That is what comes to mind when I hear the words “Pittsburgh Steelers.” No franchise in NFL history has epitomized that word better than the Steelers. Every single time I hear that name uttered I begin having scenes from old NFL Films play in my head with the likes of Jack Ham, Mel Blount, Mean Joe Greene and, of course, Jack Lambert flash before me.
From the 1970’s teams under Chuck Noll with that “Steel Curtain” defense that wrecked havoc on opponents as the team racked up four Super Bowl trophies in six seasons, to the 1990’s and 2000’s team under head coach Bill Cowher that featured such gritty stars as Jerome Bettis, Greg Lloyd and Rod Woodson, the Steelers’ identity was that of toughness.
Or at least it used to be.
The once proud franchise is no longer known for the trait that made them one of the NFL’s top and most revered franchises. The Steelers have more in common these days with a daytime soap opera or a trashy reality television show than toughness and true grit.
They have become the “Real Housewives of Pittsburgh.”
Usually at this time of the year, the Steelers are making headlines for a deep playoff run. Pittsburgh, though, missed out on the playoffs for the first time in five years this season but the Steelers have continued to produce headlines due to the Antonio Brown saga.
The sensational wide receiver skipped practices and missed the team’s regular-season finale at home — a contest in which the Steelers were still fighting for a playoff berth. Brown also reportedly left the stadium at halftime.
In the days and weeks since, reports have surfaced that Brown had an altercation with his quarterback, has demanded a trade, isn’t returning phone calls from either his QB or his head coach Mike Tomlin, and the team president publicly indicated that Brown likely won’t be on the roster next season.
Brown, a five time All-Pro, has been keeping himself busy, though.
The Madden NFL 19 cover star appeared on the new reality show “The Masked Singer,” wearing a hippo mask and singing “My Prerogative” by Bobby Brown. He called former teammate and current ESPN analyst Ryan Clark an “Uncle Tom” on Instagram for being critical of him, and he took to Twitter to voice his displeasure about his former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians referring to him as a “diva” and did so by throwing shade at former teammate Emmanuel Sanders.
“He didn’t draft me he drafted @ESanders_10 same guy who missed rehab to go on networks to talk about me on situation he have zero clue! Arians now wears kangoo hats n glasses but ima diva! Done seen it all then they say we friends stop lien.”
All of which fits nicely into Brown’s scrapbook of erratic diva wide receiver behavior, which one can only assume was bought at a shop owned by Terrell Owens.
There was the Facebook Live video he shot during a postgame speech by his coach, his run on Dancing With the Stars, there was him calling a beat reporter a racist and then threatening another writer for reporting the incident, there was him driving his black Porsche 100 mph through a 45-mph speed zone, being sued for allegedly throwing furniture off a 14th-floor balcony, and oh yeah — he arrived at training camp this year in a helicopter.
Some of Brown’s actions are amusing and harmless, others not so much.
What isn’t debatable is that the relationship can’t be salvaged and the Steelers will likely have to take a cap hit to trade him somewhere.
The Steelers began the season with another star, All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell, opting to give up millions of dollars NOT to play for the franchise this season. The season will end with the team being forced to part ways with another All-Pro.
Have both Bell and Brown displayed selfishness, and a me-first attitude, during their tenures and do both deserve blame for where the Steelers are at as an organization? Absolutely.
But a whole lot of blame deserves to be placed at the feet of the front office, and head coach Mike Tomlin, for the culture they have helped create and foster for more than a decade. You see, the Steelers have long enabled their stars to act this way and no one better encompasses this sense of entitlement and me-first attitude than their franchise quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger — the NFL’s most fraudulent “team leader.”
A quick recap of Big Ben’s “leadership” qualities:
-Roethlisberger jeopardized his own health and his team’s success by speeding around town on a motorcycle without a helmet and wrecking and injuring himself.
-There were the two separate incidents of sexual assault claims, including one of Big Ben raping a woman in a bathroom stall in Georgia — an accusation supported by three other people, but the accuser asked the case not to be prosecuted due to being the media exposure it would cause.
-With his weekly appearances on a Pittsburgh radio station, Big Ben has long used the platform to troll and criticize the team’s front office, coaching staff, and his teammates like Martavius Bryant (substance abuse), Le’Veon Bell (questioning if he was going to be in football shape after a holdout), and Brown (being a distraction after losing his temper on sideline.)
-My personal favorite, despite him religiously revealing to the press injuries he was suffering that the team, coach and staff weren’t aware of, is Ben always ready to throw a teammate under the bus in a passive-aggressive fashion. Earlier this season, he went on the radio after a 24-17 loss to the Denver Broncos, and criticized wide receiver James Washington for dropping a ball and Brown for route running, but yet didn’t take blame for throwing a late-game interception in the red zone to a defensive tackle.
Big Ben has no issue passing the buck of blame to a teammate. He said on the radio, “I think I have earned the right to be able to do that with as long as I have been here.”
Leaders — real leaders don’t do any of that. Real leaders also don’t publicly whine about the team drafting a backup quarterback in the mid rounds but what do you expect from a player who was mentioned in an unflattering light in porn star Stormy Daniel’s best-selling book?
Big Ben has always been a punk but because he takes a lot of hits and throws touchdowns (everyone ignores the enormous amounts of turnovers) and won a pair of Super Bowls— he has been allowed to behave as the ultimate diva. The Steelers created this monster and locker-room cancer years ago and have continued to allow him to do so without consequence and this is the fruit of those labors.
So we shouldn’t be surprised that other teammates who have witnessed that type of preferential treatment would become over the course of time divas themselves? No we shouldn’t. The Steelers chose to continue to reward selfish behavior with big contracts because winning at all costs was more important than the tough and team-first mentality the franchise had built over the decades.
Pittsburgh used to be about toughness now it is about something different and what a shame that is.