The day was November 25, 2018. I remember it well. I was at a Friendsgiving get-together full of people who didn’t care much for fancy football watchin’.
Instead of gathering around the television set after dinner to watch the Steelers/Broncos clash at Mile High, the group engaged in some sort of high brow board game that I only pretended to understand. But I was having a good time and enjoying the company of some cool folks.
I was having such a good time that, believe it or not, I almost forgot about my favorite football team that was in the early stages of a semi-important 4 p.m. match-up against an inferior Broncos squad.
Yes, I thought this game was only semi-important because Pittsburgh entered the day with a 2.5 game lead over the Ravens in the AFC North with just six weeks to play. The Steelers had a 7-2-1 record and were on a six-game roll after starting the season 1-2-1.
What better time to disengage from the tense emotions that the game of football often generates in the truly die-hard fans?
And then I received this text from a relative: “What a shame. It was such a great call, too.”
That relative was referring to the great first quarter call that led to Steelers third-string tight end Xavier Grimble being left all alone in the middle of the field. Grimble gathered in a pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and had a mostly clear path to the end zone. The only thing that stood in Grimble’s way was a Broncos defensive back that the undrafted free agent out of USC could simply avoid with a little cutback to the inside. Instead of that, Grimble tried to knock the defensive back into the following week. I don’t know how successful Grimble was in that regard, but the football he was carrying—in his inside arm, which is always a no-no—was knocked out of the end zone before it crossed the plane of the goal line.
Touchback, Denver, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Steelers lost the game, 24-17, and a few more down the stretch and finished with a 9-6-1 record and out of the postseason for the first time since 2013.
There were many mistakes that you can point to for the Steelers failure of a 2018 season, but Grimble’s is often cited more than most.
I know I spent the rest of last season and most of this offseason holding a Steve Bartman-level grudge against Grimble for his silly, silly gaffe (although, I would never throw a cup of beer on him, since he’s much bigger than me, and stadium beer is expensive).
Just two weeks ago, on The Steelers Hangover, I was asked if Grimble would catch as many passes this year as Jesse James did a season ago (30), and I said, “NO!”
But almost immediately after giving that rather rude and crude answer, I felt bad. I mean, it wasn’t as if Grimble WANTED to fumble the ball on that play. He was just trying to do something positive. He may have gone about it the wrong way, but I’m guessing his heart was in the right place.
I’m also guessing Grimble immediately regretted his choice to send a physical message to that Denver defensive back. And if he didn’t have immediate regrets, I’m assuming they began to creep in the second Pittsburgh was officially eliminated from the playoffs some five weeks later.
But whatever regret Grimble may still have for being a doofus that day in Denver, he needs to forget about it and move forward. Same for die-hard Steelers fans such as yours truly.
Why? Because the Steelers need Grimble, who is entering his fourth year with the team, to step up and be the number two tight end in 2019.
In case you haven’t noticed, the Steelers depth chart behind Vance McDonald at tight end is pretty sparse in terms of proven talent. Someone needs to rise to the occasion and do so in a hurry.
Grimble, with 22 career receptions for 236 yards and three touchdowns, is the only tight end on the roster besides McDonald that has a stat-line.
The Steelers have always had a fondness for the two tight end set, which means they’ll want to keep using it in 2019.
Is Grimble up for the task, especially since it also requires the ability to block well in the running game?
That remains to be seen, of course, but the Steelers will certainly give him a chance to win the job this preseason.
It’s not an impossible road back, from bonehead play to redemption—Barry Foster once treated a kickoff like a punt—and if Xavier Grimble can be an effective number two tight end in 2019, the memory of his gaffe in Denver will vanish faster than the stuffing at my next Friendsgiving feast.