A man was shot in the shoulder in Knoxville last week. The reason for the shooting? Why, an argument over the Pittsburgh Steelers, of course. That would sound crazy in most cities, but in Pittsburgh someone will justify the shooting by saying, “Well, he shouldn’t go talking smack about the Steelers.” Not that I condone gunplay over football, but it’s definitely an extreme example of the passion we have for the Steel City’s favorite sons.
So far, the story of the 2015 Steelers is resiliency. Placekickers have been replaced like Spinal Tap drummers, seemingly a new one every week. Shaun Suisham injured himself in the first pre-season game. If you ran out and bought a jersey of new kicker Garrett Hartley, you were undoubtedly ticked off, because he was injured for the year two weeks later. Enter Josh Scobee, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ all-time leading kicker. While he didn’t get hurt, Scobee turned out to be less accurate than a Mel Kiper Jr. mock draft. Since then, though, Chris Boswell has settled into the job nicely.
But the injuries don’t stop there. Forty percent of the team’s offensive line is also out for the season. Kelvin Beachum and the annually injured Maurkice Pouncey are on the sidelines instead of blocking for Ben Roethlisberger. And speaking of quarterbacks, backup quarterback and Dormont native Bruce Gradkowski got hurt in training camp and was replaced by Michael Vick, a totally noncontroversial, universally loved player. Vick took over for Roethlisberger when he was injured in St. Louis until Vick himself got hurt against Arizona. Landry Jones took over from there and played nearly two full games before getting injured against Cleveland. Jones had to be replaced by Roethlisberger, who was supposed to be out with another injury.
Old No. 7 is like a beat-up but reliable pickup truck. He breaks down once in awhile from the wear and tear. But the medical crew tunes him up and puts him back on the road as good as new. But as soon as Big Ben returned from his first injury, the Steelers lost the best running back in the game, Le’Veon Bell, for the season. He joined the injured, and DeAngelo Williams took over despite being a little banged up himself. Even with this makeshift team, the Steelers were still healthy enough for the first of their two annual beat-downs of the hapless Browns. Before the game, the Steelers honored the 2005 Super Bowl Championship team, perhaps just to rub it in the face of the Browns — championship-free since 1965.
It’s so easy to make fun of the Browns — like shooting fish in a barrel, although I’ve always thought that was a weird way to fish. Who put the fish in the barrel? And once they’re in there, is using a gun on them really necessary or legal? Regardless, Cleveland is terrible again. Although to his credit, Johnny “Football” Manziel actually played well enough to maybe be a third-string quarterback on a mediocre team one day.
While the Steelers have had their injuries this year, the one constant has been head coach Mike Tomlin. The Steelers have had three head coaches in 46 years, and Tomlin has a higher winning percentage than either Chuck Noll or Bill Cowher. Even fans’ demands to fire him have dropped by almost 42 percent this year. His much-maligned clock-management issues aside, he is winning without Cowher’s players.
Of course, having Antonio Brown on your team does help a little. Brown is already fourth on the Steelers’ all-time receptions list. He is the best sixth-round pick in the NFL since a certain ball-deflating quarterback in New England who shall remain nameless. In fact, Brown might be the best receiver in Pittsburgh history one day; sorry, Hines Ward, John Stallworth and Lynn Swann. This year, Brown set the team record for most catches in a game with 17. That broke the 1998 record set by Courtney Hawkins, effectively eliminating the only thing Hawkins ever contributed to the team. Brown also broke the record for yards in a game, gaining the most in the team’s 82-year history.
This Sunday, the Steelers take their 6-4 record to the land of Frasier, coffee, weed, grunge and terrible weather as they battle the Seahawks in Seattle. They also have two home games remaining at Heinz Field.
On Dec. 6, the Colts come to town, and the Denver Broncos are here on Dec. 20. The recently benched Peyton Manning might play, or he could be cuddling on the sidelines with pizza impresario Papa John. The Steelers have to win those games, or face the possibility of Cincinnati winning the division. If that happens, we might need to get ready to dial 911.