Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports NFL Insider is reporting that Tomlin's alleged interference with Baltimore Ravens' wide receiver Jacoby Jones in the third quarter as Jones was racing down the sidelines returning a kick-off 73 yards until caught by Steelers CB Cortez Allen, is the subject of "an aggressive review". La Canfora speculates that Tomlin's involvement with the Rules Committee may prompt the NFL to take greater sanctions than otherwise Tomlin's infraction might require.
Whether Steeler Nation is prepared to accept it or not, the answer to the question of whether what Tomlin did was intentional or not has implications far beyond the impression his actions left with the Thanksgiving Night national viewing audience. Tomlin has now brought into question the character of the entire Steelers' organization.
In addition to now spending a Sunday and Monday watching the results of the rest of the games being played around the league and trying to calculate the infinitesimal playoff chances the Steelers may have remaining after this unfortunate and avoidable loss, Steeler Nation must now await word of whether the Steelers' will lose a highly needed and always valuable draft pick as a result of Tomlin's actions.
And while Steeler Nation awaits word of the content and severity of the NFL's assured reaction to this embarrassing episode witnessed nationwide, it should also ponder the following:
The broad white strip along both sidelines is off limits to all players and coaches to stand in; it can only be crossed by players entering or exiting the field. If Tomlin "innocently" yet mistakenly found himself standing on the wrong side of the proscribed white zone, what does that say about his game awareness? In one of the many GIFs being published on the internet, the one trailing Jones as he makes his way up the sideline clearly shows Tomlin's right foot on the actual field of play while Jones was 22 or more yards away. If taken at his word that he was merely standing there watching the Jumbotron as he claims he often does, how could he have not been aware Jones was coming? How does he explain his last second look to his right, towards the field of play, before he hops to the left?
If Tomlin "innocently" was oblivious being where he knows he was not supposed to be, and he "innocently" didn't realize he had to move until the very second he did, what else is Tomlin oblivious of during games? This season is not the first where many of his game time decisions have been questioned, whether in terms of clock management, management of time outs, situational play calling, etc.
If on the other hand and as the physical video evidence suggests to some that Tomlin knew exactly where he was as the play unfolded and instead of "innocently" getting out of the way at the last minute Tomlin instead deliberately and with forethought tried to use his "unintentional" meandering into a proscribed area (and actually on the field of play) to try to gain an advantage for the Steelers in preventing Jones from scoring, what does this say about Tomlin and the current mindset of the Steelers?
On one hand, many in Steeler Nation may applaud Tomlin's actions; they may say it was a crafty maneuver to "take one for the team"; that Tomlin exhibited a (to them) prized trait of "by any means necessary". In essence, these folks believe that the ends justify the means.
On the other hand, many in Steeler nation may decry what Tomlin did as being bush league; that what he did was no different than what Bill Belichick has long been reviled for as a result of his Spygate actions; he cheated. Other comparisons could be drawn to the Harbaugh Brothers actions over the years that many in Steeler Nation despise so much; the constant whining to the refs to get calls made such as what Jim Harbaugh did when the Steelers played in San Francisco in 2011, or John Harbaugh's actions during many of the closely fought games between the Steelers and Ravens.
Had any opposing coach done what Tomlin was videoed as doing, Steeler Nation would be up in arms. They would stand on the integrity of "The Steeler Way" and decry the bush league and "punk-assed" actions of that coach while beating their collective chests in self-righteous indignation.
The shoe is on the other foot now, and by his actions, Tomlin has now diminished whatever vestiges of "The Steeler Way" that may be remaining from when he first took over. Remember the many and heated debates about "character" that have erupted year to year over Tomlin's draft picks? Remember how Steeler Nation this year claimed to be witnessing a "return to The Steeler Way" when the team jettisoned Chris Rainey and later Alameda Ta'amu and seemed to only draft or sign players that exhibited high-character traits?
Chuck Noll never did anything like what Tomlin did; he espoused playing within the rules and defeating your opponent by being superior in your technique and by "wanting it more", not cheating or sneakiness. He and the Rooney family created what was known proudly up until this past Thursday as "The Steeler Way". Noll's adherence to sportsmanship and his contribution to "The Steeler Way" has only one smirch on an otherwise pristine record. That was when even Noll got a bit too full of himself and "The Steeler Way" and accused Oakland Raider Strong Safety George Atkinson of representing a "criminal element" in the NFL yet had to admit in court that one of his own players, Mel Blount also performed the same actions Noll found so objectionable in Atkinson.
Bill Cowher never did anything like Tomlin. He admitted that following a MNF game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1997 as Jaguars player Chris Hudson raced down the sidelines with a blocked field goal attempt that "I could have [tackled] him. It crossed my mind. But thank God I didn't". Cowher was known as a player's coach; he too was once a player in the NFL, as was Noll. He too was under pressure over many seasons to win, to uphold the expectancy of the organization and its fans for excellence, for winning games, and adding to the collection of Lombardis first started by Noll. Cowher finally reached the only level of success Steeler Nation has come to accept in 2005, and he ended his career as their head coach a year later without bringing to the organization any unwanted and unnecessary dispersions on the organization's character.
The wrapping of our football selves in a cloak of The Steeler Way carries a price; that price is a never-ending battle to resist the temptations of the moment, a refusal to deviate from the high road and debase the organization's moral character all for the sake of stopping an opponent from scoring or winning a single game, of choosing integrity over immediate and superficial gain. To lay claim to any form of character or integrity requires a vigilance to ensure that everyone, from the highest member of the front office down to the lowliest 53rd player did not deviate from "The Way". Championship caliber teams are built over years of hard work and strict adherence to a foundation of beliefs that are supported every day and every game by the actions taken by all involved; the Steelers are known around the NFL as the team that "walks the talk" and by doing so sustained a level of performance unmatched in the modern era of football. Such actions and beliefs made up what we came to know as "The Steeler Way" despite how old fashioned such beliefs seem in today's society.
The Rooney family took swift and decisive action against its own franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger when the infamous "Georgia incident" came to light. It is in keeping with their eighty plus years as members of the NFL that they said and did things behind closed doors to demonstrate to their player that such actions would no longer be tolerated. He accepted without comment or appeal the sanctions levied by the NFL, and since then Roethlisberger has been a changed man.
Some may consider this next statement as hyperbole; if so, then they just don't get it, but the Rooney's must now take similar action against their head coach. For it is the impressions left behind from his actions, whether innocent or premeditated that cast dispersions on the very essence of what the Rooneys have toiled so long to build; Tomlin either through ignorance or a lack of ethical grounding has brought derision to the Steelers and thus to the Rooneys. Before the league passes judgment, the Steelers organization should step up and once again demonstrate that it does not hold itself above that which it practices, that the Steeler Way means more than just winning Super Bowls, it means winning, or losing, with class and integrity.
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