A few years ago, I was able to cross an entry off of my sports bucket list. With his wife expecting their first child and being advised not to travel, my best friend–a lifelong avid fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers–invited me to partake in my first live game experience at Heinz Field. In addition to the game, I got to experience the beautiful city and all it has to offer. I highly recommend taking in a dinner at Jerome Bettis‘ Grille by the way, should any of you take a trip to the Steel City.
Aside from the grandeur of the city, the delicious cheeseburger, the enormous amounts of alcohol, and gambling at Rivers Casino, I also got to confirm something about the city of Pittsburgh that I already assumed was more than evident.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a god-like figure in the city and its surrounding areas.
You can’t turn your head in one direction or the other without seeing someone in either a black or white #7 jersey. The people love him, and as well they should. The QB was able to resurrect the franchise and give loyal Steeler followers a taste of those 70s glory years.
So, you can certainly understand my thought processes when the team chose Oklahoma QB product Landry Jones last Saturday in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Aside from the usual questions about how the record-breaking signal caller fits into the Steelers system, I wondered more about how he will eventually be received by the emotionally-loyal fan base.
For right now, Jones’ role on the team is as a solid backup to Ben. However, as most have pointed out, with the wealth of injuries creeping up on Roethlisberger is recent years, Landry is also seen as the heir apparent to lead the black and gold down the road. However his transition, should the opportunity present itself, will be a little different than Ben’s.
In 2004 when Roethlisberger became the man under center, he didn’t exactly replace Terry Bradshaw. He took over for Tommy Maddox. Yes, that same Tommy Maddox who was the MVP of the XFL in their only season of existence. While he was a passable quarterback in a run-heavy offensive system, he wasn’t a legend by any stretch of the imagination.
When Landry’s time does come, he will be replacing one of the all-time greats in Pittsburgh sports history–not just football–but sports in general. And, believe me, Pittsburgh residents love them their sports teams.
It’ll be difficult for Pittsburgh fans to cope with the fact that Big Ben is no longer their leader. Jones is not only going to have to win the confidence of his teammates, but the confidence of the entire fan base that he can keep the Steelers legacy steamrolling into the future.
Although the lofty national championship expectations were never met by Jones during his time in Norman, Oklahoma, he did do an admirable job of dealing with the pressures of being an Oklahoma QB, which is not an easy job by any means. I have all the confidence in the world that he can do the same in Pittsburgh.
But, just like any relationship in life–when it’s time for Jones to take his place under center for whatever reason–it needs to be a collective effort. Jones will have to hold up his end of the bargain by playing effectively and the fans will have to give him their unconditional support while doing so.