Who among us didn't love Charlie Brown and the gang growing up as children? I still remember the holiday specials that were early signals that moments of family memories, good food, and fantastic football match ups were a week or two away. That affable little fella with the big round bald head and his quirky best friend pooch Snoopy were intertwined each year with my holiday memories.
One of Charlie Brown's classmates and friends was Linus, memorable for his always present security blanket. It was particularly memorable for me because I had my own baby blue security blanket when I was a toddler. I took it with me everywhere, personally decorated with the expected peanut butter and jelly, juice, and Kool-Aid stains in tow. I am not exactly sure the exact moment it happened, but I substituted my baby blankie for the far more intimidating Terrible Towel and I have never looked back.
Last season Ben Roethlisberger went into the season without a security blanket in his receiving arsenal for the first time in years. Ben has been blessed with many security blankets at the skill positions throughout his time in Pittsburgh: Heath Miller, Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, and Leveon Bell to name a few. A security blanket for any quarterback is any trusted skill position player that reliably and consistently comes through in the clutch. Whether it's adjusting their route to comeback toward a scrabbling quarterback, instinctively settling down against zone coverage to present an open target, or making a contested catch on a less-than-accurate pass from a harassed signal caller, the importance of any security blanket receiver on any quarterback's psyche should never be underestimated.
Prior to last season, Roethlisberger lost the ultimate security blanket when the artist formerly known as “Mr. Big Chest” forced his talents and multiple personalities out of town, burning all the bridges in Pittsburgh on his exodus. This presented a huge challenge for Ben Roethlisberger, considering they had formed one of the most productive quarterback\receiver tandems in league history. Both players leaned heavily on the other, and trusted each other to come through in the clutch. Ben said all the right things to the media, confessing his trust in his returning cast, but there had to be some serious concerns in the back of his mind.
It didn't help matters the Steelers had to travel to New England on opening weekend to take on Bill Belichick, Stephon Gilmore, and the stingiest pass defense in the league. Ben seemed out of sorts without the familiar presence of his go-to target. The expectation going in was Gilmore would help neutralize JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Roethlisberger would have to look elsewhere to move the football through the air. With an extremely inexperienced receiving crew at his service, Ben would turn to the newly acquired veteran free agent Donte Moncrief for assistance, albeit with disastrous results.
Moncrief singlehandedly thwarted three offensive drives with untimely drops, including a potential touchdown reception. The offense understandably struggled throughout, unable to overcome Moncrief's devastating performance against an elite defense. Ben had hoped to recreate the on-field chemistry he had enjoyed with Antonio Brown in some small way with Moncrief, but that proved to be an impossible undertaking. If Brown was the ultimate security blanket, then Moncrief proved to be more like single-ply toilet paper, sure to let you down when you need it the most.
Unbeknownst to us all, Roethlisberger was playing in pain and needed a little help from his friends, help which never came from a talented group of inexperienced skill position players still learning how to play together. It all became a mute point the following week when Roethlisberger was lost for the year to injury.
Now Ben is back, fully healed and looking fit and trim. He has rediscovered his passion for the game, and the competitive spark within is firing again on all cylinders. He has once again assumed the leadership mantle for the franchise, scheduling off season workouts with his teammates, even during the pandemic. He has reached out to each of them regularly, either in person or online, between his family time and charitable endeavors. This doesn't shock me in the slightest as that's what leaders do actually.
What I did find pleasantly surprising was the tidbit of information which was revealed this week that Eric Ebron had spent some time this offseason staying at the Roethlisberger's humble abode not long after his free agency signing with the Steelers. I thought Ben was the pompous presumptive owner who thought too much of himself to congregate with his lowly subjects. This revelation seems to run contrary to the narrative spewed forth in the illogical nonsense of the aforementioned security blanket, and a couple of disgruntled malcontents and insignificant former employees. Strange how the national sports media didn't pick up on that positive story about Roethlisberger and run with it! Or is it?
Regardless, the fact the two men have went out of their way to build a working relationship shows they are committed to developing a chemistry on the field which only comes through hard work and repetitions. A connection that only evolves through communication, sometimes shared through a simple hand gesture or eye movement. All the great tandems have this unspoken language if you will.
These developments only bode well for the Steelers future as they strive in unison toward their seventh Lombardi Trophy. If the Steelers are able to achieve their next Super Bowl title this year, we may look back to the very beginning of the Roethlisberger-to-Ebron connection as a pivotal moment in the triumphant journey: The moment Roethlisberger found his next security blanket.