By Jason Keidel
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In the interest of candor, I brand myself a Bradshaw Baby, weaned on Mean Joe Green.
You could fill a museum with all the Pittsburgh Steelers memorabilia I’ve acquired since the ’70s, from an original Terrible Towel to a Franco Harris card to a closet of clothing. I still speak in the collective (“We stink this year!”) and I still get chills when I see my beloved black & gold on television, no matter the game.
But no matter how black or gold my allegiance, no matter how nostalgic I feel about them. and no matter how deep the Rooney roots run in NFL history, there’s no excuse for their head coach’s conduct on Thanksgiving.
It doesn’t take a Ravens fan to see it’s obvious that Mike Tomlin messed up. And he knows it. Moreover, he knew it at the time. It’s impossible to buy these homegrown ballads asserting that Tomlin had no idea he was obstructing Jacoby Jones until the very last millisecond.
You need no more proof than his childish grin and churlish response to the action. A coach as detail-obsessed as Tomlin knows he crossed more than one line on Thanksgiving night.
He inched toward the edge of the playing field, turned his back to the action, and waited until he gazed upon the jumbo screen and saw that Jones was about to bump into him. Then he jumped back leisurely, his mission accomplished. He changed the speed of the runner, which was his goal.
He got religion later, with a solemn presser that included the proper, somber bromides about blunders and accountability and responsibility. Someone, perhaps his owner, told him to stop being so cavalier about this. He listened. And his mea culpa included everything but an admission that he did it on purpose.
For that, along with his on-field actions, he deserved to be punished. Tomlin earned every dime of his fine, which is reportedly $100,000. He should also have been suspended for being so glib about the whole thing.
The Steelers, however, should neither lose a draft pick nor the position of a draft pick. Just as punishing Tomlin severely sends the proper message, misfiring and hitting his employer would send the improper message.
This isn’t some systemic sickness. This isn’t point shaving. This isn’t Spygate. There’s no conspiracy here, because one requires more than one person to perpetrate the offense. Tomlin indeed acted on his own, and he did so knowingly. Anything he says from now on is semantic subterfuge.
Like most savvy pro coaches, Tomlin will probably dismiss future questions, asserting that the NFL has meted out its sense of justice, and thus he has moved on to his football team.
He won’t have much to say on that front, either. As a rabid Steelers devotee, this season has been a bomb. Tomlin’s foot faux pax is a fitting metaphor for the Steelers’ season, which has been a stumbling, plodding path to third place in the AFC North.
This is the first time in Tomlin’s bejeweled tenure as Steelers coach that he has encountered personal and professional adversity. How he handles both will say volumes about his team and his tenure, after a very bad misstep for each.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.
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