Rashard Mendenhall's sudden retirement isn't really that surprising.
To anyone that followed his career, his retirement-down to the way he did it-followed suit with many of his actions during his college and football careers.
The 5-11, 210 pound bruiser possessed obvious talent that was realized during his junior year at Illinois and at times during his now finalized NFL career. He at times ran with devastating force that left defenses helpless. He was the best running back in college football his junior year at Illinois, when he rushed for 1,681 yards for a 6.4 yards per carry average with 17 touchdowns. He tallied nearly 2,000 total yards and led the Fighting Illini to the Rose Bowl.
Mendenhall recorded consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in Pittsburgh after being drafted in the first round in 2008. He rushed for 1,273 yards and 13 touchdowns for the Steelers during their run to Super Bowl XLV. He was the workhorse in the team's 24-17 win over the Jets in the AFC Championship, knifing through New York's defense for 121 yards and a touchdown. He set the tone and helped Pittsburgh jump out to a 24-0 halftime lead.
He had several "Jerome Bettis" kind of games, games where the Steelers essentially jumped on his back and rode Mendenhall to victory. He gained 143 yards on 19 carries against Tampa Bay to help Pittsburgh advance to 3-0 while Ben Roethlisberger severed his four-game suspension to start the 2010 campaign.
Mendenhall powered through the Bills defense for 151 yards on 36 carries in the team's overtime win at Buffalo later that season. His forceful running helped the Steelers nearly climb out of a 21-3 hole against the Packers in Super Bowl XLV. Premier running backs deliver when their team gives them the ball to either win a game of change its momentum, and, on several occasions, Rashard Mendenhall was able to deliver.
But Mendenhall's career was also marred with inconsistencies and controversy. He had just nine 100-yard games in parts of five seasons in Pittsburgh; Jerome Bettis twice recorded 10 100-yard games in a single season. On many occasions, a strong performance by Mendenhall would be followed by a mediocre one. While that's certainly not all on him (and by his own admittance, football players shouldn't solely be judged on statistics), elite running backs don't let themselves be taken out of games by opposing defenses as much as Mendenhall did.
There was also the controversial moments. There were reports he didn't get along with former Illinois coach Ron Zook. Pittsburgh fans remember his tweet regarding Osama bin Ladin and 9/11 conspiracies. And there was Super Bowl XLV.
As well as Mendenhall played in that game and during that season, his momentum-changing fumble after a jarring hit by Packers linebacker Clay Matthews was the biggest play of Super Bowl XLV. Trailing by only four points and in Packers territory, the Steelers had all the mojo. The fumble led to a Green Bay touchdown, and now trailing by 11 points, the Steelers needed to abandon their productive rushing attack in favor of a quicker-paced offense to make up for the lost points.While Pittsburgh did eventually cut the deficit to three points, the deficit proved to large to overcome.
Like Bam Morris before him, Mendenhall's departure in 2012 led the way for the Steelers to draft a successor that could prove to be a superior player for the long haul. Pittsburgh now has Le'Veon Bell, who should build off of his record-breaking rookie season that saw him set the franchise record for most total yards by a Steelers running back.
Rashard Mendenhall was aloof and unpredictable; you never knew what to expect from his on or off the field. That's why his retirement and the way he did it is so fitting. But for all the inconsistencies and controversy, he was a solid player that often performed well and helped the Steelers reach a Super Bowl. But just as he was as a player, Mendenhall's legacy to Steelers fans is just as unpredictable. And that might be just the way Rashard Mendenhall likes it.