Steelers fans have had many unsatisfying relationships with their running backs since the legendary Jerome Bettis retired. As BTSC reader Whiskerando pointed out a few days ago, his style is what the fan base has been yearning for since he called it a career. The Bus was big, menacing and a total nightmare for any opposing defender who dared to try and take him on.
Bettis was the perfect running back for Pittsburgh and Steelers fans.
Unfortunately, Bettis was one in a million, and the many suitors who have come along since have failed to woo the fans into falling in love with the running game, once again.
Just look at what happened to Willie Parker, who was the man after Bettis. Fast Willie was the sweetest guy in the world, and he tried to please the fans as best he could, rushing for over 4000 yards in his three full seasons as a starter. But he was much smaller than Bettis and ran outside a bit too often for the fans' taste. Despite the production and the effort by Parker, all he ever heard from us was, "That's not how Jerome used to do it."
Next came Rashard Mendenhall. He was big, fast and pretty darn sexy, as far as running backs are concerned. Mendenhall could have been the back to fill the void left behind by the Bus. He rushed for 3300 yards in three full seasons as a starter and was perhaps the MVP of the 2010 AFC Championship Game, in-which he gained 121 yards on the ground and scored a touchdown in the Steelers 24-19 victory.
Only problem was, fans never liked Mendenhall's rushing style, as he danced around a bit too much, rarely hit the hole properly and, oh yes, he fumbled in the Super Bowl (the football equivalent of calling your woman fat and ugly).
At the end of the day, Mendenhall was too much of a know-it-all and not emotionally available enough for the fans to accept him and for the relationship to grow.
That was one ugly break-up.
In addition to Parker and Mendenhall, other running backs have tried to be "the one" we'd fall in love with. From Isaac Redman, to Jonathan Dwyer, to Baron Batch and Chris Rainey, several backs have whispered sweet nothings in our collective ear, only to leave us disappointed time and time again.
That brings me to you, Le'Veon Bell. That's right, I'm talking directly to you. Much like many romances in the modern era, fans have taken to the Internet to find the next great Steelers back.
Thanks to injuries, we haven't seen much of you since Pittsburgh selected you in the second round out of Michigan State in the most recent NFL Draft. However, the coaches tell us you looked great in training camp, and your profile? It highlights key words and phrases like "Big bruising back," and "North-south runner."
Could this be the real thing? We sure would like to think so.
Just like a woman who has been talking to a man on Match.com but has yet to meet him, fans have been building you up ever since your first practice, Le'Veon.
As far as many of us are concerned, you're the perfect running back. You'd never run outside, dance around or fumble. You'll always be disciplined, in shape and never injured--the bruised knee and sprained foot probably came from saving a litter of puppies (fans like to fantasize when they're falling in love).
Parker and Mendenhall's production? Whatever. Dwyer's potential? Big deal. Redman's cult-like status? He had his chance.
Le'Veon, fans are certain you're the one this time. Sure, you were a second round pick, but you probably would have been picked number one if someone believed in you like we do.
From your perspective, much like the guy in the Match.com relationship who is only thinking about the woman's awesome body, you're probably just happy and proud that you made the NFL, right, Le'Veon? Sure you are. However, you have no idea what you're in for.
Your profile is awesome and it seems like a perfect fit--the Steelers are utilizing more of a zone blocking scheme this season, and you ran in a zone blocking system in college--but, just like two people who meet online, having things in common is one thing. Having chemistry is another story, and there is no way to know that until you meet face-to-face.
Chances are, you may have a tendency to dance around too much, and you may even fumble a time or two. Heck, you might even hit the wrong hole on a running play.
What happens then?
While it seems like things are going swimmingly, in any new relationship, it's always best to be aware of your surroundings. Right now, Steelers fans have a new platonic friend named Felix Jones. You might think it's an innocent relationship--after all, he was low on the Eagles depth chart and was acquired in a trade for Adrian Robinson--and he might seem like any other backup running back, but just like most men in platonic relationships, running backs are only interested in one thing: Starting.
If you've learned anything from this piece, Le'Veon, it's that we Steelers fans are a fickle bunch. Need proof? Right in the middle of Parker's productive seasons, we had a fling with Najeh Davenport.
I know, ewww, right?
The coaches tell us that sprained foot will force you to miss the regular season opener against the Titans. Another week for the love we have for you to grow? Perhaps, but right now, Redman is planning on whispering sweet nothings in our ear one last time. If I were you, I wouldn't wait too long for that first cup of coffee with fans.
Can't wait to finally meet you, Le'Veon, but make sure you look your Sunday best.
Love is fleeting.......at least with Steelers running backs.