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Controversy creates Cash: The media-enforced chaos of the Steelers

By Jeff Snedden
February 13, 2012
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been the model of consistency in professional sports since 1972. Any team that can only hire three head coaches in 30 years is an anomaly in this era, and do so with the level of success the Steelers have maintained is virtually impossible. The ownership situation is very simple – one word simple – ROONEY. The Rooney family has owned the Steelers since their inception in 1933, and both Art Rooney Sr. and Dan Rooney have been Hall of Fame owners who are considered to be pillars among whom the National Football League was built. The Steelers have sold out every home game for three decades, and claim a season-ticket holder wish list that could be either six years or sixty years long – depending on who you talk to.
The Steelers have essentially taken over the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Including the impending inductions of Dermontti Dawson and Jack Butler, the franchise has placed 25 all-time greats in the hallowed halls. The team has won six Super Bowl championships, the most in the league. They are consistently among the playoff contenders in the AFC, year in and year out. For better or for worse, Pittsburgh has emerged as football Utopia. Green Bay may be more charming, Dallas may have the bells and whistles, but Pittsburgh – blue collar, tough, iced over six months a year – has outclassed them all to become ground zero for professional football. A city that derives its identity from hard work and becoming successful by living life the right way, paralleled by its football team in the exact same way.
So naturally, everybody hates us.
Opposing fans, national media, the blogosphere, the childish comment block posters internet wide, and basically every citizen that lives within the metropolitan areas of Boston, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Baltimore all hate the Pittsburgh Steelers. It has become almost a rite of passage for some people to hate the Steelers, to do or say whatever they can to rattle the cage of this football fortress hub.
For the most part, the Steelers have avoided controversy. The Rooney family always seems to make the right moves, take care of the players and coaches that have contributed to the cause, and fostered a truly unique relationship between Steeler Nation and the franchise. During this offseason, we have started to see cracks in that concrete foundation, and that has unleashed the wolves to expand on that controversy and try to knock the Pittsburgh Steelers down a peg. It almost seems as if the entire football world has been sitting on a block of ice, just waiting for the moment when the Steelers let their guard down. This offseason has given them the ammunition they have long been waiting for.
We start with the Bruce Arians fiasco. Anyone who follows football in Pittsburgh must admit that for the past three years, the chants of “turn the page, Arians” have resounded both at Heinz Field and on the local radio talk shows. Old-school Steelers fans, adamant about the lack of a power running game, have clamored for a change – despite the fact that the team won a Super Bowl and went to a second Super Bowl with Arians calling the plays. The fans got what they wanted, Bruce Arians was not tendered a contract and was free to go. The team called it a “retirement’ because that was the only thing it could be called. Arians wasn’t fired, he simply did not get re-signed. He immediately went out and found gainful employment with the Indianapolis Colts. These things happen in football. The Steelers search for a new Offensive Coordinator ended up being a hotly contested subject in Pittsburgh, and eventually Todd Haley was brought in to take over the offensive play calling.
Todd Haley is an experienced offensive football coach who has worlds of experience and has had success in every stop he has made over his career. He is not some charity case that the Steelers hired because he is from Pittsburgh, or has roots here. Haley earned the right to the job by impressing Mike Tomlin in an interview. The local media of course took pot shots at the Steelers for “forcing out Arians” and then went on to make up dissension between QB Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley. Why didn’t’ Haley call Ben prior to accepting the job? Why didn’t Haley call Ben after taking the job? These questions are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Ben Roethlisberger is a professional football player, one of the best quarterbacks in the league and the leader of the locker room. That is all he is. Ben Roethlisberger does not get to be treated “special”. He is not granted the ability to decide who his offensive coordinator is. The Steelers could hire Ronald McDonald as their next OC, and all Ben needs to worry about is when he needs to be in town to go over the new offense. The media has played Ben off of Haley for two weeks now, making it seem that the QB is angry that his poker-buddy is no longer employed by the Steelers. It is a non-story that has continued to be dissected by the people who need to sell newspapers and gain listeners. Big Ben is a pro, and he will do whatever is needed to make sure the Steelers don’t miss a beat in 2012 and beyond.
The Hines Ward drama is just starting, and the national media is at fault on this one. NFL Network has an “Insider” working for them named Jason La Canfora. This “journalist” put the rumor out that the Steelers planned on cutting Ward, posting a quote in an article on on Friday afternoon that stirred up fans across the country. This is not the first time La Canfora has opened his mouth before getting his facts straight. In 2010, he reported that the Steelers would cut Casey Hampton. La Canfora has made a name for himself by claiming that he has “inside sources” to NFL teams. There have been many times when he has publicly shown his inability to have his finger on the pulse of a situation. This is another of those events. Hines Ward, shocked by the news, responded personally via his Facebook page yesterday. Ward reiterated that nothing had been decided and that he intended to finish his career in Pittsburgh, no matter what the cost. Ward is a stand-up guy, a player who deserves the benefit of the doubt. This La Canfora piece has created an unneeded controversy in Pittsburgh, which I suppose is the reason why it was reported. Guys like Jason La Canfora have no credibility and instead they go for “shock value” stories, such as this. When Ward and the Steelers make a decision, it will be reported locally to the fans and media, not from some D-List writer.
To top matters off, we now have local media outlets creating a story out of thin air that Mike Tomlin is unhappy and may not be extended. Tomlin is in the year of his contract where the Steelers traditionally extend their coaches, and since no activity has taken place as of yet, of course this has started the rumors that Tomlin is not long for Pittsburgh and will seek another job once his contract runs out. Mike Tomlin is working on a Hall of Fame resume; he has a Lombardi trophy and two AFC Championships in five NFL seasons. The chances of him accomplishing anything similar in another city are slim. Besides that, Tomlin seems to truly love Pittsburgh and wants to keep his family here, roots and all. It’s another “fairy tale” story made-up to create controversy where none exists.
The endless pursuit of controversy in Steeler Nation seems to be the number one goal of the media right now. With the draft upcoming and the waiver deadline approaching quickly, we will soon have clarification on many of the issues we are hearing about. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the offseason.
You still cheer for the best organization, and best team, in the National Football League.
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