Mike Tomlin’s Top Five Thanksgiving List
I suppose it is rather presumptuous of me to tell Mike Tomlin what he should be thankful for. My excuse is, in looking at what Mike Tomlin has to be thankful for, Steeler Nation will also have an opportunity to examine their blessings in this oh-so-challenging season. Some of them will be hard blessings, some of them may seem like small things, and some of them are foundational.
And isn’t this like the blessings we enjoy in our lives? Many, even sometimes the greatest ones, are only truly discovered in retrospect, and may not seem like blessings at all in the moment. Some are small and barely noticed until we reflect back and realize that if it weren’t for that “small” thing some much bigger things would never have happened. And some of them prove themselves to be the aspects of our lives which made all the other blessings possible.
Here’s my list. Please feel free to add to it in the comments, if you aren’t too busy sleeping on the couch.
5. Landry Jones, and what he represents
The man who has gotten us through the loss of both Michael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger this season would have been gone two years ago (at least two) if the Steelers were responsive to the criticism of not only the fans but the local press. If the Steelers squeak into the playoffs this season and go on to make a deep run, we might well decide Jones was one of the factors which made it possible. Even if he never plays another snap for the Steelers in a meaningful role, it would be a lot harder to look at that fourth-rounder in 2013 as a wasted pick.
[Joe Starkey of the Tribune-Review stole my idea after I wrote these words with an entire article arguing the same point on Sunday. It’s kind of creepy that he can read my mind.]
4. Sean Spence, and what he represents
The man whose position coach said would probably never play a down in the NFL is contributing to a team which has been riddled with injuries. In the meantime he has been an inspiration to his coach and teammates. Maybe there is something to be said for putting expediency aside now and again.
3. William Gay, Alejandro Villanueva, Heath Miller, Arthur Moats, and too many others to mention, and what they represent
These men represent a Steelers organization which encourages community involvement and service, which supports their players in tackling difficult issues, an organization who believes in going quietly about one’s business and leaving the community better than you found it. One doesn’t have to live in Pittsburgh to be grateful for this.
2. Ben Roethlisberger, and what he represents
Raise your hand if you thought the sleaze-ball holding the post-Milledgeville press conference would eventually turn into a strong leader, a solid family man, and open-handed and generous with his time and money.
Me neither. I certainly hoped it was possible. My fear, though, was even if he was capable such a change he wouldn’t be given the opportunity.
As I wrote in an article titled Redemption Stories back in early 2011, in the week before the Super Bowl:
As I write this, Ben is at the podium for Media Day, and the sharks are circling, waiting for him to make one misstep that they can plaster all over their various newspapers and websites. It’s a lose-lose proposition for Ben – if he says “I was a jerk and I feel bad about it and I’ve tried to change,” it will probably be interpreted by those who despise him as an admission of guilt, possibly guilt for more than just antisocial behavior. On the other hand, if he deflects such questions as he’s done thus far, he will get articles like this one, written by Steve Politi: Steelers QB Roethlisberger won’t find redemption with another Super Bowl ring. This was one of the nicer ones I found.
Here’s a sample of the author’s perspective:
He refused to say if he apologized to his teammates for the horrific judgment that led to his four-game suspension at the start of the season, or if the fallout had changed him as a person. He referred to anything remotely probing as a “reflective question” and made it clear he wasn’t in a reflective mood…
…His approach couldn’t be more different from how Michael Vick, the other quarterback for a Pennsylvania team who fell from grace, handled his return to football. Vick never missed an opportunity to show regret for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring that led to his stay in a federal prison.
The two cases are different. Vick was convicted of a crime while Roethlisberger was never charged. Still, it’s striking how reluctant Roethlisberger is to say he made mistakes, and that could be why some football fans seem ready to embrace Vick’s return more than his.
This is ironic on so many levels.
…maybe Ben could go on the Redemption Tour, Now Playing in a Newspaper Near You. He is not going to be able to make the rounds of season ticket holder’s homes to apologize to them for embarrassing Steeler Nation. For one thing, there’s way too many of them. But many members of the media appear to believe that redemption can [only] be found through the public eating of a continual diet of crow. And when he does, the Steve Politis will speak of the “phony smile plastered to his face” as he eats it, since clearly being a journalist gives you a press pass into other people’s minds and hearts. But maybe, just maybe, if he abases himself long enough and often enough to anyone who cares to ask, then in a few years he may have walked partway down the Road to Redemption. Because, as so many writers have hastened to assure us, just winning football games doesn’t cut any ice with the aggrieved public. The fact that it means that he is doing his job is apparently irrelevant.
But despite the enormous difficulties involved, difficulties with which any of us who have had to recover from a very public fall from grace are all too familiar, Roethlisberger persevered.
The accumulated behaviors of many years of believing the hype and an increasing sense of entitlement and invulnerability are not easy to shed. But by all accounts, and with the help (naturally) of a good woman, that is, by all accounts, exactly what Ben has done.
And as we look at some of the other teams around the league, we can see only too plainly what the Steelers would look like right about now if he hadn’t. If he hadn’t had the inner strength to systematically look at his life and see what he had become, and if the Rooneys hadn’t given him the incentive to do it—does anyone doubt it was Roethliberger’s last chance in Pittsburgh?—we most likely wouldn’t be on the upward side of a rebuild. We would be mired in the Slough of Despond, looking for the next franchise quarterback.
Clearly I’m happy for the Steelers. But I’m also happy for Ben. He looks happy now. Even before everything blew up in Georgia, he didn’t look like a man who was at peace with himself, who knew he was headed the right direction, who was comfortable in his own skin. He was living in a way he wasn’t raised to be, and had alienated his family, his teammates, and finally the fans who desperately wanted him to succeed. This is one of those hard blessings, and I’m so thankful Ben came through it the way he did.
1. The Rooney Family
It may have been mentioned now and again, but Mike Tomlin showed up at the Steelers’ office for his interview without a whole lot of NFL experience. (Okay, it has been mentioned a lot, most recently by Ivan.) It may have also been mentioned from time to time that the modus operandus of the Rooney family is to do their due diligence and then let the guy they hired do his job with a high level of job security.
Obviously any head coach would be thankful to know the ownership has his back during what turned out to be an incremental but major rebuild between about 2011 and 2015. We can be grateful, too, that the rebuild wasn’t nearly as painful as it might have been otherwise. As my article, “The Culture Which Made the Immaculate Extension Possible,” states, much of the reason for this can be traced to the stability their attitude makes possible.
And the choice of photo? I picked it because it was attached to an article called Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Coaches to Replace Mike Tomlin. It ran just before the Week 16 game of the 2013 season, when the Steelers were 6-8. Thanks for the suggestions, Gladys (the first name of the author—the last name is withheld to protect the guilty,) but we’ll stick with the Rooney’s proven method of doing business.
So for Mike Tomlin, this is Rebecca Rollett, a very grateful member of what is hopefully a grateful nation. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and Go Steelers!