In January 2007, a man named Mike Tomlin became head coach of the Steelers, starting a new era in Pittsburgh. In April 2007, a cat named Tomlin was born, starting a new era in my life. Little did I know then, that both would set a new standard. Let me tell you about the greatest cat in the world, and his parallels with the greatest coach in the world.
I didn’t know a single thing about Mike Tomlin when the Steelers hired him, but I trusted the Rooney Way enough to know in my gut that he wouldn’t be a temporary fling. I gave my new cat his name to show my devotion of fandom (and it’s a low key cool name). In return, Mike Tomlin exceeded anyone’s expectations, becoming not just a winner, but a leader and in many ways, my hero. Cat Tomlin also exceeded everyone’s expectations, becoming the most affectionate, gregarious and well-behaved animal I’ve ever encountered. Besides a rare instance where he crossed the boundary of play or refused to call a time-out, he had a hall of fame career.
Both rubbed elbows with celebrities. Coach was most recently mugging it up with Tracy Morgan. Cat Tomlin was once yelled at by Rob Lowe for nearly disrupting a scene of “Parks and Rec.” In fact, both were treated like celebrities. The technicians at the vet’s office would pass around cat Tomlin, each getting a hug.
For 16 years, both had no losing seasons. There were heavy years and leaner years. For cat Tomlin, a strict diet and an emerging thyroid condition brought that down. But things took a turn for the worse in October 2022. At 2-6, Coach Tomlin looked to be on the verge of his first losing season. At the same time, cat Tomlin seemed to also be slipping from his winning ways. His chest was filling with fluid, and specialists couldn’t give me a definite diagnosis. For a moment, I even considered a parking lot rendezvous to buy black market pet injections from China that certain Facebook groups swore would cure his affliction.
A series of tests ruled out everything from a bacteria infection to heart failure. By process of elimination, the option that remained was lung cancer. The vet guessed that cat Tomlin probably had about 4 weeks left. She gave him a pair of steroids to help with his appetite. We spend the following days laying together on the couch watching Coach Tomlin press conferences and other Steelers videos on YouTube. I quietly hoped and prayed that cat Tomlin would hang around to see the end of this sad season.
Then something surprising happened. The Steelers began to turn it around. There were wins against the Saints and Colts in November, plus a 30-point performance against the Bengals. At the same time, cat Tomlin was seeing a similar surge. The medications had changed the fluid in his chest, from a thick, yellow mucus, to a thinner, pink liquid. As long as this liquid was drained from his chest each month, cat Tomlin was not just surviving, he was relatively thriving. Each week, he was more like his healthy self, and each week, the Steelers continued their winning ways. Cat Tomlin not only got to see the end of another winning season for the Steelers, we also got to share one more year of free agency and draft season. There was even a point in the spring when the vet could not detect a tumor when looking at the X-rays.
Eventually all winning streaks must come to an end. In May and June, the liquid in cat Tomlin’s chest began filling more quickly, and the once-monthly veterinarian trips started happening more frequently. On June 14th, I came home to find Tomlin’s breathing at its most labored yet. The time had come. On June 15th, Tomlin got to do all his favorite things one last time: lay in the backyard, walk around the house, sunbathe on the pavement, listen to me complain about Steelers Twitter. He purred in my arms as the euthanization technicians arrived.
Long live cat Tomlin!
Kyle Chrise is the host of the podcast “What Yinz Talkin’ Bout.” New episodes are published every Thursday. Check out the latest episode below: