Despite the media storylines, the Steelers players showed a tremendous amount of wisdom when they picked their captains for 2010.
The choices were Hines Ward, Heath Miller, James Farrior, and Keyaron Fox.
Hines Ward is a no-brainer. Nobody in the league plays with more passion and intensity. He inspires with his play and his voice carries a tremendous amount of authority in the locker room. He brings the perfect storm of on- and off-field leadership.
Ward should be a captain until his playing days are numbered, even as he eventually is replaced as the Steelers’ top receiver, perhaps by Mike Wallace.
Ward will go down in history as one of the most popular players ever to wear the black and gold and his passion for the game and commitment to every facet of it is a big reason why that will be the case. The fact that he blows people up does not hurt, either.
Heath Miller is also a solid choice. One of his strongest endorsements came from Ward, who pointed to his work ethic and attitude, both on and off the field. Miller is one of the league’s premier tight ends and a role model both on and off the field. He is a perfect Steeler.
Heath is joined by another ex-University of Virginia star in James Farrior. Farrior seems like the most logical choice for captain of the defense.
He is the greybeard of the group and the guy that calls the defensive plays. He is the rock in the middle of one of the NFL’s premier units. The Steelers rarely sign high-profile free agents, but Farrior has been worth his weight in gold, the underrated and humble leader of one of the league’s finest units.
He is the guy that has held together the volatile mix of players that have gelled to become the league's finest defense for much of the past decade.
The only choice I found a bit surprising was the selection of Keyaron Fox, who returns as special teams captain for a second straight year. Fox is an excellent reserve inside linebacker and a special teams ace on a team that was wretched in that area last season.
But, is he really more of a "leader" than Troy Polamalu? Maybe. Perhaps the soft spoken Polamalu prefers to leave the verbal leadership to others, sticking to his role of wrecking havoc on the football field.
But, as arguably the best defender in the league, he is conspicuous in his absence. Teams are allowed to name six official captains. The Steelers chose to name four. I would have liked to see them expand that to five to make room for Polamalu, unless his teammates had a compelling reason for not voting for him, such as him specifically asking to be left out of the mix.
I get it that the Steelers want to have a special teams captain. And I also agree that Fox is a good choice. And the emphasis on special teams makes sense since it was a weak point for the Steelers last season.
I can only assume that Fox’s contribution as a locker room leader and example exceeds his current role as a player, although he has been a very solid backup.
There is some media-driven controversy over the lack of selection of Ben Roethlisberger. But that should not raise any eyebrows. His non-selection says nothings about his competence and ability as a quarterback, nor as the leadership role that he will assume when he is back with the Steelers.
It may have been bigger news had he been voted in as captain for the 2010 season.
As with hockey, captain positions should be earned. Roethlisberger will need to earn the slot back with his teammates. I doubt he disagrees with the decision nor do I think it is even remotely controversial.
If anything, it should provide some comfort as he returns to the Steelers after the suspension, removing one additional distraction as he returns to his primary role.
Ultimately, the players know best who should be their leaders at a given time and deserve the full benefit of the doubt on their selections. But, from the outside looking in, it appears the Steelers could have done a whole lot worse than going with the four captains they chose for this season.