Yes, it was time, I guess.
At times like this the lucky ones are those who pretty much just root for the uniforms. Others, myself included, have a much harder time separating the uniforms from those who occupy them.
A good part of the joy and sorrow of following this team for over more than a decade has been rooting for the individuals on the team, particularly those who have been a constant presence like Aaron, Hines and James. But one of the hard and inevitable parts of this business is when men like them have to be told that they can no longer participate in the quest.
I won’t try to add to the fine tributes that have already been registered, other than to say that the joy and responsibility falls on all of us to relay to future generations of fans who they were and what they meant to the legacy of excellence that is Steelers football.
Since each of these players was near or at the end of the line, replacing them on the field may not be that difficult; although, many will agree that in some respects, they are irreplaceable. Harder to accomplish - and in many ways more important - will be finding replacements in the area of leadership. Somebody will, but the question is how well.
For eight years, James Farrior has been captain of the defense. Who steps into that role, now? Woodley and Timmons seem too young at this point, Casey maybe too old and is not an every down player. Harrison and Ike don't seem to have the temperament. Troy has had the luxury to not have to take on that responsibility, but he might now. However, my vote would go to union rep Ryan Clark. While Clark would likely step into the role of captain, far more was lost when you consider the locker room presence of both Smith and Chris Hoke. Troy, Deebo, LaMarr, Casey, Ziggy and Larry Foote, if he is still around, will all have to step up.
On offense, a lot of the leadership burden falls on Ben. Maurkice Pouncey and Willie Colon are possibilities, as are Heath Miller, Jerricho Cotchery and Charlie Batch (if the last two are re-signed). And though young, look for Antonio Brown to step up eventually as well.
At the time, it probably seemed unlikely that leaders like Jerome Bettis, Joey Porter, Alan Faneca and Jeff Hartings could be adequately replaced, but they were and the new group led the team to two additional Super Bowl appearances. The Cowher era and pre-Colbert Steelers are on their way out. Tomlin era players will increasingly have to step into high profile leadership roles. And wouldn't it be interesting if one of the new leaders was also a free agent pickup from the Jets.
What are your thoughts?