For those members of Steeler Nation who live outside Pittsburgh and therefore don’t have access to the Post-Gazette, well, consider yourselves lucky. That rag hasn’t been worth reading since John Clayton left to become ESPN’s Senior NFL Insider (as opposed to Junior NFL Liaison, I suppose) and they got rid of Mark Madden. Seriously, I’m beggin’ somebody over at the P-G to pull the plug on Bozo the Columnist’s inane “blog” and bring in somebody who doesn’t think youtube is that portable cushion you sit on to relieve hemorrhoids. I mean, would it kill them to bring in a couple columnists under the age of 60?
Anyway, I do receive the Sunday edition, primarily because I’m an Extreme Couponer. While perusing yesterday’s paper, I immediately noticed the ginormous full page ad taken out by former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith. Smith was among the long-time Steelers released in the Purge a week and a half back. During his career in the Black and Gold, Smith was known primarily for two things: being one of the most underrated players in the league and also for being one of the most classy.
Taking out a full page ad to thank Steeler fans pretty vividly exemplifies the latter. Smith’s message was as follows:
Dear Steelers Fans,
As of today, I am no longer a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I leave the field and Steelers with no regrets, and am grateful to have played for such a tremendous organization. I feel truly blessed to have spent my entire professional career in the best town, playing for the most loyal fans who have loved and supported myself and my family.
The last 13 years of our lives have been special because of the people who cheered me on, and I am truly fortunate to have been a part of the Steelers, the City of Pittsburgh and the Steelers Nation. You have opened your arms and your hearts to us as a family and we will never forget that. Your support, enthusiasm, love and dedication are gifts I will carry with me my entire life.
I may no longer be on the Steelers active roster, but I will always be a Steeler and will never forget the people who made it all worthwhile — the fans, the Rooneys, the front office, the equipment guys and trainers, my teammates and family. Thank you for supporting me over the last 13 years, and I hope you will support me in whatever future path life will take me on.
We plan on making Pittsburgh our home and I will endeavor for the rest of my days to find a way to thank each and every one of you personally for all that you have done and meant for me and my family. You cheered for me for 13 years and now I cheer for you for the rest of my life. You will always be in my heart, thoughts and prayers. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to have the job of a lifetime. You will always be in my heart.
Your friend always,
Aaron Smith and Family, No. 91
What a heartfelt message to the fans. I especially like how he included his uniform number next to his signature. Believe me, Aaron, the rest of the league may not have noticed the dirty work #91 did for thirteen glorious years but Steeler Nation sure did. Your play on the field and how you carried yourself off it earned you every accolade you ever received (and the many more you should have) and I think I speak for all fans when I say thank you.
Not to derail this lovefest but Smith’s display of class makes me wonder what happened to that other “classy” Steeler, Hines Ward? No player has been more closely associated with a franchise over the past decade than Hines yet going on two weeks since his release we have yet to hear from him. Sure he issued a phony PR release through his agent but where is his thank you? He never failed to pass off a touchdown ball to a fan wearing an #86 jersey or reach out when he needed our votes to win Dancing With The Stars, would a personal message to his fans be to much to ask?
Here’s what I suspect. It’s fairly well-known that Hines monitors what is said and written about him. That’s why he conspired to get Madden fired from WTAE’s Steelers post-game show, why he got upset when Big Ben made his “We need a tall receiver” remark and why he routinely engaged in a war of words with various members of the Baltimore Ravens. When Hines’ release was announced, I have no doubt he read the local papers and tuned in to the local talk shows to hear their reaction. While the overwhelming majority of the local media (even Madden) and fans recalled his unparalleled play and recognized his place among the best in players in Steeler history, most also acknowledged the fact that his release was a necessary inevitability due to his sharply declining skills.
When fans didn’t respond to Hines’ exit by marching pitchforks in hand down to Heinz Field, his “webmaster” suddenly posted a message on his official Facebook page imploring them to express their outrage. I saw that post before it was removed only because shortly after it went up, people on both FB and Twitter began to mock it unmercifully. Perhaps Hines doesn’t even know he has an official Facebook page but I would bet he’s not only aware of its existence but what’s posted in his name. Fans rightly calling him on a petty, whiny and frankly desperate attempt to rile up support couldn’t possibly help the situation.
Hines succeeded primarily because he played his entire career with a chip on his shoulder. That chip formed when he was drafted in the third round and remained there no matter how much he’s accomplished. Ward is the kind of guy who lives to be disrespected because he thrives on being the guy who proves everybody else wrong. Now that most clear-thinking members of Steeler Nation view him as a washed-up veteran, his new chip is in going somewhere else to prove he’s still got it.
Brett Favre left Green Bay with a similar chip and not only did his two season odyssey end badly, his relationship with the fanbase who supported him during his glory days still hasn’t recovered. It’s increasingly looking like Hines Ward will follow a similar path. And that’s a real pity because it is possible to exit with grace and class. Just look at Aaron Smith.