That news obviously wasn’t much of a surprise, given the 50/50 odds that were placed on his return for the 2021 campaign immediately following Pittsburgh’s 48-37 loss to the Browns in an AFC wildcard game at Heinz Field on January 10.
There is no question that Pouncey’s skills, including his ability to accurately snap the football in the shotgun formation, had noticeably decreased over the past couple of seasons. But that happens to the best of them. It happened to Mean Joe Greene. It happened to Terry Bradshaw. It happened to Franco Harris. It happened to Hines Ward. It happened to Troy Polamalu.
There’s never any shame in that. There was certainly no shame in Pouncey’s professional football resume, one that included nine trips to the Pro Bowl, being named a first-team All-Pro three times and getting selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team during the 2010s.
After arriving in town as the Steelers first-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, it became clear right away that Pouncey was head and shoulders above every other offensive lineman on the team. Sure, that was almost by default, considering how much the unit had struggled during the previous few seasons, but Pouncey represented change.
No longer would the organization accept mediocrity from a unit that had failed so miserably at protecting its biggest asset—quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh continued to use premium picks to address the offensive line in subsequent drafts, and while this, along with the hiring of Mike Munchak as position coach, would ultimately lead to the unit becoming the best in a league, Pouncey was a star right away and made his first trip to the Pro Bowl in his rookie season.
Pouncey also became a leader in the locker room almost right away. Sure, the middle portion of his career was a bit shaky, thanks to some serious injuries and an off-the-field incident, but he grew and matured and never really gave up the status as the best center in the game during his prime.
That last part is what will eventually get Pouncey a gold jacket and enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Game. Will Pouncey be a first-ballot Hall of Famer? Who knows and who cares? Fellow Steelers center Dermontti Dawson had to wait 12 years after his retirement. Alan Faneca, the best guard of his era, finally got the call to be part of the 2021 class after a few near-misses.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. Once a Hall of Fame decides to make a player immortal, that’s for eternity.
Pouncey certainly had his critics, including Pro Football Reference, a site that never thought much of his play. Again, who cares? All I know for sure is that Pouncey kept the Steelers’ rich history at center, one that’s almost as long as their rich history at the head coach position, alive and well during his career.
To me, that’s all that really matters. Pouncey lived up to and maybe even exceeded some lofty expectations. His teammates loved him, especially Roethlisberger, his quarterback who may now not feel a strong urge to continue his career without his close friend and center around to be his most immediate protector on the field.
I guess time will tell regarding Roethlisberger’s future. As for Pouncey’s legacy at center, it’s set in stone...or make that bronze.