If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t get too geeked up for Steelers preseason football these days.
That’s more a child’s state of mind (or at least it should be). No, I mainly watch Steelers exhibition games for the same reason I go on YouTube and find funny clips from the 1970s hit sitcom, Sanford and Son: Nostalgia.
Much like old television shows, preseason football games can be tedious if you try and sit through too many. But Sanford and Son is a classic show that I grew up with. The same can be said for Steelers football—at least the growing up with it part and (thankfully) not so much the laugh-out-loud part. Therefore, I just can’t help but watch, even if I know it’s probably not going to be very exciting.
Having said that, the grown-up me isn’t always jaded when it comes to Steelers’ exhibition games. I still remember watching quarterback Ben Roethlisberger take his first preseason snaps as a rookie back in 2004. I can recall Edmund Nelson, the former Steelers defensive lineman who performed the Charlie Batch color analyst duties for KDKA TV back in those days, talking about how Roethlisberger looked tall and in command in the pocket, and how that would serve him well once he finally got his chance to start down the road (turned out, that portion of the road was like a block away).
I was probably a little too happy the following preseason when Batch hit receiver Sean Morey for a winning touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter of a game against the Panthers.
I have fond memories of Ryan Shazier’s preseason debut against the Bills back in 2014 when he intercepted a pass and made a few other splash plays before an excited audience at Heinz Field.
Unfortunately, those moments don’t come along very often. Much like the fourth episode of a Sanford and Son marathon, I’m usually counting the seconds by the time the third quarter of most Steelers preseason games rolls around these days—that is, if I’m not already asleep.
But Saturday night, during Pittsburgh’s dress-rehearsal preseason game against the Lions at Heinz Field, was one rare occasion when I “marked out,” as they say in the wrestling profession. I was the proverbial fanboy. I was “geeked up,” as they said back in the 1980s.
This occurred in the first quarter, during the 46-yard catch-and-run by rookie running back Najee Harris. To be fair, I didn’t jump out of my seat as the title of this article says. No, instead, I said, “Holy bleep!” That phrase was uttered not long after Harris caught a short crossing pass from Roethlisberger, navigated his way toward the far sidelines, turned the corner, avoided several Lions defenders, and began to turn on the jets and race downfield.
It was the turning on the jets and racing downfield part that really got me fired up. I had been wanting to see that kind of run from Harris through the first two-plus games of the exhibition season, but I never thought it would come after a catch.
I realize Harris isn’t the first young Steelers running back to pick up huge chunks of yardage on a play in a preseason game. Heck, he wasn’t the only Steelers youngster to do that on Saturday night—receivers Ray-Ray McCloud and Matthew Sexton also had plays where they turned on the jets and outraced several Lions defenders.
It was just different coming from Harris, though. It’s what he represents to the team. The Steelers took a bit of a gamble selecting a running back in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft—at least that’s what the experts said then, and that’s what many are still saying now. The Steelers made such a huge investment in the running back position for several reasons. First of all, they hoped to improve upon their dead-last finish on the ground in 2020. Furthermore, they wanted to take some of the load off of their 39-year old quarterback. Also, they needed to find an actual bell-cow running back; I’m talking about the kind of player capable of the type of production Le’Veon Bell gave their offense for four-plus seasons.
When I saw Harris running down that field, it gave me hope that maybe he could do all of those things for the Steelers in 2021 and many more years after that.
Will he? That remains to be seen, of course. But you have to start somewhere—including your first big play.
Najee Harris finally got his first “Holy bleep!” moment out of the way on Saturday night.
Now, it’s on to the other stuff he was drafted to do.