When kicker Josh Brown connected on a 43 yard field goal in the final seconds to give Cincinnati a 13-10 victory over the Steelers in the next-to-last game of the 2012 regular season and eliminate Pittsburgh from the playoffs for the first time in three years, it was a pretty depressing feeling. At that moment, all the hopes and dreams of a postseason run were dashed, and Steeler Nation was faced with the start of the offseason much sooner than it is used to--and oh what an offseason it's been, filled personnel turnover, a little locker room drama, and the now dreaded "off the field issues."
In terms of personnel turnover, while that might be the norm for most teams each offseason, the Steelers were hit a little harder than most this time around.
Many wondered if the official last game of the 2012 season--a 24-10 defeat of the Browns at Heinz Field on December 30th--would be the final one for many long-time heroes and soon-to-be free agents.
Sadly, that proved to be the case.
Casey Hampton and Charlie Batch, both free agents after the season, were not signed to new deals. And on March 9th, the Steelers released James Harrison when the former Defensive Player of the Year refused to take a pay-cut. Free to sign with another team, Harrison couldn't find the offer he was looking for, and after being told the "door was closed" on a possible return to the Steelers, Harrison eventually signed with the Bengals for even less than he would have received in Pittsburgh after a pay-cut.
The free agency period in mid-March was another tough, if not unexpected, period for fans to endure. Within days of the official start of unrestricted free agency, three productive players picked fairly high in recent drafts--Rashard Mendenhall (first round, '08), Mike Wallace (third round, '09) and Keenan Lewis (third round, '09)--signed with other teams.
Personnel upheaval is one thing, but off-the-field incidents are quite another and can leave many fans feeling a little disillusioned.
Not even two weeks after the end of the regular season, on January 10th, Chris Rainey, the Steelers fifth round draft choice in 2012, was arrested in Florida for a domestic dispute and soon released by the team.
On June 1st, less than five months after the Rainey incident, another 2012 draft choice, Mike Adams, was attacked by three men and stabbed while hanging out in the South Side. Even though Adams was clearly the victim, that didn't stop people from lumping his attack in with the other off-the-field incidents the team has had to deal with in recent years.
In between those two incidents, we had locker room drama in the form of an anonymous player calling out LaMarr Woodley for being out of shape and injury prone the past two seasons. Ryan Clark then questioned the team's leadership and called the locker room "fractured."
But the good news is, we're less than a month from training camp, and we can put all this mess behind us.
Will there be more problems and drama during training camp and the regular season? Almost surely--Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley best buddies or sworn enemies?--but at least it will be football related, and oh yeah, at least there will be football.
Only 27 more days.........not that I'm counting or anything.