Following the departure of wide receiver Hines Ward and defensive end Aaron Smith, the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers will no longer feature any players who played for the team at Three Rivers Stadium.
True, this historic footnote was destined to happen.
But what their departures—along with that of linebacker James Farrior—asks is how team chemistry will be affected.
There is some question as to what chemistry really means to a team.
The 2003 Steelers had a good locker room, were comfortable with one another as teammates and finished 6-10.
Meanwhile, Keyshawn Johnson and Wayne Chrebet couldn’t stand each other when they were with the New York Jets in the late 1990s, but they formed the best wide-receiving combination in the league at the time and led New York to their its division title in 29 years.
Then again, as any Pittsburgh sports fan can tell you, togetherness and closeness was a key component of the Pirates’ last world championship run, in 1979, behind Willie Stargell.
Meanwhile, the 1992 Pirates may have missed a chance at a pennant when Barry Bonds reportedly refused Andy Van Slyke’s plea to move in a few steps just prior to Francisco Cabrerra’s game-winning hit in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the NLCS, steps that could have given Bonds a better angle to throw out Sid Bream, who scored the winning run.
And the last time the Steelers failed to produce a winning record was 2006, the season after team leader Jerome Bettis retired.
Yes, talent can overcome the personal animosities of teammates, but wouldn’t you rather get along with your co-workers than not?
And don’t teams whose players fight with one another often crash and burn in relatively short periods of time?
That’s where the intangible of team chemistry comes in, and with so many veteran leaders gone, the 2012 Steelers are now—unquestionably—Ben Roethlisberger’s team.
A quarterback is always going to be a leader, but Roethlisberger’s abilities in this matter have often been questioned.
In addition to his headline-grabbing behavior off the field, he has often been described as arrogant.
This personality reportedly rubbed many Steelers veterans the wrong way in 2004, but, like that of a drill sergeant, it did get results.
But now Roethlisberger is the veteran leader.
The question is what kind of leader he will be.
If he can be the type of leader that embraced Dennis Dixon on the sidelines after he threw a game-losing interception in overtime to the Baltimore Ravens in 2009, it will be beneficial for both the team and Roethlisberger’s reputation.
But if he is caustic, it could be detrimental to the Steelers in 2012.
Because there aren’t the veteran support groups in the locker room that there once were.
Marky Billson is the author of “Pennsylvania Sports Trivia” and is a former Steelers beat writer. He currently works as the “Voice of the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings” baseball team.
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