Before I begin this article, and since I am obligated to tie everything in with the Steelers in some way (I believe I’d lose my Steelers writing license, otherwise), how about the fact that Super Bowl LVI will include defensive lineman Aaron Donald, a Pitt alum, a Pittsburgh guy and someone who Steelers fans will want the team to acquire years from now when he’s in the twilight of his career with the goal being “to win a ring with his hometown team”? Ditto for receiver Tyler Boyd.
Yes, I think having two Pittsburgh guys as part of the upcoming Super Bowl LVI matchup involving the Rams and Bengals is at least one intriguing storyline to sink your teeth into over the next two weeks.
I don’t know if you recall this, but a week or so prior to the Rams Super Bowl LIII matchup against the Patriots following the 2018 season, Donald was spotted shopping at Ross Park Mall. How yinzer is that?
Speaking of a yinzer thing to do, Boyd made headlines after the Bengals' 24-10 Week-3 victory over the Steelers at Heinz Field by saying that his hometown team gave up at the end of the game.
So, there you go. If you don’t feel like camping out at Ross Park Mall this week in order to possibly catch a glimpse of Donald grabbing some pretzel nuggets at Auntie Anne’s, you can use Boyd’s comments on the Steelers earlier in the year as fuel to either criticize him or Mike Tomlin’s inability to motivate his team.
Then, there’s Mike Hilton, the former Steeler who somehow betrayed the team by taking more money to sign with Cincinnati. That’s a good story, right?
Those are nice stories and all, but what about the Bengals, a team that will be making its first trip to the Super Bowl in 33 seasons? And the way Cincinnati did it after so many years of futility—finally getting over the top after drafting the franchise quarterback number one overall just two years earlier—that’s likely how the NFL would script it if this whole thing was rigged—and it’s not, as far as you know.
Joe Burrow is THE MAN, and I think he knows it. Judging by the way he dresses and talks, I’m looking forward to the next two weeks and watching Burrow pull off his best Joe Namath impression.
How about the Rams and their approach to getting back to the Super Bowl? They went all-in prior to the 2016 NFL Draft and traded multiple first-round picks to the Titans in order to take quarterback Jared Goff number one. Not long after that, they hired Sean McVay to be their head coach.
The Rams had their coach, their quarterback, and Donald, who had been a defensive force for their franchise since they selected him in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
The Rams had moved back to Los Angeles prior to the 2016 campaign and were primed to make a run at a championship.
They came close in that aforementioned Super Bowl LIII matchup against New England, but the Patriots defense was just too much for Goff.
It would have been easy for Los Angeles, who inked Goff to a mega-deal prior to the 2019 campaign, to stick with the status quo, even as Goff and the Rams struggled over the next two seasons. But the Rams wouldn’t just stand pat. Nope, prior to the 2021 season, they traded two more number-one picks to the Lions, along with Goff, in exchange for quarterback Matthew Stafford, like Burrow and Goff, a former number one draft pick. Stafford put up good-to-great numbers in Detriot, but he could never take the lifeless Lions anywhere but down.
Now, after all these years of coming up short, Stafford is actually in the Super Bowl with a new team.
And what about all those other premium draft picks the Rams have traded away in recent years in order to bring in even more big-name players, including Jalen Ramsey, who cost two first-round picks, and Von Miller? I mean, holy cow. Thanks to all of this wheeling and dealing, Los Angeles hasn’t had a first-round pick since 2016 and won’t have one until 2024 (maybe). Can you imagine how miserable recent and future offseasons have and will be for Rams fans who are addicted to the draft?
Hard to argue with the results, though. You can say the same for the Bengals, who have been built mostly through the draft.
If the Bengals win, it could signify that they are the next juggernaut in the NFL, a young team to be reckoned with for many years to come. It would make Burrow a bigger star than he already is.
If the Rams win, it will be a long time coming, and it would also justify the obvious mortgaging of their future.
Can you imagine what it would do for Stafford and his legacy? Some might start talking about the Hall of Fame as a realistic destination. It seems weird now, but I’m sure folks would have felt the same way about Jim Plunkett (the number one pick of the 1971 NFL Draft) prior to his career resurgence with the Raiders in the early-’80s that included two Super Bowl titles. He hasn’t been inducted, but he’s been in the discussions, which is better than most former NFL quarterbacks.
No doubt it would cement Donald’s legacy—not that it needs much cementing, especially with his resume. He doesn’t need any Super Bowls to make it into the Hall of Fame, but—and this is just an educated guess—I’m sure he wouldn’t mind winning at least one.
Oh yeah, and the Rams will be playing the Super Bowl in their home stadium, something that hasn’t happened since last year.
The Rams, a fourth seed, vs. the Bengals, another fourth seed. This didn’t seem possible a month or so ago when the Rams were floundering a bit and the Bengals were still the Bungals in the minds of many.
Yet, here we are, a Super Bowl that includes unlikely participants whose stories are intriguing and inspiring, even for Steelers fans.
And, hey, at least it’s not Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh, amirite?