A winner never quits, and a quitter never wins. Growing up most individuals are taught this valuable life lesson.
My dad wasn’t a fan of sports, playing or watching. He viewed sports as a waste of valuable time that could be spent working. Hard work was an honest, productive endeavor and a means to an end. It was a way to make a living and provide for your family. I have never met or witnessed a harder worker than my father when he was living and he was perfectly happy out in nature working the farm. He was content and at peace with his life, envious of no man. How many people can make that statement about their life? My father lived it everyday, and all that mattered to him was his faith and his family. That is a priceless testimony and legacy to leave behind for your children. My father was always my hero, still is. The example I strive daily to be, but sadly fall short of.
Thanks to each of you for indulging me for a moment. I recalled so many cherished memories of his guidance while outlining this article. One that immediately came to mind was “You don’t ever start a fight, but you better make sure you finish it.” This was consistent with the mentality he was determined to instill in me, “You finish what you started.” He may not have liked sports, but he didn’t try to stop me from participating, as long as my chores were done first. He seemed disinterested when it came to my success on the field or court, because he was more concerned with my faithfulness and commitment to my team, and the integrity I displayed in the process. I would want to talk about my stats, but my dad was more interested in the hustle plays. In his wisdom he understood what parts of a child’s game actually had value and merit in a man’s life.
If my dad was still with us, he would have loved to hear the incredible story of perseverance and determination of Pittsburgh Steelers player L.J. Fort. He represents the very best of what the NFL has to offer and exemplifies the never-say-die attitude my dad would have loved. A modern day Rocky story, my favorite movie series all time.
Anybody who has been reading my articles, or have noticed my posts on BTSC comment boards, knows I have been campaigning for Fort to receive more playing time. I was admittedly shocked when the Steelers signed Sean Spence off the couch after Ryan Shazier went down last season, but I trusted the Steelers brass knew the caliber of their players far better than I. Fort had proven to be a strong special teams performer by that point, but that was about it. I assumed Spence must have recovered the step he lost after his devastating knee injury, but the Steelers were mistaken. Fort would actually receive only a few opportunities to see the field last season, and they were uneventful to say the least.
After an off season that witnessed the Steelers seemingly fail to address their issues at inside linebacker; the team only added free agent Jon Bostic and UDFA Matthew Thomas at the position, things were finally looking up for Fort to not only make the roster but actually receive meaningful playing time. Fort has most definitely made the most of that opportunity.
There were whispers coming out of OTA’s and the early portion of camp that Fort looked like a new player. Then the preseason started and in my opinion Fort immediately resembled the most complete inside backer the Steelers have on the roster. I would watch the film and Fort would always stand out, in a good way. He flowed to the ball, shedding blockers on his way, and arrived at the ball carrier with an impact. His quickness really stood out on a defense that desperately needed it. But it was in coverage where he definitely stands out from the rest of the linebackers on the roster. Thomas also has that same type of athleticism, but he is still a raw prospect that is being brought along slowly.
Fort has endured the roller coaster ride that the NFL experience has to offer. He has been signed and released multiple times. He knows what it feels like to be labeled a camp body. He tried his hand first as a outside linebacker, then as a fullback, before finally settling in as a inside linebacker. There has been an impressive list of franchises that have kicked the tires so to speak on Fort since he came into the league as a undrafted free agent with the Browns back in 2012, further evidence of his talents and athletic ability. Many times his path to an NFL roster was blocked by the proven talents already on the rosters ahead of him at the time. This year it seems the light may have finally came on for L.J. Fort. Sometimes a man just needs an chance, other times he just needs the maturity level required to actually seize the opportunity. A former player better known as Deebo followed a similar path to success.
Fort didn’t get the start on Sunday against the Falcons, but he made his presence known not long after seeing the field. He was all over the field once inserted, flying to the ball with violent intentions. He picked up a sack on a well timed delayed blitz up the middle, displayed his excellent coverage skills whenever the ball was in the air; once making a picture perfect tackle on one of Atlanta’s speedy running backs that resulted in a fourth down punting situation, and fittingly recovered a fumble in the endzone for a touchdown to close out his evening.
Hopefully his outstanding performance has opened the eyes of the defensive coaching staff, especially Keith Butler, to the point he will continue to receive meaningful minutes even after Vince Williams returns. I hate to say it, but I believe the combination of Jon Bostic and L.J. Fort gives the Steelers defense the best chance for sustained success this season. Williams could still receive valuable minutes backing up Bostic and Thomas could continue his learning process behind Fort. I believe Thomas has NFL starter potential if properly focused and motivated. This rotation would allow Dirty Red to focus his efforts toward his valuable position of special teams standout.
The size of Vince Williams contract extension shouldn’t matter when doling out playing time, nor should the fact that Fort up to this point has been an NFL journeyman. All that matters is who gives the team the best chance to stop the opposition and win the game.
One thing we have learned about Mr. Fort is that when the going gets tough, it isn’t in his nature to quit. My dad would have liked that.