Thanksgiving 2020 has arrived and it is unlike any previous Thanksgiving. Not even the juggernaut that is the NFL is immune, with the Steelers-Ravens Thanksgiving game postponed with a scan 36 hours of notice.
Thanksgiving should be a time that brings together friends and family of all colors and creeds. At the very least, COVID-19 has made that far more complicated this year, upending traditions from coast-to-coast.
Fortunately, one tradition that COVID-19 can’t touch here in Steelers Nation is Steelers Thanksgiving Honors.
Steelers Thanksgiving Honors, Explained
The “Steelers Thanksgiving Honors” tradition was born here on Steel Curtain Rising in 2009. The Super Bowl hung over Steelers were in the middle of 5 game losing streak that was every bit as brutal as it sounds.
Yet Rashard Mendenhall had emerged as a quality player that season and that effort, on top of the heart he showed in running to prevent a 94 yard interception return by Andy Studebaker from becoming a pick six was a true bright spot and reason to give thanks.
Steelers Thanksgiving Honors was born.
Steelers 2020 Thanksgiving Honors Winner: T.J. Watt
Both rightly and wrongly, the Pittsburgh Steelers identity is defined by defense.
In the 1970s Joe Greene’s arrival signaled the franchise’s pivot from perennial loser to champion, while Mel Blount dominated so thoroughly, the NFL literally changed the game because of him. Two generations later, Aaron Smith epitomized the “defend every blade of grass” personality of the Steelers defense, while Troy Polamalu dazzled even the most casual fans.
- But it’s the men in the middle, the linebackers, who capture the imaginations of Steelers Nation.
Think the toothless Jack Lambert on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Think of Greg Lloyd, James Harrison or Ryan Shazier pulverizing the quarterback or picking off a pass at precisely the moment Pittsburgh needs them to.
- And today you can add T.J. Watt to that list.
The Steelers drafted T.J. Watt in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft with the 30th pick. Four years later, the only question is, “What were the other 29 teams thinking?” T.J. Watt, like Cam Heyward before him, goes to show that while favorable draft position is a plus, you can still pick studs late in the first round.
The rebuild of the Steelers defense was already underway before T.J. Watt arrived, but Watt immediately upgraded the Steelers at outside linebacker.
- His talent was evident as a rookie, where he logged 7 sacks, batted away 7 passes and forced one fumble.
And, so many other special players do, he made a tremendous leap between his rookie and sophomore year. He almost doubled his sack total while incorporating the strip-sack into the game. The trend continued in 2019, as he bettered his 2018 numbers across the board.
And, with six games remaining in 2020, T.J. Watt already has 9 sacks, 1 interception, 14 tackles for a loss and 36 quarterback hits.
- But numbers only tell one dimension of T.J. Watt’s story.
Truly great players don’t compile stats, they change games. And that is what T.J. Watt is does. Whether it is a sack, a tackle for a loss, a tipped pass or an interception, T.J. Watt has reached the point in his career that when the game is on the line, you almost instinctively expect him to make a play.
Those aren’t Watt’s only contributions; he also brings his infectious enthusiasm to the team, along with the requisite attitude (see the “Welcoming rookie quarterbacks to the AFC North) that an ass kicking Steelers linebacker must display.
Shortly before he was drafted, Steel City Insider’s Matt C. Steel mused over whether “This guy might be the unicorn they’re looking for at outside linebacker.”
I don’t know if T.J. Watt is a unicorn, but I do know that he’s a Pittsburgh Steeler, and that’s reason a plenty for Steelers Nation to be thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving Steelers Nation
This year, more than any other year, we offer our Steelers Thanksgiving Honors with this critical caveat: We trust and hope that all of you, have many things that have nothing to do with footballl to be thankful for.
Our sincere hope is that everyone reading this is able to enjoy Thanksgiving in a way that allows you to share it healthy with family and friends.
Click here to read stories of past Steelers Thanksgiving Honors winners.