The Steelers were being blown out and I wasn't surprised at all.
The date was November 3, 2013, and the scene was New York City. Earlier in the day, I had completed the New York City Marathon, and in the hectic hours following the race, I had fallen out of touch with what was happening in the Steelers game at New England. The Steelers had dropped an ugly decision at Oakland the previous week, so I wasn't very optimistic about their chances against a strong New England team with Pittsburgh struggling at 2-5 through seven games.
Waiting for a cab to get back to my friend's apartment following a flurry of activity (that included some delicious New York style pizza), I spotted a TV airing the Steelers-Pats game at a nearby bar through its windows. I can't remember what the exact score was at that juncture of the game, but it wasn't far off from the eventual 55-31 beat-down at the hands of the Patriots to drop the seemingly lifeless Steelers to 2-6.
I was upset with the score blaring at me through the window, but not surprised. Pittsburgh was 0-4 earlier in the year, and slumped to 8-8 the previous season to miss the playoffs for the first time this decade. But I didn't let my disappointment morph into anger; I merely took the proverbial deep breath and got prepared for the rebuilding phase.
Every team goes through it, save New England, who one day will have to rebuild as well once Tom Brady retires. Replace the coaching staff, release and trade everyone, stink for a few years, and start over. I was getting prepared to dig in for the long haul, to finally taste the bitter medicine that my Browns and Bengals buddies have been swallowing for years.
The thing is, the rebuilding never happened. Pittsburgh is 15-7 since the debacle in New England, including a solid 7-5 record away from Heinz Field during that span. The Steelers have four offensive players among the best at their positions in Maurkice Pouncey, Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. While still a work in progress, the defense has continued to battle despite having to overcome a slew of injuries and an influx of new players this season.
With their 27-20 win over the Falcons on Sunday, Pittsburgh will have a winning record for the first time since 2011, and have stretched their streak of consecutive non-losing seasons to 11, second only two New England's current streak of 14. The Steelers are just a half-game behind NFC North-leading Cincinnati and control their own destiny in the divisional race. Simply put, it's an exciting time to be a Steelers fan.
One constant throughout this roller coaster season has been Mike Tomlin. Say what you might about Tomlin as a coach, his game management or his personal decisions. As a leader, I believe that Mike Tomlin is among the best in the NFL. His steady hand has helped the Steelers guide the ship through the stormy seas which have been the past several seasons. Despite the rumors about his job security and the many criticisms that have swirled around him, Tomlin has stayed true to who he is and what he believes in.
If anything, this season has showed that his team hasn't tuned him out and has disproven the charge that his way of coaching isn't effective anymore. It's quite the opposite, actually, as Mike Tomlin is the perfect leader to guide Pittsburgh through this particular moment in their history, which might include another post-season run this winter.
We all could use a little extra money come the holiday season, so I volunteered to work some extra hours during the Steelers game today. When I checked today's final score and saw that the Steelers had won another pivotal game, I had the same reaction that I had 13 months ago in New York City: I wasn't a bit surprised.