Tomlin's Actions in November '08 Contrast His Rhetoric of Wrath in '09
Mike Tomlin's reflections and analysis of the 2009 season are cloudy. He is still too close to the confusion that comes from finishing a disaster of a season on an upswing.
At one point, the season was truly capable of standing as a gorgeous parallel to the championship season of 2008. In the end, crude execution through November left every player on this team with a share of the blame. 2009 revealed a fun house mirror reflection of the team that had so recently climbed to the top.
As Tomlin addressed the media regarding possible explanations of the improvident spirit of his team, the issue of a locker room poisoned by selfish players was raised once again.
Tomlin upheld James Harrison's comments about selfish players with bad attitudes. He then dubbed selfishness as "part of the game" and mentioned that there was "nothing abnormal" about its existence among Steelers.
For two seasons in a row, he faced a challenge of keeping a number of narcissistic athletes focused on their goal, and this year he failed.
A hefty challenge he would navigate in '08 was regrouping the Steelers after a home loss to the Colts in their ninth game in early November.
Three pivotal Roethlisberger picks toppled a team that was dealing with the controversy of an injured quarterback who was practicing at a minimum.
Tomlin's cut right through the impending drama and swiftly put the matter to bed. He openly informed Roethlisberger that if he didn't practice, he didn't play.
Holding the maverick quarterback accountable without taking a stab at him stood in stark contrast to Cowher's media tiff with Ben over the alleged broken toe after the AFC Championship loss to the Pats in 2004.
The next week, though the team scored no offensive points, a unified squad of guys rallied behind Polamalu's phenomenal pick and pulled out a hard-fought W.
A theme had been set: this was a group of guys who fought together, this was a coach who didn't take any crap.
Weeks later, when Willie Parker moaned to the media that the team needed to return to "Steeler football", Tomlin chastised his running back from the podium for losing sight of his own duties.
Now Tomlin's assent that there are some selfish Steelers has every blog, twit and chatty theorizing just who these players are so that we can blame more people for the shameful performance of '09.
The trajectories of the two seasons diverged this past November, the team had a shot until then.
This year after winning five straight, the Steelers approached game nine in a much better form they had the previous year.
They lost two at the start of '09, but the games were close, unlike the rout they suffered at the hands of the Eagles in week three of '08.
In the ninth game of 2009, the Bengals got revenge by taking out our USC star, Troy Polamalu. Muting Troy's leadership, Cincinnati then proceeded to muffle the Steelers' offence, sacking Ben four times and putting pressure on the run game.
After the game, Ben complained that he felt weird at the outset, citing everything from the weather to the fans as factors that had conspired to jam his radar.
Santonio Holmes was right behind him, insinuating to the media that if Ben was off, then the loss was on Ben.
It seemed certain that the next voice would be Tomlin's, but he was conspicuously quiet.
Two weeks later, Hines Ward openly questioned why Roethlisberger was not playing with a concussion against Baltimore in the first of many "must-win games."
Tomlin confronted the two, but the damage was done.
After the loss to the Ravens, when the blustery speech began, it was reminiscent of a parent who loudly begins the count to three as his children wrestle just out of arms reach.
The threats had motivated few to action unless you count the media who began to use the phrase "unleash hell" with a fervor.
Then accountability was publicly issued for the locker room. A small but important change occurred: William Gay was benched for his abysmal performance that has persisted all season.
The team responded. Again, it was not their best victory but like the November game last year against the Chargers, the guys as a team gave just enough.
Roethlisberger's reputation as a diva has congealed, but youthful glamour in this elegant old city shined when he hung half a thousand on the Packers.
Ward, long considered to be the heart of Steeler Nation, was suddenly less concerned with being its face and got back to leading the team.
And lastly, Super Bowl MVP Holmes began to play the situational football that has cemented his place in football history.
Exceedingly talented and complex men finally had begun to work together to build up some steam that sadly, they could not take into the post season.
When time gives Tomlin clarity in his view of the past, let's hope he returns to his leadership through actions and not words.
Inspiring his fiery superstars to the kind of unity that will lift an entire squad back to the top will come thorough nothing less.
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