The pursuit of perfection is destined to end in failure. This is true of any endeavor involving human beings because mankind is inevitably fallible. As I formulated this article in my mind, I was reminded of one of my father's favorite quotes growing up, "Show me an employee that has never made a mistake and I will show you an employee who isn't doing anything." It really is that simple. No matter how hard you try to always do the right thing, you will make a mistake eventually.
Athletic competition of any kind is not immune to this universal truth. Moments of perceived perfection are few and far between, and always fleeting. Some members of Steelers Nation have set the proverbial bar of success impossibly high for the franchise with the most overall wins, plus tied for the most Lombardi Trophies, in the NFL over the past half century. Even when the Steelers win the game, some fans choose to focus on anything and everything the players did wrong.
No matter how good a player is at his craft, some matchups are better than others. Some opponents will inevitably be more talented, skilled, or experienced than you if you play long enough and reach the highest level of competition. Those situations are often out of a player's control. The one and only thing that any player can actually control in any matchup is their individual effort.
My family can bear witness that there is one thing that infuriates me more than anything else watching athletic competition, particularly when my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers are involved. I can accept the Steelers losing a game to a more talented team, or a hard fought contest where the ball didn't bounce their way. What I will never be able to accept is when they don't appear to give their best effort, when they don't seem to care as much as their opponent. Because the one thing any player can control on the field of battle is their own personal effort. The one thing you can never do is let your opponent out work you.
The Steelers have made a conscious effort in the past few years to find individuals with this specific mindset. Look no further than last season's draft class and new acquisitions; specifically Alex Highsmith, Kevin Dotson, and James Pierre. All of these young men have exceptional work ethics and the insatiable desire to compete. These are guys you don't have to motivate in the off season trying to make sure the are working hard on their physical fitness. Mike Tomlin laid out his expectations at each gentleman's exit interview, and then he focused his attention elsewhere. Each player fully realized their importance this season to the success of the Steelers.
Nobody should have been surprised when Alex Highsmith showed up at OTAs looking ripped and ready. Dotson somehow looks even more intense and intimidating than last season. Pierre appears far more comfortable and prepared than at any point of his surprisingly successful rookie season, especially when you consider he was a undrafted free agent who made the final roster without the benefit of any semblance of a normal off season and zero preseason games.
Pierre is a prime example of the aforementioned effort. He is a competitor to the core. He is relentless and aggressive in run support, flying forward toward the ball carrier, where he finishes plays as a tenacious and effective form tackler. He has the short term memory loss of a classic throwback corner, instantly ready to jump back in the fray and compete, regardless of the results of the previous play. Couple those abilities with above the line instincts and ball skills, and the Steelers appear to have found themselves a baller. That's the competitiveness that he displayed in college and the biggest trait that caused the Steelers to offer him a chance after the draft. His star is already shining bright at this week's mini camp.
This years draft haul is filled with high effort, competitive young men. First round stud running back Najee Harris is so committed to the task at hand that the coaches have to remind him to go home periodically and get some rest. That must be both encouraging and refreshing for the Steelers coaches. A player with his athleticism, talent, and work ethic who has already figured out the formula for success starts within himself.
The 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers have the toughest schedule in the NFL. They will be the underdog more often than not, at a talent disadvantage more than they are accustomed. While they won't always be the most talented or experienced team in every game, it's up to the collected group to assure that nobody outworks them or competes harder than they do each week. That's really the only thing that they can control.