Let's start this week with a huge thank you to the BTSC community. First to Steel Spike for starting the ball rolling on the get to know you thread, and for everyone in the community who took the time to share a bit of themselves with the rest of us. For someone who feels fortunate to be able to make regular contributions here and often wonders who, beyond the folks who regularly comment and post, is actually reading this stuff, it has been an invaluable, eye opening, humbling and encouraging exercise. If you haven't done so, I would urge you to visit that thread, add your two cents if you are so inspired and get some insight as to who your neighbors are in this particular corner of Steeler Nation.
Our first item this week is related to the general topic of getting to know Steeler Nation.Steelers.com reported on the Steelers fan camps conducted last weekend in Mexico City. There were two events, an adult session on day one and a camp for kids on the second day. Representing the Steelers were Brett Keisel, James Harrison, Emmanuel Sanders, Charlie Batch, Ryan Mundy,Tunch Illkin and Craig Wolfley. They were clearly stunned by the size and enthusiasm of the people who greeted them in Mexico. Attendance at the adult event was nearly 600, while the youth camp drew nearly 300.
The piece on Steelers.com not only includes an account of the weekend but a photo slideshow and a video. I highly recommend the video because it shows something that you just don't see every day. Knowledgeable fans are aware that Troy Polamalu has participated in crowd surfing from time to time. Well, have you ever seen Deebo crowd surf? It's different. As are most things involving Harrison, a bit frightening. When he dives onto the crowd it just sort of sags at first and...trust me, you have to see it. There is also this part of the piece where he's wearing a sombrero.
From the player and alumni comments it is fair to say that they were surprised by what greeted them in Mexico City. At first blush this thing feels a little counter intuitive. Pushing past the fact that there is this level of intense interest in a foreign country, one could certainly understand if they were pumped up for, say, the Dallas Cowboys given the geographic realities. But the Steelers? As I read the stories of how many of the participants of BTSC came to be part of Steeler Nation I gained a better understanding of the tale behind this particular story.
As a Pittsburgh native and of a, um, more mature generation, I am a product of a time when the Steelers were a team, especially pre-Noll, that probably only folks with some sort of ties to the Pittsburgh area could love. The fact that there are now Steelers fans spread out over the country and beyond is a reflection of the fact that some of the cultural realities of western Pennsylvania (the qualities that made it a great place to raise a family made it less than ideal for many young people seeking to grow personally and professionally) and the economic holocaust that laid waste to much of the rust belt had scattered much of the area's population to the four winds, though they maintained their sports loyalties in the Diaspora. While that still defines a huge portion of Steeler Nation it by no means provides a complete picture.
It is now also clear that a consequence of the team's sustained excellence is it has crossed over into the rarified environment of being a national (or should I say international, more on that in a moment) brand. Teams like the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Cowboys have fan bases that transcend geographic loyalties, and the Steelers are clearly now in that category. How many of us on this site chose this team because it represented a standard of excellence in the sport; the perfect example being this site's founder? Because of deliberate efforts by the league, and the fact that this is an increasingly global culture, appreciation of the game has spilled beyond our national borders, including not just those from the Pittsburgh area and the US whose lives have taken them around the world, but also within the indigenous populations of many countries, like Mexico or Ireland (the subject of one of last week's stories).
A third factor is technological. One of the challenges I faced in following the team from afar in the 1970s was having adequate opportunities to actually see the team play. One peculiarity of the story of the Immaculate Reception is the fact that most people who lived in Pittsburgh did not see the game due to the blackout rules in existence at the time. It's hard to generate sustained enthusiasm for a team that you don't actually see perform. The fact that many gravitate to teams like the Steelers, Yankees or Lakers cannot just be attributed to a bandwagon effect, it is also because the quality of their play lands them on the larger stages more frequently. Then, of course, as they gain more fans, they find themselves on the bigger stages for economic reasons alone (people tune in to see them play). The Steelers attract huge ratings when they are on a national platform which incentivizes the league and the networks to put them on that stage as often as is reasonable. But satellite technology and the internet makes even the most mundane matchups just as accessible if you are in Peru, India or Northern Virginia as in Pittsburgh (except for maybe the preseason games). The Pittsburgh Sports Daily Bulletin, a great site to keep up with sports news in the Burgh is not headquartered in Pittsburgh. All of this to say that the Nation is not just growing; it is growing more diverse as well.
Those hoping to see a different configuration of the depth chart at quarterback will likely be disappointed. Heisman Trophy winner and former Ravens quarterback Troy Smith was released by the team this week. This means that barring injury or some other unforeseen development, the likely quarterbacks on this year's roster will be Ben, Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch. This development should really not come as much of a surprise. There are constant, ongoing concerns about the fragility of both Leftwich and Batch, as well as Charlie's age (an overblown concern in my opinion given the fact that quarterbacks are not linebackers, many do quite well at more ‘advanced' ages). But Smith couldn't match either player in areas that are particularly important factors for this year's team; experience and leadership. With the much documented loss of so much veteran leadership, and the instillation of a new offense, that sense of stability in the quarterback room looks very attractive right about now. And the same improvements that we are hoping will preserve Ben's health should also be beneficial to the other two players at that position as well.
In other moves the team signed undrafted free agent linebacker Ryan Baker from LSU and cut Brandon Lindsey from Pitt and Aliquippa. It's been tough times for players with local ties trying to make this team (Duquesne WR Connor Dixon was waived last week). There has been some speculation that these moves, in addition to the acquisition of Brandon Johnson last week, are an indication of concern about the depth or stability at the OLB positions, inviting concerns about the health of James Harrison and the viability of Jason Worilds and Chris Carter as able replacements. These are certainly possibilities. But a more benign explanation is the trend to create intense internal competitions (the multiple dogs, one bone theory) that appears to be defining the development culture under Tomlin. The injuries to Harrison and Worilds may not be long term concerns, but it would be crazy to rush either into a training situation that might aggravate their conditions before the season. However, their absence at this stage thins the competition and development opportunities for others on the roster. Given the high standards associated with the position, maintaining a high level of competition would be an especially important priority. Also given the satisfactory state of the competitions at other positions, it is area that the team can afford to place more focus upon. Whether it speaks to longer term problems remains to be seen.
It should come as no surprise that this player would be the subject of a profile on Steelers.com. For those of you who don't know, Rolle, who comes from a family with a strong NFL pedigree, graduated from Florida State in two and half years, was selected for a Rhodes Scholarship and received a master's degree in medical anthropology at Oxford.
Being away from the game for a year is cited as a possible reason why he wasn't able to stick with the Tennessee Titans who released him from their practice squad. He is currently involved in a position battle (the details of which have been highlighted this week on the Steelers Depot site) for one or perhaps two roster spots playing behind likely locks Troy, Ryan Clark and Ryan Mundy. The other competitors are veterans Will Allen and Damon Cromartie-Smith, plus UDFA rookie Robert Golden.
As we wait for the competition to resume at training camp, Rolle has been shadowing Steelers neurosurgeon Joseph Maroon. Rolle's career goal after football is to serve as a philanthropic neurosurgeon, traveling in underdeveloped countries providing services to those in need.
Coach John Thompson (the elder) used to keep a deflated basketball on the desk in his office at Georgetown as a reminder to his players that the games eventually go away and that they should prepare themselves for that. This doesn't seem to be a problem for Rolle. And it seems safe to say that unlike most that come into the NFL that when he leaves the game he will be moving on to bigger and more important things. So that while I can't exactly feel sorry if he doesn't make it, I find myself rooting hard for Myron because he would be such a great addition for both the team and the game.
The Steelers rookies have joined their AFC counterparts in the NFL's Rookie Symposium, taking place in Ohio from Thursday through Saturday (the NFC rookies attended earlier in the week). When Steelers.com published a piece highlighting the rookies taking a tour of the Pro Football Hall of Fame I assumed that the trip was connected with the Symposium. But as the article pointed out Pittsburgh pioneered this orientation activity which the NFL has adopted for the rookies of all of its teams. Just another example of the understated leadership and innovation that characterizes the Steelers organization.
Speaking of the Hall of Fame, Rod Woodson was recently honored in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana as part of an initiative by the HOF to honor Hometown Hall Of Famers. So far the program has facilitated the recognition of 50 HOFers in their hometowns.
The NFL has announced that it has moved the starting times of many of its doubleheader games in order to reduce overlap with the conclusions of its 1pm games. The late games will begin ten minutes later (4:25pm as opposed to the old 4:15pm start time). Five Steelers games will be affected: the September 16th home game against the Jets and four road games against the Raiders (Sept. 23rd), Giants (November 4th), Ravens (December 2nd) and Cowboys (Dec. 16th).
Pro Football Weekly
They conducted a poll that resulted in the Seattle Seahawks being named as having the best defense in professional football. I was going to write some more about it, but this is clearly absurd. And we're not that hard up for news. Next week will be the 4th of July and probably really slow. Maybe then.