Sorry for yet another story from me, but Michael is really busy down in Texas, and asked some of us to help pick up the slack. I decided to write about another one of the players whose name comes up very frequently when you Google "Steelers."
Little did I know last spring when putting together my mock drafts by BLA (Best-Looking Available) that I was passing up an absolute jewel. For one thing, Maurkice Pouncey, unlike almost every #1 draft pick for the Steelers in recent memory, not only contributed in his first year, but was the starter from the beginning of the season, displacing the center for the 2008 Super Bowl-winning team. This same rookie was in serious discussion for the Rookie of the Year award and made the Pro Bowl. But more to the point, in my search for cheesecake photos, I missed not only his outer but his inner beauty.
For the first time this season, Maurkice has been the subject of anxiety to Steeler Nation. As pretty much everyone in the world with an internet connection knows, he was injured during the first quarter of the AFC Championship Game. And not just any injury, either - he had to be helped off the field with what turned out to be a high ankle sprain. (It was later reported that he also has a broken bone in his ankle. Or his foot. Or maybe neither. Or maybe there is just something "floating around in there," as Mike Tomlin said. However you spin it, that doesn't improve matters.) After he showed up to last Wednesday's practice in a hard cast, everybody except Pouncey himself wrote him off for the Super Bowl. But it is possible that the rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated. Maurkice was at Media Day, minus the hard cast, and gave himself a 75% chance to play. Whether he does actually manage to play on Sunday or not, this is clearly a young man who is not discouraged by obstacles.In the press conference given the day after the Steelers drafted him, one of the questions asked was the following:
Your offensive line coach said you are an energy giver, not an energy taker – can you explain that?
I think he is talking about how I never have a down day. I always come in smiling no matter what happens. I guess I am the kind of guy that everyone likes to be around. It kind of started with my dad, he always got on us about being good people to everyone else and we just took it and ran with it.
The father of whom Pouncey speaks is actually his step-father, but he didn't know that for many years. His mother became pregnant with him and his twin brother Mike at age 18, and shortly after the twins were born the biological father disappeared. But Robert Webster, a man with dreams of playing professional football, came on the scene, and by the time the twins were one year old he was the only father they knew. Webster trained the boys, teaching them the value of hard work, and they blossomed under his tutelage. Webster was quoted by Les Carpenter in a December 2 2010 article for Yahoo Sports:
"I got a chance to live my dream through them," Webster says. "I had a chance to give them everything I know: to tell them to get their grades up, to teach them to eat right, to put them in the swimming pool and train them right. I was like father-coach to them."
Maurkice bears the visible evidence of what his parents mean to him on his arms. When he and Mike decided to get tattoos, Mike got flames. Maurkice got a portrait of his mom on one arm and of his dad on the other. As Mike says of Webster, "Without him we wouldn't be who we are now."
The work ethic installed in the boys by their stepfather has really paid off for Maurkice. Sean Kugler, Offensive Line Coach, was startled to discover Pouncey coming in on Tuesdays, the players' day off, to study film. This habit began at Florida - Maurkice and Mike would require the other linemen to show up for study sessions beyond what the coaches were allowed to require. Kugler (quoted in the same Les Carpenter article) marvels at Maurkice's determination:
Where did this come from? Kugler wonders. Coaches love nothing more than a player who seems to learn from his mistakes, understanding what he did wrong and correcting the problem so it doesn’t happen again. Maurkice always fixes his mistakes, never repeating them.
"He’s special," Kugler says.
Center is a position that has a distinguished history in Pittsburgh. As John Romano of the St. Petersburg Times says here:
In Pittsburgh they replace Pro Bowl centers with Hall of Fame centers. They replace icons with landmarks. Since the mid 1960s, there have been roughly the same number of Pittsburgh centers as U.S. presidents, and typically they've had higher approval ratings... For the most part, the Steelers have survived with six starting centers the past 45 years. A handful of others have filled in for a dislocated elbow here or a torn hamstring there, but the lineage is pretty well-defined.
As much as I would love to see Maurkice anchoring our line at the Super Bowl, I'm happy to delay the gratification if it means seeing him as our center for many years to come. That said, almost nothing would surprise me about this young man, including super healing powers, and we may see him on the field on Sunday. Once again I take my hat off to Kevin Colbert and his crew, and I am extremely thankful that he didn't heed my draft advice.