The 2017 season was a down year for the Shield. From wide spread anthem protests, multiple weeks of downright horrific QB play from the likes of Nathan Peterman, Mike Glennon and Brett Hundley and season ending injuries to fantasy studs OBJ and David Johnson as well as breakout rookies Dalvin Cook and DeShaun Watson, the sheer dominance of the NFL has shown its cracks unceremoniously this year. However, the downgrade of the on the field product has been eclipsed by crass political stunts from the Trump administration and multiple instances of franchises’ disregard of new player concussion protections. There is no doubt that the NFL will have to address fundamental questions of its culture and practices in order to protect its players and repair the bond many fans had with the league before this year.
Even with the chaos and bleakness from this season, one organization shined through it all: the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers embodied everything great about the NFL. From weekly brilliant plays from Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Ben Roethlisberger, overconfidence about their place in the Super Bowl, drama between teammates about who’s getting the ball and rallying behind an injured teammate, the Steelers offensive firepower and social media antics provided the league with a fun, endearing story arch to remind fans why we all love football.
The drama began with Martavis Bryant taking shots at the new rookie Smith-Schuster in an Instagram post for outshining the previously elite receiver. The storyline emerged could this historic offense suffer a downfall from too much talent lining its roster and competing egos. While trying to integrate JuJu and Martavis into their roster, Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh’s coach, guaranteed a collision course between the Steelers and the Patriots in the AFC title game. A guarantee that was confirmed by Bell’s cryptic tweet right before the team’s game against Jacksonville last Sunday. Throughout the season as well, the youngest player in the NFL, Smith Schuster, used Twitter and YouTube to connect with fans and bring them along his journey as a rookie in the NFL. His Twitter followers were with him as he watched Sunday Night Football from his couch following his suspension and when Brown offered a reward to whoever found JuJu’s stolen bike.
You could argue that all the Steeler’s social media antics only served as distraction and the confidence they all exposed on it proved to be hubris given their inexplicable home loss to the Jaguars last Sunday. However, in a media era that is so often dominated by fluff and detached cliché team speak from Bill “Buzzkill” Belichick or the majority of compelling NFL stars (think Matt Ryan post Super Bowl LI “We just didn’t get the job done”), the Steelers complimented their incredible on the field performances with an intimidate since of inclusion in an NFL season that sorely needed more uplifting headlines. Their season might have ended in tragedy, but most compelling stories do.