Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) March 30, 2015
"We are family" still applies to Pittsburgh sports.
It's been over 35 years since Terry Bradshaw and Willie Stargell graced the cover of Sports Illustrated together, but the bond between the Steelers and Pirates remains strong.
A week after attending the NFL's Owners Meetings in Arizona, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was on hand visiting the Pirates in Bradenton, Florida as the Buccos prepare for the upcoming season, which begins next Monday in Cincinnati.
Tomlin's quotes about the experience revealed his rooted interest in the team. Tomlin praised Pirates manager Clint Hurdle and the job he's done in helping create a winning atmosphere around the Pirates since taking over as manager in 2011. After not posting a winning season from 1993-2012, Hurdle's Pirates have won 94 and 88 games respectively over the last two seasons while earning consecutive trips to the MLB playoffs. In 2013, the Pirates defeated the Reds in the National League Wild Card Game and took the Cardinals to the limit in the National League Divisional Series.
"They've gone through what you would consider a culture change," Tomlin told Pittsburgh Sports-Gazette sports reporter Bill Brink. "We all know in our businesses how difficult that is. A lot of people give it lip service, but it's a tremendous process and to see them push through it and to continually push through it."
After consecutive 8-8 seasons, the Steelers pushed through in many ways in 2014. They won the franchise's first division title since 2010 in going 11-5. But after looking at the Pirates roster up close in Florida, Tomlin thinks a few of the Pirates could help his club, in particluar 6'7'' reliever Jared Hughes and 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, who Tomlin hinted could fill the Steelers void at kick returner.
"I'll bet you (McCutchen) can settle under a punt," Tomlin joked.
Hurdle, who won the National League Manager of the Year award in 2013, said that he frequently speaks with Tomlin, picking the Steelers coach's brain when it comes to various aspects of coaching.
"I really like the opportunity to pick up a phone every once in a while and call those guys and say ‘Hey, have you ever dealt with this?' " Hurdle said. "I got a situation that's on my hands."
This season, Hurdle will face a new situation, one that Tomlin has faced essentially every day since becomming the Steelers coach in 2007. Hurdle's Pirates are facing high expectations this season, expectations that reached new heights after ESPN baseball guru Buster Olney picked the Pirates to win the 2015 World Series. Three years ago, the definition of a great baseball season in Pittsburgh was to win 82 games and clinch the franchise's first winning record since 1992. Now, it's do something that hasn't been done in Pittsburgh since 1979.
Here's where Hurdle should seek the guidance of Tomlin, who has always seemed to handle the pressure of being the Steelers coach well. It's good that that kind of expectation is back among all Pittsburgh sports teams, and here's hoping that one of (or all of them) reach their maximum potential in 2015.