It didn’t take long after the Chiefs’ 38-35 victory over the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII for current Kansas City receiver and former Steelers receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster, to become the heel of the professional football world.
- What did Smith-Schuster do that was so bad?
He trolled James Bradberry, the cornerback who was called for holding Smith-Schuster near the end of the Super Bowl (a play that was deemed controversial at that moment and gave the Chiefs a chance to run out the clock and kick the game-winning field goal with eight seconds left), with a Valentine’s Day-themed Tweet on Tuesday:
“Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone,” Tweeted the sixth-year receiver out of USC, accompanied by a meme that included Bradberry’s picture on Valentine’s Day-inspired greeting card with a caption that read: “I’ll hold you when it matters most.”
Given the controversial nature of the holding call on Bradberry (a good number of people thought it was a ticky-tack penalty that shouldn’t have been called with less than two minutes left in the game), along with the fact that it may have been the worst moment of Bradberry’s life (at least professionally), you can see why Smith-Schuster has become a Ric Flair-level heel on social media.
In terms of bulletin-board material, JuJu Smith-Schuster’s tweet makes his “The Browns is the Browns” comment he made in an interview before the Steelers met Cleveland in a wildcard playoff game at Heinz Field following the 2020 campaign look downright bland by comparison.
Only, Smith-Schuster’s trash talk to James Bradberry occurred AFTER his team just captured the most coveted trophy in all of professional team sports (in America, anyway).
- Does that make it better? Is this the perfect example of the spoils going to the riches?
That’s a matter of debate. I don’t care much about trash talk or giving your opponent bulletin-board material before a big game.
- It’s mostly meaningless, in my opinion.
I’ve always liked JuJu Smith-Schuster, and I thought his character was unfairly tarnished during his five-year career in Pittsburgh. He started out as a breath of fresh air, someone that all fans — but especially children — gravitated to instantly. Then, suddenly, by 2019 or 2020, his social-media antics and off-the-field fun became a detriment in the eyes of the media and fans.
Smith-Schuster was now a “problem,” and someone who was seen as the bad guy for dancing on opposing teams’ logos before a game (in the name of TikTok) and for participating in the milkcrate challenge during the offseason (again, for social-media clout).
JuJu Smith-Schuster was put in the same toxic class as Antonio Brown, a truly disturbed malcontent who the Steelers traded to the Raiders in exchange for third and fifth-round draft picks following the 2018 season.
It certainly didn’t help that Smith-Schuster’s numbers fell off after Brown, perhaps the most talented and productive receiver in Steelers history, was given his walking papers.
JuJu Smith-Schuster’s rookie season of 2017 saw him catch 58 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. The former second-round pick then turned in a sophomore campaign that included 111 receptions for 1,426 yards and another seven touchdowns.
Smith-Schuster’s 2018 season was so spectacular that his Steelers teammates voted him team MVP, an honor that was apparently one of the final straws that led to Brown’s epic meltdown and desire to burn every bridge on his way out of Pittsburgh (and Pittsburgh has a ton of bridges).
Yes, Smith-Schuster’s production took an immediate hit in 2019 without Brown around acting like the Jerry Rice to his John Taylor (or Batman to JuJu’s Robin), but then again, so did Pittsburgh’s quarterbacks room, thanks to the season-ending elbow injury suffered by Ben Roethlisberger in Week 2.
Sure, losing an all-time great receiver will hurt the number two wideout, but so will the loss of an all-time great quarterback, someone who led the NFL in passing yards in the year before.
The Steelers’ offense was piloted by both Mason Rudolph and Devlin “Duck” Hodges, two very-inexperienced quarterbacks, for the rest of the 2019 campaign, a reality that probably explains why Smith-Schuster’s numbers saw a massive drop to the tune of 42 receptions for 552 yards.
Smith-Schuster never did duplicate the same level of play he enjoyed over his first two seasons as a Steeler. Sadly, neither did the offense — including Roethlisberger — as it became the proverbial shell of its once-potent self.
After surprisingly signing a one-year free-agent deal to remain in Pittsburgh following the 2020 season, Smith-Schuster, who suffered a significant injury in 2021 that limited him to five regular-season games, became a Chief in 2022.
As the Chiefs were marching toward yet another Super Bowl appearance, while Pittsburgh was simply trying to remain relevant, it became popular to claim that JuJu Smith-Schuster had changed his stripes now that he was no longer a Steeler.
You see, Andy Reid, Kansas City’s veteran head coach, would never give the charismatic Smith-Schuster the same kind of latitude to express himself that Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin did.
The Chiefs were far more disciplined under Reid than Pittsburgh was under Tomlin, and that’s why Smith-Schuster is now about to be fitted for his first Super Bowl ring….
Or so goes the narrative.
You really think Smith-Schuster is now a Super Bowl champion because his antics were reined in by a new employer?
- Did you see what Smith-Schuster wore to the stadium on Sunday?
A skirt. That’s right, a skirt (a sight that may have caused the head of your average Steelers fan to explode).
As he was talking to reporters and celebrating wildly with fans after the Chiefs’ Super Bowl win, Smith-Schuster seemed like the same charismatic and happy-go-lucky guy that he always was in Pittsburgh.
Throw in the skirt/kilt before the Super Bowl (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and the heel Tweet directed at Bradberry after the Big Game and, well, has Smith-Schuster changed all that much?
Perhaps he just went to a much talented team.
You look at Smith-Schuster’s numbers in 2022 — 78 receptions for 933 yards and three touchdowns–and they don’t look much different than the stats he put up in his last full season in Pittsburgh in 2020 — 97 catches for 831 yards and nine touchdowns.
JuJu Smith-Schuster’s numbers and production haven’t changed since he left Pittsburgh; instead, the talent surrounding him–including an MVP quarterback (Patrick Mahomes) and a future Hall of Fame tight end (Travis Kelce)–has.
Smith-Schuster was simply on a much better team in 2022, and that’s why it seemed like he was more disciplined than he was with the Steelers.
Again, I have no problem with Smith-Schuster, his personality, or the way he conducts himself on and away from the football field.
- He’s a good dude who does many great things in whatever community he finds himself in.
- Is he a lot to take for your average football fan whose stick is planted firmly in the mud? Absolutely.
But to suggest that the Steelers allowed JuJu Smith-Schuster to run amok in Pittsburgh while the Chiefs kept him in check in Kansas City? And to claim that this is why he’s not only a much better player now but also a Super Bowl champion?
Sadly, that’s why the media is the media
That’s also why the fans is often the fans.