To me, the 2008 season comes to mind. The season when the Pittsburgh Steelers had the toughest regular season schedule among all 32 NFL teams, and when everyone left them for dead, they rose up.
While the 2019 Steelers schedule isn’t nearly as difficult as their 2008 counterparts had to endure, the attitude surrounding the team certainly seems similar. An ‘us against the world’ mentality has been resonating from the UPMC Rooney Practice Facility throughout the first week of Organized Team Activities (OTAs). A focus solely on what lies ahead, and leaving behind an immense amount of drama and disappointment.
The attitudes seem to have been adjusted, but there is another variable here, and it is how NFL experts, like NBC Sports’ Peter King, don’t just have Steelers as a middle-of-the-road team this year, but finishing 3rd in the AFC North. Yes, behind both the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens.
Some might view this as disrespect, considering the Steelers have won the AFC North two out of the last three seasons, but you won’t hear that coming from Steelers players. Instead, they are embracing the role of underdogs.
“Just having that chip on our shoulder and having people doubting us, I think it’s something we can use to our advantage,” Haden told Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review after OTAs this week. “Just come out here and grind.”
For many players who don the black-and-gold every week, they might not be used to having people doubt them. Having people pick against them. Having people view them as lesser than. But Haden knows all about that after spending the first seven years of his career in Cleveland with the Browns.
“This team, I feel like they’ve not really been underdogs,” Haden said of the Steelers. “Ever since I’ve been playing against the Steelers for seven years, they were never an underdog.
“You hear the outside noise,” Haden said moments earlier. “Usually, Pittsburgh, (outsiders are) always, ‘Aw, they’re going to be in the playoffs.’ They just basically put us in the playoffs. Now to hear people not talk as highly of us has kind of put a chip on our shoulder.
“I think that’s a great thing. We’ve got something to really work for.”
Some teams can cling to this underdog mentality and ride the wave of momentum all the way to the Super Bowl. Just ask the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles who donned dog masks throughout the playoffs when no one thought they could win in the postseason with Nick Foles filling in for the injured Carson Wentz.
Then there are teams who listen to the outside noise too much, and start to doubt their own ability. There are a ton of examples of this happening in the NFL, but you have to wonder which side of the fence the 2019 Steelers will reside.
They are being doubted, but how they respond will be the true story this year...