There is a lot for Steelers fans to look forward to this offseason. We have the returning Defensive Player of the Year in T.J. Watt and the highest paid safety in the NFL in Minkah Fitzpatrick. Not to mention the addition of Myles Jack at the much-discussed Mack/ Buck hybrid, as well as "make or break" seasons for former first round picks Devin Bush jr. and Terrell Edmunds.
With all the offseason storylines it might be easy to overlook one of the longest running traditions the Steelers have. It is a tradition that officially dates back to 2015 but has lived in black and gold folklore long before that.
I am not speaking of the team’s attempt to find another franchise quarterback for a total of three since 1933. I am not talking about the triumphant return of a running game to this once great rushing dynasty. I am not even referring to our never-ending quest to get a call overturned on a challenge. No, I am, of course, speaking of Coach Mike Tomlin’s single-handed attempt to eradicate the NFL of any player with the last name Boykin. Coach Tomlin began this quest to keep the NFL Boykin free in 2015, when he traded a conditional 5th round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for cornerback Brandon Boykin, a move that was met with many raised eyebrows around the league. Although Boykin had a breakout year in 2013, his numbers in 2014 were down and many insiders thought that a 5th round pick was too pricey for Boykin. It was reported that in private Tomlin had stated that he was "willing to go all the way up to a number one" to make sure that no Boykin disgraced the hallowed halls of the NFL.
As a Steeler, Boykin saw little playing time in a defensive secondary that featured Valentino (Don’t call me Antwon) Blake and was eventually placed on the injured reserve due to a nasty splinter in his gluteus maximus that he suffered while warming the bench at Heinz Field.
Tomlin admittedly missed another chance in 2016 when he narrowly missed out on undrafted free agent Trevone Boykin, who was signed away from him by Pete Carroll. Those who know Tomlin best describe him as "shook" by the incident. Sources say that it was at this moment Tomlin vowed to try twice as hard to keep the NFL as a "no Boykin zone", stating "Obviously I wish there were no Boykins in the world, or universe. However, I can only control the things I can control. As far as I am concerned, the NFL is my island, and my island will remain Boykinless for the foreseeable future."
It took six years for Tomlin to make good on this promise, but on April 19, 2022, the Pittsburgh Steelers claimed one Miles Boykin, former Baltimore Ravens wide receiver, off waivers. At the time this move might have been seen as an attempt to bolster a depleted wide receiver corps that had just lost John Smith, and Ray Ray McCloud. The latter did not actually leave the team, he is so small that the team literally lost him in the tall grass, like an errant tee-shot. Boykin would remain number 3 on the depth chart for nine days when on April 28, 2022 at the 2022 NFL draft the Pittsburgh Steelers selected two receivers in the first four rounds. The latest target of Tomlin’s anti-Boykin campaign was a special teams standout for the Ravens, so perhaps this Boykin could find a home with the Steelers there. Once again, the wily old veteran coach had an answer for this in the form of college cornerback turned wide receiver, special teams ace and suspected Tomlin co-conspirator Gunner Olszewski. Well played coach.
It will be interesting to see what Tomlin has in store for his latest Boykin. One thing is for sure at the time of writing this, there is only one Boykin in the league, but if you ask coach Mike Tomlin, that is one too many.
*All quotes attributed to Mike Tomlin are fictional, no Boykins were harmed during the writing process.