For everybody at home paying attention during this week of playoff preparation, the Pittsburgh Steelers word of the day is "opportunity". The word opportunity is defined as a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something. For the Steelers that set of circumstances just so happens to be the win or go home tournament better known as the NFL Playoffs. The possible something would be having a chance to compete for the Lombardi Trophy. Winner take all, and nothing is guaranteed.
Just qualifying for the playoffs is quite the accomplishment for some franchises; especially for the Steelers first round opponent, the Cleveland Browns. This will be the Browns franchise's first playoff appearance in 18 years, and they have never even reached the Super Bowl in their long and two pronged existence. The Browns are among a handful of franchises that have never lifted the Lombardi Trophy.
The Browns and their fanbase celebrated enthusiastically after qualifying for the playoffs last Sunday, and QB Baker Mayfield proclaimed that the Browns finally had a winning culture. Maybe that was just the ignorance of youth, but he obviously doesn't have a clue what having a winning culture really means. Nobody with a winning culture celebrates a participation trophy.
This year's Steelers roster is full of young talent that have yet to experience the enhanced pressure and intensity that accompanies playoff football, especially when dealing with the familiarity and loathing of a division rival. The desperation definitely takes the intensity up a notch or two, with the fear of failure amplified. Legends are made in playoff moments, while mistakes often haunt the guilty. Former Browns RB Earnest Byner was a Pro Bowl player who gave his heart and soul to the franchise. However, he will forever be remember for a single postseason mistake known as The Fumble. Truly a legacy that nobody wants to be remembered for.
That's why Ben Roethlisberger and other Steelers veterans held a second players only meeting this week to stress the importance of being prepared for the high pressure setting and to truly appreciate what is often an elusive opportunity for many players. Look no further than the Steelers very own Joe Haden for an prime example.
Haden was a first round selection of the Cleveland Browns in 2010, where he established himself as a top corner but never sniffed the playoffs obviously. After signing with the Steelers in 2017, he had to believe that the years of frustration caused by missing the playoffs had to be coming to an end. He did finally make his first postseason appearance that season, but the Steelers were promptly bounced from the playoffs in the first round by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Injuries and drama have contributed greatly to some talented Steelers teams missing the playoffs the past two seasons.
So there you have it. Three time Pro Bowl player Haden; an 11 year veteran, has played in exactly one playoff game in his career up to this season. Suddenly, just as he was about to play in his second playoff game, he finds himself out of the game due to testing positive for COVID. Not fair for sure, but life seldom is for some individuals. He needs his teammates to win Sunday night for him to experience a second opportunity.
Roethlisberger knows all too well how quickly these opportunities can be taken away in the blink of an eye. Tear a few elbow ligaments and a successful surgery and rehabilitation like the one he endured recently are fair from guaranteed. He fully committed to making a healthy return with the sole purpose of winning another title with this group of teammates both old and new. That has been his singular focus, and it is the Steelers only acceptable outcome every season. That's what a winning culture is all about, something only a precious few franchises fully comprehend.
Ben is the only Steelers starter who has ever won a Super Bowl. Standout veterans like Cameron Heyward, Joe Haden, and Maurkice Pouncey desperately want the experience, and to add that achievement to their already impressive resumes. They realize that you fight, sweat, and bleed through an exhausting regular season just to gain entry into the postseason, for the highly coveted chance to achieve greatness as a brotherhood. They know what's at stake, hopefully the still wet behind the ears first timers can grasp the magnitude of the situation.
Anytime you are led into battle by a franchise QB; a future HOF great who has already proven capable of winning the title on two previous occasions, you are granted the only thing that any playoff participant can really ask for. A fighting chance to emerge victorious in the end. Every player is unproven until given the chance to prove otherwise on the biggest stage. That's where stars are born, players like Ben Roethlisberger.
Sunday night's game very well could be the final game in a Steelers uniform for many players; based on possible retirements, free agency, and salary cap considerations. Steelers Nation has been blessed to witness countless cherished memories over the past fifty years, and we look forward to those yet to come this postseason.