This article’s title may seem a bit confusing, given that Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, one of the big reasons the Steelers are legit Super Bowl contenders in 2016, is probably going to miss the first four games while serving a drug suspension.
However, I’ve been watching a lot of America’s Game episodes lately. In-case you don’t know, America’s Game is an NFL Network series produced by NFL Films that chronicles each Super Bowl champion with the help of interviews with either the players or coaches who played key roles.
- If there’s one common theme about each episode it’s that every Super Bowl champion had to overcome some sort of adversity during the year.
For example, the 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers had to overcome the franchise’s 42-year old label of “loser” before they could win Super Bowl IX.
Another example is the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that not only had to overcome the bitter aftertaste of going 15-1 and losing in the AFC title game to the Patriots the year before, but had to overcome a 7-5 late-season record in-order to make the playoffs as a sixth seed, win three road playoff games and then ultimately Super Bowl XL.
- Oftentimes, in an episode of America’s Game, the interviewees talk about coming close the year before, and how they went into the following training camp with a feeling of purpose and destiny.
You could certainly sense that last January, right after the Steelers fell in Denver, 23-16, in the divisional round of the playoffs. Pittsburgh went into that game (and the playoffs, in-general) hampered by many injuries–including star receiver Antonio Brown and veteran running back DeAngelo Williams, who had spent the majority of the year filling in for a suspended and then injured Bell.
Immediately afterwards, players like Williams were very vocal about the 2016 season, and you could already feel a sense of purpose by the just vanquished players.
- Think about the Steelers journey in recent years–it has America’s Game written all over it.
After a transition period in 2012 and 2013, in-which many of the Super Bowl heroes from the previous decade had departed, Pittsburgh seemed to find itself midway through the 2014 season. And after winning four games in a row to close out the year, it really felt like the team could do something special in the playoffs. Unfortunately, in the final quarter of the final regular season game against the Bengals, Bell suffered a hyper-extended knee. Despite the fact that the Steelers had just clinched their first AFC North title in four years, there was a feeling of doom heading into the wild card game against Baltimore the following week.
With Bell ultimately being deactivated for the game (and with no viable backup thanks to the release of the disgruntled LeGarrette Blount late in the season), the Steelers offense, which relied heavily on the All-Pro running back all throughout the season (he totaled 2,215 yards from scrimmage), had no answers for the Ravens in the playoffs.
In 2015, injuries and suspensions were the common theme throughout the regular season. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the year in a preseason game. Ben Roethlisberger missed four full games and parts of three others with multiple ailments. Kelvin Beachum missed the final 10 weeks with a torn ACL.
- And it certainly didn’t help that both Martavis Bryant and Bell had to serve drug suspensions during the first month of the season.
The fact that Pittsburgh scraped into the playoffs and was less than a quarter away from playing at New England for the right to go to Super Bowl 50 was quite remarkable.
Of course, if you remember the 2015 season, it wasn’t just about the offense. The defense, a unit that looked old, slow and done during the final few years under Dick LeBeau, suddenly sprung to life behind first year defensive coordinator Keith Butler.
Yes, the defense finished 21st overall and 30th against the pass, but it displayed an explosiveness not seen in Pittsburgh since the Super Bowl XLV season five years earlier.
- After averaging 19 takeaways and 35 sacks from 2011-2014, the defense recorded 30 takeaways and 47 sacks in 2015.
Those are Super Bowl numbers for any defense (regardless of overall ranking), and they always will be.
Sure, the secondary is still a question mark as 2016 approaches, but that front-seven is the real deal. Defensive end Cam Heyward is already a star, and Stephon Tuitt appears primed to join him any second.
As for inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, plagued by injuries during his first two seasons, it seems the only thing separating him from super-stardom is health.
If Shazier is healthy this year, an All-Pro season seems likely.
If the Steelers do win the Super Bowl, what would that do to Roethlisberger’s legacy? After years of being deemed a “playground passer,” it would have to be extra special to win a championship while at the same time, say, flirting with 5,000 yards and 40 touchdown passes.
As for the legacy of Mike Tomlin, it would cement it. Believe it or not, even after nine years, six playoff appearances, two trips to the Super Bowl and one Lombardi, there are people who still don’t think Tomlin is a good coach.
Winning it all this year would probably do for Tomlin what winning Super Bowl XL did for Bill Cowher, which is weird to say, given that Tomlin earned his first ring a long time ago.
- As for Bell, if Super Bowl XLIII taught anyone anything, it’s that you can be irresponsible and still go on and be a Super Bowl hero.
Former wide receiver Santonio Holmes was cited for marijuana possession midway through the 2008 campaign, and he was deactivated prior to an important game against the Giants at Heinz Field.
However, Holmes, despite his past and future transgressions that ultimately cost him a career in Pittsburgh, was one the biggest heroes in Steelers postseason history, as he proved to be the catalyst on the way to the Super Bowl and, eventually, the game’s MVP after catching the Lombardi-clinching touchdown pass from Roethlisberger with precious seconds remaining.
- Therefore, I can certainly see Bell as one of the interviewees as part of the Steelers Super Bowl LI America’s Game episode.
Does Bell have some issues to overcome between now and February? Absolutely. But what would an America’s Game episode be without some adversity?
The Steelers just feel like a team of destiny and eventual winners of Super Bowl LI.