When it comes to tradition, the Pittsburgh Steelers are filled to the brim with it. The Rooney family, the dynasty of the 1970s, legendary Hall-of-Famers, stability at head coach, a tough running game and physical, dominant defenses led by the heart and soul of the defense, the linebackers.
While the Steelers may best be known for their linebackers, the center position as had an equally great lineage. From 1974 through 2006, Pittsburgh had only three men not only start at center, but dominate the position.
Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson and Jeff Hartings were selected to 14 All-Pro teams and 18 Pro Bowls. Each was a special player in his own way and helped pave the way for Steelers greats Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis.
But for a brief period the Steelers got away from their great tradition at center and the results were not good. Between 2007 and 2009 the offensive line slowly deteriorated, becoming one of the weak spots of the team.
The team felt that it was time to get an elite center back on their line when the 2010 draft came around. Maurkice Pouncey was the Steelers first-round selection and from Day One had the look that he could join his All-Pro predecessors.
The coaching staff had planned on giving Pouncey an easy transition to the NFL by starting him at guard. He would have none of that. With his knowledge of the game and pure athleticism, Pouncey took over as starting center in training camp and never looked back.
Not only did Pouncey instantly become Pittsburgh’s best offensive lineman, he became one of their best offensive players and remember, this is an offense that has Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, Heath Miller, Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall.
It is not often that a rookie on the Steelers makes an impact, so to see Pouncey mean so much to their offensive success so early in his career shows how special of a player that he is.
Pouncey made the Pro Bowl in his first year and his team is heading for the Super Bowl, and there is nothing more that he would like to do than to start for a Super Bowl champion as a rookie.
All of that was put into doubt, however, when he left the AFC Championship game with a high ankle sprain, an injury that typically needs more than two weeks to heal.
No knock on Pouncey’s backup Doug Legursky, but it is a steep drop-off when he is in the lineup.
The 304-pound Pouncey can match up against the large, powerful defensive tackles, yet has the speed and athleticism to pull for outside runs. Not to mention that his football IQ will be greatly missed on the field.
Simply put, the Steelers are much better with him in the lineup and after facing two of the best defenses in the league in these playoffs, Pouncey would be more than up to the challenge of going up against a very good Green Bay defense.
Pouncey does not have to look any further than the Steelers all-time leading receiver, Hines Ward, who found himself in a similar situation for Super Bowl 43.
Ward injured his knee in the AFC Championship game against Baltimore and the outlook did not look good. But with extensive treatment, Ward not only played in the Super Bowl, but he was able to start and contribute.
To Pouncey’s advantage, the 21 year-old is much younger than Ward was and like Ward, Pouncey’s drive and commitment is second to none.
“I had the same injury before on my other ankle and I know how to attack it,” Pouncey said. “I know how to approach things. I'm ready. I know in my heart that I'm playing in that game.”
It is going to take more than talk from Pouncey to get his ankle ready to go, but if it comes down to playing with pain, that would not be an issue. He has the mindset that he is going to play and if he can step onto the field in Dallas the Steelers chances at a seventh title will be that much better, ankle sprain or not.