, but with so many no longer around, the Commitment Rule forces us to put our Kevin Colbert hats on and really think about the direction of this roster.
The Throwback Rule (The Steel Curtain Clause): "A former player reaches Throwback Status when he has been retired from the league for five years, or has been off the team for three years, played somewhere else and has just retired (aka the Rod Woodson Clause)." A corollary to this is Recyclization, which is continuing to wear the jersey of a player before the five-year mark, and claiming it's a Throwback.
Ladies and gentlemen, the criteria for Throwback Status are clear. Ward is not throwback-eligible. James Farrior is not throwback-eligible (nor should duct tape be placed over his name, and the name "Spence" be written over it).
Some would argue it's an honor to continue wearing the same jersey. The Committee's official stance is while that act can be seen as honorable, its true intention is to avoid spending more money. The hard and fast stance is it takes some investment to be a fan. This is also the reason why the Committee does not endorse the purchase of multiple jerseys, and highly recommends the purchase of one that can be worn for at least the next few seasons.
Throwbacks are always the most popular, however. There are myriad options from which to choose, the most popular this season should be that of one Joseph Eugene "J-Peezy" Porter, who, upon his official retirement, will be Steelers Throwback eligible.
The Wary Rookie Rule (Troy Edwards Clause): "Caveat Emptor (buyer beware) in purchasing a rookie's jersey - in particular, the first-round choice. While it does fit the Commitment Rule, and the Steelers are known for an excellent track record selecting in the first round, it does not guarantee future success, but rather, suggest less than adequate research was done. The player hasn't proved himself yet, fans should encourage him to be among the team before becoming a standout on the team."
This rule was the most fiercely contested among Committee members. The excitement and sense of hope brought on by OG David DeCastro harkens us back to the days of a rookie named Maurkice Pouncey.
In the end, though, the rule remains in place. This is easily the rule broken most often, but that does not mean it isn't important.
Just keep in mind, you can return a jersey, perhaps getting your money back. But you can never unbuy it. Violations of the rule bring with it mental anguish as well. Let the rookies develop into future Qualifiers.
The Pirates Rule (Dress the Part Clause): "The cheaper alternative is rarely the better alternative. Buy the real thing."
The Committee would also like to announce the name of this rule will be changed next year due to it being the second consecutive year the Pirates were relevant at the time of publication. The Andrew McCutchen Rule, perhaps?
That really strays from the point. To be blunt, do not buy the jersey from the web site that has dashes in its name and claims to be "NFL quality." If it is, it's because whomever runs the site got their hands on the mistakes, and they're selling you a $30 product that wasn't good enough to be a full-price product.
The Committee does not require the purchase of an authentic, sewn-on jersey. If that's your thing, then go for it, but the screen-printed official copies are perfectly acceptable. What isn't acceptable, however, is to have the name plate on the back over four inches from center, or the stripes to be out of sequence on the sleeve.
Yes, it's noticeable. Do not even try to pretend it's not. Save up the extra $50 (difference between the knockoff and the real one) and buy the real thing.
The Baby Rule (name to be changed this time next year): We really did not come up with an iron-clad rule for this. The Committee's general lack of knowledge on the subject of newborns and infants and all those different age stages gets exposed quite a bit. What the Committee does know is kids grow. A lot. It's been advised a year-to-year purchase is likely, as is the constant presence of puke on the front part of the jersey.
Some even went as far as to suggest the purchase of an infant's Shaun Suisham jersey for that reason. But that's not very nice. For the time being, the Baby Rule will apply to babies (whatever age range that is, I'm sure the Committee will learn as the months go on), and it essentially turns every other rule off except The Pirates Rule (Dress The Part). We will not waver from our commitment to the display of the real thing.
In a complete 180 (and possibly a mistake in retrospect), the recommended jersey of 2011, WR Mike Wallace, heads the list of Don't Buys in 2012. The Committee was confident in its selection last year, but just like Timmons in 2011, the lack of contract next season is troubling. The Committee does feel an 11th hour deal is coming, but for now, we recommend against the purchase of a Wallace jersey in 2012.
This does not mean a Wallace jersey cannot be worn. Any current player and appropriate throwback jersey can be worn, but buying one now may not be the wisest course of action.
Same for Casey Hampton (nearly guaranteed final season), Brett Keisel (could very well be a cap casualty in 2013), James Harrison (same as Keisel) and Rashard Mendenhall (final year of his rookie deal, impressive crop of far cheaper running backs behind him).
We've already mentioned Woodley and Timmons as Qualifiers. Joining them is SS Troy Polamalu. After speaking on his desire to become a leader on the team in wake of the departure of so many leaders, it's really becoming difficult to suggest one can see enough of Polamalu.
QB Ben Roethlisberger is heading into perhaps his pivotal year as a passer and a leader. Gone is his BFF Bruce Arians and with him, the aerial assault that garnered so few points last season. In his place is a highly demanding but successful offensive coach who will push him incredibly hard. He deserves the support of Steeler Nation.
The changes in the offensive philosophy may trouble the quarterback (and perhaps they should), but one man who should benefit the most is TE Heath Miller. The team's unsung hero, arguably its MVP in 2011, Miller is poised to reap some benefits of his outstanding receiving skills. His fans scream "HEEEAAATTTHHH!" each time he catches the ball, and that will be plenty often this season.
For all the work he's put in since being given a tryout with the Steelers, coming off a good career at Division II Bowie State, Isaac Redman is being given the keys to his significant financial future. He's worked his way up from the practice squad to become the Steelers starting running back (assuming Mendenhall is unable to start the year on the active roster, which is very possible). Redman is a guy who makes the most of his opportunities and could get first crack at running behind the revamped offensive line in Pittsburgh.
Speaking of that line, C Maurkice Pouncey probably has more to gain than anyone else. With the quickness of DeCastro and LG Willie Colon to his right and left, respectively, Pouncey won't be drawn off his position to provide help nearly as often as he was in 2011. He'll be able to do what he does best, which is reach the second level, and help seal off pursuing tacklers on outside runs (led by the pulling DeCastro and/or Colon). He should prove his naysayers wrong, and set himself up nicely for his future employment with the team.
Despite coming perilously close to Oversaturation status, WR Antonio Brown is a very likable guy. He works his butt off and it's hard not to root for a former 6th round pick, especially when he ended up being the guy the Steelers traded Santonio Holmes for in 2010. One concern is his restricted free agent status in 2013 (see: Wallace, Mike, 2011), but it's tough where we stand now to not see him in the team's future.
Coming out of absolutely nowhere, the Committee is pulling a Lloyd Christmas, and going with its gut on this one. His background fits perfectly with what we love about this team; a small-school guy, middle-round pick but great individual skills. He didn't even play high school football until he was senior - a SENIOR - but was named Class 3A All State in Florida anyway.
He moved onto that small school and became an all-conference player. He tested well at the Combine, after having earned an invitation after a great week at the East-West game.
He ground his way through one hurdle after another until the Steelers picked him up in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, despite having two veteran starters at his position, and having drafted two other players at his position - including one in the third round of that same draft - in the previous two years.
Surprising as it was, then, he was the one lined up across Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez when the Steelers went to six defensive backs in a Week 8 contest. He looked good, too. Very good. Tom Brady didn't fail to recognize the fact a rookie was covering one of his better offensive options. He just couldn't get the ball to him.
This guy is going somewhere. He's a hard worker. He fits every practical Jersey Rule.
He is No. 28 CB Cortez Allen.