The Pittsburgh Steelers have weathered an onslaught of negative news from the national press. Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and even Josh Harris (who?) have made the rounds taking their pot shots at Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger.
- The Steelers quartet has largely remained silent, although players like Maurkice Pouncey and Tyson Alualu have spoken out.
Referring to Maurkice Pouncey’s spirited defense of Ben Roethlisberger, Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review postulated:
Frankly, I think it’s high time for more Steelers to start going this route. I also think it’s time for the organization and Roethlisberger to defend themselves with some sort of media availability of their own.
Tim Benz’s sentiment is understandable, but he’s wrong.
If the Steelers as an organization are looking for precedent in how to handle such a situation, then they should look back 30 years and follow the example that Chuck Noll set in his darkest hour as head coach.
The 1989 Steelers opened the season with a 51-0 loss at Three Rivers Stadium to the Cleveland Browns. They followed with a 41-10 loss to the Bengals in Riverfront Stadium a week later. The combined 92-10 opening losses sent vulchers circling Three Rivers Stadium.
As one writer reflected two seasons later after Chuck Noll retired, “The once unthinkable question was on everyone’s mind, and it wasn’t ‘Will Dan Rooney fire Chuck Noll?’ but “…How long will he wait?’” ESPN’s Pete Axthelm to Pittsburgh who asked Chuck Noll point blank, “Has the game passed you by?”
- When pressed to answer his critics, Chuck Noll was pitch perfect: “Winning. The only way to respond is by winning.”
That specific clip hasn’t survived or at least surfaced here in the digital age, but here is a similar interview:
The 1989 Steelers rallied around The Emperor. They upset the then Super Bowl favorite Minnesota Vikings the next weekend and shut down Barry Sanders and the Detroit Lions the week after that.
- Although they would endure two more shutouts that season, at 4-6 Noll boldly declared the playoffs were in the Steelers sights.
Critics scoffed, but the 1989 Steelers made the playoffs, upset Jerry Glanville’s Oilers, and were a bad Chuck Lanza to Bubby Brister snap (ah Dermontti Dawson, why did you have to get cramps) and a dropped Mark Stock pass away from reaching the AFC Championship game.
- Unfortunately, the 2019 Steelers have to wait 5 months before they can start winning again.
- And that forces Mike Tomlin and company to speak with words instead of actions.
When asked by The Athletic at the NFL owners meeting to address Antonio Brown’s charges against Ben Roethlisberger, Tomlin replied, “(Brown) is no longer a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, so I don’t feel it necessary to comment on his comments regarding things that are in-house.”
Given the context, Mike Tomlin’s response is just as pitch perfect as his predecessor Chuck Noll’s was 30 years ago.