My Two Cents: Adios, amigo!

imageNo matter who you are, how great your career, one day, the Turk will come for you. If you are unfamiliar with the Turk, he is football’s version of the Grim Reaper. One of the toughest things for fans to accept is when a long time Steeler favorite reaches the end of the road. Unless you retire on your own terms, à la Heath Miller, the Turk will come.

The player is often not the decision maker of when his time is up. Occasionally, the Steelers have engineered a peaceful end to the career of an iconic player. More often the “retirements” involve some measure of resistance and/or hard feelings. Rarely, do players perceive that the end is near.  With most highly competitive athletes, there’s always a rock solid belief that there is one more good season.

Often, the great ones can still play, but not at the level which justifies their compensation and its effect on the team’s salary cap.

Therefore, placid dignified retirements are rare. Heath’s departure was classy and low key. Ike Taylor’s farewell lacked drama too, though surely he saw the Turk approaching. The Bus had a fairytale ending.  He was fortunate; life rarely cedes a happily ever after.

More commonly, the end is awkward. Just one year ago, Troy Polamalu announced his retirement. His decision came only after the Steelers made it clear that they would not be bringing him back. There was no public rift between the front office and Troy, but reports of hard feelings have surfaced. Allegedly, Troy never contemplated that he would not be playing for Pittsburgh in 2015.

It’s hard to believe that Troy never considered the possibility that the Steelers might be ready to move on. At age 34 and a history of concussions, Troy was not the same player who was an eight time Pro-Bowler.  I don’t think we’ll ever know the scoop on how Troy felt. He’s is too classy to air any grievances publicly, if they ever existed at all.

The Hines Ward retirement was visibly contentious. The Steelers announced they would release Ward.  Hines quickly stated he would seek to sign with another team. In the end, 86 couldn’t bear the thought of wearing another uniform and retired, having played all 14 years as a Steeler. Ward was clearly disappointed, but there was little doubt that his effectiveness as a wide receiver had significantly degraded by the end of the 2011 season.

An article by Mark Kaboly in the Tribune-Review points out that the Steelers rarely go to the very end with their players, even the great ones. Through the years, the Steelers have released or failed to re-sign many great players who were nearing the end of their careers—Dermonti Dawson, James Farrior, Jason Gildon, Kevin Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Casey Hampton, James Harrison, Franco Harris, Levon Kirkland, Bret Kiesel, Carnell Lake, Louis Lipps, Greg Lloyd, Aaron Smith and Mike Webster.

Gary Anderson, Alan Faneca, Joey Porter and Rod Woodson were included in the above group by Kaboly, but it’s fair to say that all of these players had a fair amount left in the tank when they were released. Salary cap considerations were primary considerations in all four cases, though it’s fair to say that James Harrison’s potential was the prime mover in Peezy’s case.

The Steelers are not particularly sentimental when a player’s effectiveness wanes. They often cut a veteran sooner, rather than later. Players generally understand this as a business decision, the same way they understand they need to get paid while they are young. The Steelers habitually re-sign their own players, but only until the point their play is commensurate with their salary. Time quells the rancor and distance soothes the bruised feelings.

Deebo seems happy to have answered the Steelers’ call when the Bungles experiment failed, even though his initial departure was contentious. Lake and Porter have returned as position coaches and it’s hard to remember they ever left. Players, with a few exceptions, return for team gatherings and celebrations.

As much as I would like the Steelers to hold onto veteran players, I’m glad that the Rooneys and their personnel people are a bit more dispassionate. Their decisions to keep or release players based on their current rather than past performance has created the most successful franchise since the merger. The front office has given Yinzers what we want (a winner), not what we think we want (to hold onto our heroes/memories).

Their wise management makes new memories possible.

Momma does not approve this article, although Rebecca understands the necessity…


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