With 2011 fast approaching, I thought it appropriate to take a look back at the year that was for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I’ve been following the Black and Gold since the early 80s and can’t remember a more eventful year for my beloved team. If 2009 was the Best of Times with our sixth Super Bowl championship, 2010 was the Worst of Times. Regardless of where you stand on many of the respective issues, I don’t think anybody will deny this past year has been by far the most tumultuous for members of Steeler Nation.
The Steelers post-Super Bowl campaign came to a disappointing end with a 30-24 win against the Dolphins. They were virtually eliminated a few weeks earlier with a loss to the Browns on a frigid Thursday night but rallied late with two straight wins over the playoff bound Packers and Ravens. On the final weekend all they needed was for the Bengals to beat the Jets. Cincy, clearly terrified of facing the Steelers in the playoffs, ran out their B-team and basically handed the final Wild Card berth to Gang Green.
Big Ben threw 3 TD passes in the finale to finish with 26 to go along with his first 4,000 yard passing season. It was the first time the Steelers had a 4,000 yard passer, two 1,000 yard receivers, and a 1,000 rusher all in the same year.
A few weeks later, special teams coach Bob Ligashesky was canned as poor coverage was a huge contributor to the team’s failures. O-line coach Larry Zierlein followed him out the door.
Casey Hampton re-signed with the Steelers for three years/$21 million. That’s a lot of cheeseburgers for the man lovingly referred to as Big Snack.
With that bit of business behind them, the Steelers went ahead with the improbable move of placing the Franchise Player tag on kicker Jeff Reed.
Perhaps the darkest day in Steeler history occurred on March 5th when TMZ first reported Ben Roethlisberger was allegedly involved in a sexual assault at a college bar in Milledgeville, Georgia. Never has an issue polarized Steeler Nation like this one. I doubt anybody would have ever envisioned a situation where a Pittsburgh player was mocked by everyone from late night comedians to South Park to Eminem. While information on the case has since cast the behavior of all parties (Ben, the bar, the cops, the loose sorority girls) in unflattering light, there is no question this story will still be discussed long after #7 has hung up his cleats.
Weeks later, in a case of monumentally bad timing, Santonio Holmes was accused of beaning a nappy-headed ho with a shot glass at a bar. With heat coming down on the Steelers over the Ben incident, there was no way ‘Tone was going to survive yet another black mark on his already growing rap sheet.
In actual on-field related news, the Steelers went on an unprecedented free agent spending spree, re-signing Ryan Clark (4 yrs/$16 million) and bringing back old friends Larry Foote (3 yrs/$9 million) and Antwaan Randle-El (3 yrs/$7 million).
Early in the month, the Georgia DA announced Ben would not be facing any chargers in a grandstanding press conference. His embarrassing performance would be topped a week later when Roger Goodell began his anti-Steelers campaign by slapping Roethlisberger with a six game suspension for a “crime” he was not tried, convicted, or even charged with.
The NFL draft brought rumors the Steelers were willing to trade Big Ben for one of the top three picks. The only taker seemed to be the Oakland Raiders, who were only offering their 2nd round pick in addition to All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Not pleased with the return, Pittsburgh decided to hold on to their erstwhile quarterback. They did cover their bets by trading for another familiar face, Byron Leftwich, and immediately signing him to an extension.
One person who did get traded was Santonio Holmes. Word came down Holmes had failed a drug test, no doubt tipping off the crack NFL investigators by tweeting such gems as “Time to wake and bake.” He was suspended for four games which immediately became the Jets problem by way of a 4th round pick.
The draft brought center Maurkice Pouncey, the long-awaited offensive line help the team has needed for years. Pouncey was projected as the center of the future although few would imagine how he would exceed expectations in the months to come. Third rounder Emmanuel Sanders has also shown signs of being a big contributor to the team for years to come.
Jason Worilds, Antonio Brown, Chris Scott, Crezdon Butler, Doug Worthington, Jonathan Dwyer, Stevenson Sylvester, and Thaddeus Gibson rounded out the weekend’s haul. Perhaps the most notable move at the time was another trade, this time bringing back Bryant McFadden from Pittsburgh West Arizona in an attempt to shore up what had been a terrible secondary.
Big Ben made the cover of Sports Illustrated in a feature story about athletes running amok. The stories of his misbehavior were nothing readers of this site had not heard before as I have always been one of the few bloggers not blinded by hero-worshipping #7. Ben wasn’t around to answer the media attention as he was sent to a super-secret hospital in upstate New York to undergo mental evaluation (hint: when shown ink blots, don’t answer “Tits!”).
The Georgia DA office released their entire case file from the Roethlisberger investigation. The video interviews in particular finally gave people a chance to see what a drunken unreliable “witness” the accuser truly was.
In on-field news, Willie Colon tore his achilles during OTAs.
Big Ben’s little buddy got him in trouble again when he was named in a public urination case. Hey, he was golfing. I don’t blame anybody for chugging a few beers to make such a mind-numbingly boring activity somewhat entertaining.
Mike Tomlin had his contract extended for three years, putting to end any rumors the Steelers were questioning his abilities after the disaster of 2009.
On a truly sad note, Kaye Cowher lost her battle with cancer.
Super Bowl XL referee Bill Leavy claimed he cost the Seahawks the game with bad calls. This led to a firestorm and one of NPC’s most commented non-Ben posts as pathetic Seahag fans stopped cutting their wrists long enough to flock to this news like Seattle hipsters flock to a Starbucks. Here’s an idea, instead of whining about bad calls in a game four years ago, why not put together ANOTHER winning team and get back to the big game?
Training camp became a war between Team Dixon and Team Leftwich as both camps argued over who should start in Ben’s absence. The Steelers took a day off to attend the Hall of Fame induction ceremony of beloved defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. LeBeau stole the show with a speech for the ages.
Terry Bradshaw continued his war against Big Ben by using the “Fired Up!” segment on the Fox pre-game show to state if he owned the Steelers, he would’ve cut Roethlisberger over his off-field shenanigans. This issue saddened me on a couple of levels. First, TB will always be a hero of mine and I don’t like him being estranged from the Steelers. Secondly, I was embarrassed by Steeler fans throwing the man who did more for this team than any other quarterback in history under the bus because he spoke ill of their new hero. Steeler history did not begin in 2004 folks.
The Great QB Controversy of 2010 ended with Dennis Dixon being named opening day starter by default when Leftwich sprained his MCL in the team’s final preseason game. He guided the Steelers to a 15-9 OT win against the Atlanta Falcons at Heinz Field in the season opener. A week later, Dixon tore up his knee against the Titans and was replaced by Charlie Batch. Batch, who was going to be cut before Leftwich went down, performed fantastically in wins over both the Titans and Buccaneers.
Also of note, James Harrison was one of three Steelers fined $5,000 for german suplexing Vince Young. Little did we suspect it would be the first shot fired in the Ginger Dictator’s ongoing battle against the Steelers.
Chaz lost to the Ravens, thanks to two big misses by the moping Jeff Reed, but the team’s 3-1 start was more than satisfactory. Two weeks later, Ben made his triumphant return to Heinz Field in a 28-10 victory over the Browns. Ben was welcomed back with a roaring ovation by the true Steeler fans inside the Ketchup Bottle while a half-dozen homely losers picketed outside.
The Cleveland game became infamous for more than Ben’s return, though. James Harrison created a path of destruction, knocking out both Josh Cribbs and Mohammad Massaquoi over the course of the game. The Ginger Dictator would not stand for football being played in the proper fashion and fined Silverback the unprecedented amount of $75,000. Steeler Nation, ever the loyal fans, started a Facebook page to help him pay his fine.
Ben took center stage after he was sucker-punched by the Raiders Richard Seymour in one of the most cowardly acts in NFL history. Dick was fined 1/3 of what Harrison got for playing football ($25,000) as Ginger basically gave the middle finger to Steeler fans on a weekly basis. The game was an absolute travesty with the Steelers being penalized 21 times for nearly 200 yards.
Max Starks would be lost for the season as the offensive line continued to shuffle guys in and out with alarming regularity.
Jeff Reed missed big kicks in successive weeks against New Orleans and Cincinnati. After getting blown out against New England, he went on a bizarre tirade against the fans, the field, and the media when questioned about yet another miss. Fed up, the Steeler finally cut the Heatmiser wanna-be much to the chagrin of fake boobed bottle-blonde Steeler groupies all over the city.
The Steelers began the month with back-to-back wins over division rivals Baltimore and Cincinnati. Ben revealed he had a broken foot before the Ravens game and had his snoot broken during it. Battling injuries which would cripple a normal human being, Ben played through the pain without missing a snap. Despite narrowly losing to the overrated New York Jets, the Steelers clinched a playoff berth with an eye towards a first round bye.
How will the story end in 2011? All I know is we have nowhere to go but up.
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