Monday night, shortly after the Pittsburgh Penguins lost an overtime heartbreaker at home to the Washington Capitals in the second round of the 2017/2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, I logged on to Twitter, to find an absolute treat of a Tweet of a video involving several Steelers who were in attendance to cheer on their black and gold brethren.
Among the many Steelers players on the scene at PPG Arena were quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones; guard David DeCastro; receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster; and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who as a means to get the home crowd fired up at the start of the third period, stood up, ripped his hockey jersey off to expose his massive physique and then doused himself with a beer a la Stone Cold Steve Austin back in his heyday with the WWE.
It was quite the scene, and head coach Mike Tomlin, who was also in attendance (but far, far away from his charges), may have felt the urge to Tweet Villanueva something along the lines of, “Quit while you’re behind! #Really,” which is exactly what he told DeAngelo Williams two offseasons ago, when the veteran running back was in a losing Twitter war about the career of just-retired quarterback Peyton Manning.
That image of Villanueva was the exact opposite of the one he displayed last September 24 in Chicago, when he became the poster child for the anti-Colin Kaepernick/NFL boycotters crowd after separating himself from the rest of his teammates, who all agreed to stay in the tunnel for the playing of the National Anthem before a Week 3 clash with the Bears at Soldier Field.
Instead of staying in the tunnel, Villanueva instantly became the most popular player in the NFL by standing out in the open with his hand proudly covering his heart while the anthem played.
According to many, Villanueva was everything right with the NFL, while those other players, who either stayed in the tunnel or knelt on the sidelines during the anthem, were everything that was wrong with the league.
Only problem with that image of the big guy—war hero and proud patriot—was that it put him in a box.
The way many people gushed about Big Al, you would have thought his past as a decorated Army Ranger was all he was about.
However, I paid special attention to Villanueva as the 2017 regular season progressed, and what I noticed more than anything was that he was a team player that truly seemed to love the guys he played with.
While over-zealous patriots tried to paint Villanueva as this stoic and stiff military hero similar to Chuck Norris in the movie The Delta Force, there was No. 78 often joining his teammates in their choreographed touchdown celebrations.
Heck, if you search long and hard, you’ll even find some sideline footage of Villanueva dancing with receiver Antonio Brown.
What kind of Army Ranger/offensive lineman dances with some diva receiver?
Maybe one who is such a team player, he helps a rookie receiver learn how to drive so he can finally get his license.
What kind of war hero jumps up in the middle of a hockey game and douses his shirtless chest in beer?
Maybe the same one who encourages his quarterback to use “Dilly Dilly” as a pre-snap audible call during an actual game.
That’s right, it was Villanueva, the guy who earned a Bronze Star for his bravery while serving in Afghanistan, who came up with that little gem before the Steelers blow-out victory over the Titans last November on Thursday Night Football.
Perhaps my favorite moment from the Steelers 2017 season was the Chris Boswell game-winning 53-yard field goal to defeat the Packers on Sunday Night Football.
Guess who was the first teammate to greet The Boz and pick him up in his massive arms?
Does Villanueva love his country? You bet he does--of all the Steelers who felt one way or another that day in Chicago, you just know Villanueva had to have the most conflicted emotions--but it’s also quite obvious he loves his teammates and he loves being a Steeler.
Villanueva isn’t just a war hero, and he isn’t just a left tackle in the NFL.
Like the rest of us, he’s a multi-layered individual, one who likes to fish, joke around and even prepare himself for a life after football--the former college tight end who began his pro career as a defensive lineman before rounding into a Pro Bowl left tackle is enrolled at CMU, studying for his master’s degree.
Finally, in this day and age of social media where people feel as if they have to take a hard stance one way or another, if there’s one lesson we can all learn from Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, it’s that it’s okay to love one thing, while also loving something else.