There were four stories, any one of which would have been the top news item the previous week. The Steelers exercised the fifth year option for guard David DeCastro, they re-signed safety Will Allen, Le'Veon Bell was issued a three game suspension by the league. And the top story, one that will certainly one of the biggest of this and many other years was...
Troy Polamalu retires
This had 'be careful what you ask for' written all over it. The fate of Polamalu has been bandied about in clinical terms for months. But few seemed prepared for the emotional impact of his retirement actually coming to pass. Once it sank in that the last was being seen of one of the most popular and iconic talents in team and league history the magnitude of the loss began to be felt. In eulogizing Troy's career we came to terms not only with the enormity of his talent, but that of his character as well; his intelligence, humor and humility being as noteworthy as his physical skills. I want to add one more story, known only to me and a handful of others that though shared before is worthy of repeating.
It occurred at training camp in Latrobe a few years ago. At the end of the afternoon practice most players exit the field the way that they came, with scores of fans waiting to greet them and perhaps obtain an autograph. But at the opposite side of the field a smaller number of players will take golf carts directly to the dormitories at the top of the hill. Wise to this a smaller group of a several dozen fans will stake this area out. I watched this interplay for a few minutes and then began walking toward the parking lot. The path to parking intersects at a point with a narrow asphalt strip that leads up the hill to the dorms. At this point are stationed some staff members, college students mostly and a handful, no more than a dozen or so fans who linger to watch the players ride by. As I reach the intersection, a four seat golf cart turns the corner from the main road and begins to climb the hill. A young man is running in pursuit of the cart. At first I think it is a particularly determined autograph seeker. And then I and the others present realize what is going on. Troy has reached over from the passenger seat and is driving the cart. The man in pursuit is the cart's driver. Polamalu is driving just fast enough that the driver can keep pace with but cannot catch the cart. Everybody present roars with laughter as the cart passes through the intersection, but no one is more amused than Troy himself. Finally, about thirty yards further up the hill he relents and lets the driver catch them.
Troy the prankster. Not how we have come to imagine superstars.
Hours before Steelers Nation succumbed to the sadness of the Polamalu retirement the dominant emotion was anger. That running back Le'Veon Bell would be serving a suspension has been generally known for months. I don't know of anyone who thought he would get off scot free. The length of the suspension was greater than what many had expected, plus, like so much that has attempted to pass for wisdom coming out of New York, the punishment seemed to have matched or exceeded that for offenses that many believed to be of greater severity, leaving the impression of leadership that appears to be making it up as it goes. It encouraged further speculation that the league has it in for the Steelers as some fans wondered whether the Pats, Seahawks and Ravens would be the first three opponents for the Bell-less Steelers. I don't personally subscribe to the notion of a league conspiracy against Pittsburgh, but I can see the missteps the Goodell and company make to keep that idea alive.
With the issue of what becomes of Troy now settled, the value of the veteran safety went up dramatically and the Steelers wasted little time getting him back into the fold.
Though so much attention has been given this off season to a defense in transition from its coaching leadership to the players on the field, the Steelers have been quietly and steadily making moves to strengthen the juggernaut in the making that is the Pittsburgh offense. This week they solidified their relationship with third year guard, locking in the right side of their offensive line contractually. A long term deal for DeCastro as well as for left tackle Kelvin Beachum appear to be on the to do list.
State of the team
A year ago it was still unclear if linebacker Sean Spence would ever play football again, and if so, whether he could compete at an acceptable level. Now Spence is in the midst of his first normal off season with the question being how much growth and upside is possible now that he has what is for all intent his rookie season under his belt?
With little of real importance to do, some organizations just go about generating meaningless statistical categories. Fortunately for them this is still a relatively slow news week, so you be treated to where the Steelers head coach rates with an aggression index.
The schedule of the games that don't count has been released. Because of their selection for the Hall of Fame game this year the Steelers get the dubious distinction of playing in five of these games. Prayers begin now that injuries are kept to a minimum. A lot of players (including Spence) have gone down in these games.