“I just don’t believe he has what it takes to be anything but a backup in the NFL. I think he’s hit his ceiling as a quarterback.”
That’s just one quote you’ll read and/or hear from Steelers fans while voicing their opinions on Mason Rudolph, the fourth-year quarterback out of Oklahoma St.
But that’s pretty mild compared to what Steelers fans have said about other quarterbacks throughout the years.
Landry Jones: “Ewww.”
Kordell Stewart: “I still say he should have played wide receiver.”
Neil O’Donnell: “If you ever mention his name again, I’ll deck you.”
Cliff Stoudt: “Prepare some more snowballs. We still got another quarter to go.”
Mark Malone: “I think Scott Campbell should be the starter.”
Steelers fans have always had a complicated history with quarterbacks. It takes a lot to win them over, and when they put one in the “no good” zone, it’s almost impossible for him to make it back out.
It’s like what they say about the ladies and the “friend zone.” Once a guy gets put into that zone, he has to move mountains (or read one of those sleazy pickup artist books) to escape. Sure, it happens occasionally but mostly during fictional romantic comedies.
There’s nothing funny about Steelers’ fans once they make up their minds about a particular quarterback, especially if he fails to win the whole freakin’ thing. Think about it, when was the last time a non-Super Bowl-winning quarterback left the team and was welcomed back with open arms years after he left?
Charlie Batch, sure. But he was mostly a backup in Pittsburgh and actually won an important game or two during the team’s second Super Bowl era. Batch never had to be the man over the course of a season. If he was, he may have stumbled into Tommy Maddox territory. Maddox was beloved for a season, maybe two. However, once the fans got to experience Ben Roethlisberger in action, Tommy Gun quickly turned into Tommy Boy, at least he did after filling in for Roethlisberger during the 2005 season and throwing a pick-six in overtime in a tough loss against the Jaguars at Heinz Field. Maddox may or may not have had garbage thrown on his lawn after the Jacksonville defeat, but he certainly didn’t do his landscapers any favors later in the year when he was the starter in another overtime loss—this time to the lowly Ravens. Maddox was released shortly after the Steelers win in Super Bowl XL, and I’m not sure if he’s been back in town since.
I don’t believe O’Donnell has been back to Pittsburgh in any capacity other than as another team’s quarterback since his disastrous performance in Super Bowl XXX when he threw two key second-half interceptions that led directly to 14 points for the Cowboys in a depressing 27-17 defeat.
Steelers fans, who have enjoyed six Lombardi parades, have never forgiven O’Donnell, and he’s only one of three quarterbacks in the history of the franchise to lead the team to a Super Bowl. Heck, Bills fans, whose team has never won a Super Bowl, have long-since forgiven kicker Scott Norwood for his wide-right field goal miss at the end of the only one Buffalo had any realistic chance of winning.
Truth be told, Steelers fans were only tolerating O’Donnell up until he gave them a reason to truly hate him. I know this because I remember them chanting for Mike Tomczak to take his place late in the 1994 season when Pittsburgh was struggling to beat the Eagles in a game at old Three Rivers Stadium (you know who you are).
There was a time when the fans actually preferred Bubby Brister over O’Donnell, and this was after they said they preferred O’Donnell over Brister. Speaking of Brister, is there any love for him? If there is, where’s he been the past two decades since leaving the NFL?
Brister just turned 59 on August 15, but I didn’t see any “Happy birthday, Bubby!” posts on social media to mark the occasion.
What about Stewart? He led the Steelers to two AFC title games in four seasons, but he had such a traumatic experience in town, he had to write a book about it.
Anyway, this is the uphill battle Rudolph is facing. Can he overcome those odds and win the fans over? Even if he does, he damn well better win a Super Bowl as well.
Roethlisberger won right away, so he never had to experience a time when the fans were totally against him. Terry Bradshaw did over the first half-decade of his career. He was called dumb. He was called stupid. He was called a country bumpkin—and that was just by Chuck Noll (kidding...I think). As for the fans, they wanted Terry Hanratty to start in Bradshaw’s place.
True, Bradshaw eventually won the fans over but he had to win four Super Bowls first. And have you listened to the Blond Bomber talk about his experience playing in Pittsburgh? I believe he’s still more traumatized by that than Rocky Bleier is from being wounded in Vietnam.
The chances are, Rudolph will be nothing more than an afterthought in the years to come. Even if he does go on to replace Roethlisberger as the team’s next full-time starting quarterback, he could still wind up being an afterthought and a man who probably won’t be buying any property in town after his playing days are over.
Perhaps Slash knows a good book publisher Rudolph can contact.