"I'm proud to say I supported this team before it became a perennial champion," says a lot of people who don't want to be considered bandwagon fans.
"I wish I could coach a team without a franchise quarterback," said no head coach ever (at least not honestly).
Following the announcement of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin's two-year contract-extension last Friday—a deal that runs through 2020—one of the concerns many fans and media members have expressed is his ability to continue to win after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's retirement, which is presumed to happen sooner rather than later, what with his unwillingness to commit to football beyond 2017.
That concern about Tomlin is nothing new. In-fact, it's been used as a weapon of criticism against him ever since he was hired in 2007.
If "He Wins With Cowher's Players" was the name of a dealership, Roethlisberger would be the car modeled in the front window.
So, will Tomlin be able to win without Roethlisberger?
I guess it all depends on what you mean by "win."
If you mean what I think you do, and that's Super Bowls, well, when it comes to that, it's hard to name many head coaches throughout history who were able to reach the top of the mountain without a franchise quarterback.
Paul Brown, the innovative head coach who many consider to be the godfather of modern football, never won a title without Otto Graham.
The man the Super Bowl trophy is named after—Vince Lombardi—never won a championship without Bart Starr.
The late Chuck Noll, perhaps the biggest reason the Steelers have grown into a world-wide phenomenon, never won a title without Terry Bradshaw.
I can list many more examples, but I'll end with the man far too many fans indirectly credit for that Super Bowl XLIII victory, Bill Cowher, who never won a ring until Roethlisberger came into his life.
Yes, with the exceptions of Joe Gibbs (Mark Rypien), Brian Billick (Trent Dilfer) and Jon Gruden (Brad Johnson), you're not going to find many head coaches who grabbed that ring without the most important component at their disposal.
Now, if you mean win on a consistent basis and keep his teams competitive, sans a franchise passer, like Tomlin's predecessor did for the vast-majority of his career, that's a different story.
However, when you examine the many changes that have taken place within the organization since the previous Super Bowl era, changes that have included two new coordinators and a totally revamped roster, it's a story that should have a happy ending.
While some former Super Bowl winners and contenders fell on hard times in recent years, teams with legit franchise arms like the Saints, Chargers, Colts and Giants, Tomlin was able to keep his troops competitive during those coordinator changes and that roster overhaul (Pittsburgh finished 8-8 in both 2012 and 2013 and was in contention for the postseason every week but one).
Speaking of that roster, it once again includes some of the most elite players in the league at their respective positions.
And, most importantly, the Steelers are bona fide Super Bowl contenders once more.
Sure, if it fits your agenda, you can deflect the praise in other directions, such as Kevin Colbert, The Steeler Way and, most obviously, Roethlisberger. But sooner or later, you have to acknowledge that Tomlin is a damn good coach, a coach who will probably find a way to keep his teams competitive for the majority of his time in Pittsburgh—franchise quarterback or no franchise quarterback.
Will he be good enough to lead the Steelers to a Super Bowl once Roethlisberger retires? (By the way, they're voicing those same concerns up in New England about Bill Belichick's ability to get it done without Tom Brady.)
Again, when it comes to that, you're asking Mike Tomlin to meet a standard few head coaches—even the ones enshrined in Canton—have been able to live up to.