FRIDAY – FEATURE
In mid-June of 2009 things couldn’t have been looking better for Sidney Crosby and Ben Roethlisberger. Crosby was fresh off a Stanley Cup win and his second straight finals appearance in just his fourth year. He had already pocketed a scoring title and an MVP and was only 21. The once-in-a-generation career we were expecting to see was already unfolding at an even more rapid rate than even the most optimistic Penguin fan had a right to expect.
Roethlisberger was coming off his second Super Bowl win in which he played the role of hero, leading the Steelers to a legendary fourth quarter touchdown drive. He had already been to the AFC title game three times in his first five years and was to embark on a season in which the majority of his Super Bowl teammates would be returning.
This was the summit of “On Ice or on Grass, We’ll Kick your ASS.” Pittsburgh fan pride was at its highest levels since the Steelers and Pirates both won their championships in 1979. The difference being, those were aging teams who had stars that would largely be gone in a few season. Sid and Ben were going to be here for another decade.
So how many more duel parade years were we gonna get, huh?!
The answer has been none. Soon we learned about Reno and Milledgeville. Soon we saw a deteriorating defense and o-line. Soon we learned about Dave Steckel, Victor Hedman, concussions, broken jaws and the mumps.
Roethlisberger and Crosby have continued to dazzle with individual regular season brilliance, but those salad days of 2009 are starting to feel like a long time ago because…well…was it really supposed to be this hard to win more titles since that summer?
The answer is, yes. Yes it is really hard to win. Did Sid and Ben just warp our perspective because they did it so much, so quickly, and so young? Or have they and their teams failed to capitalize on these unique talents they have been given?
In Crosby, the Penguins have had the perceived best player in the world since that ‘09 title. The club has repeatedly spent money and traded to put Olympic level skill around him. Yet for the last six years the Penguins have barely made the playoffs or been eliminated by teams who were lower seeded than they were. And they have never made it out of their conference.
When you have the best player in the world, that’s not supposed to happen.
In Roethlisberger the Steelers have a future Hall of Fame QB. But they have failed to win a playoff game the last four years. And they have missed the post season entirely four times in Roethlisberger’s eleven seasons.
When you have a future Hall of Fame QB, that’s not supposed to happen.
For example, after missing his first time as a starter Aaron Rodgers has never missed the playoffs. After missing his first time as as starter Peyton Manning has made the post season fourteen out of the last fifteen years (not counting when he didn’t play in 2011). Tom Brady only missed the post season in 2002 and the year he went on IR for the whole year. So he is 12 of 13 as a full time starter. Even Drew Brees on the constantly up-&-down Saints hasn’t gone four years without a playoff victory since 2006.
The question is, who is to blame for failing to maximize the window of success for these players? Sid the Kid and Big Ben themselves? Or their respective teams?
In the case of Roethlisberger it appears to be on the team. Over the last six years the club has patched together offensive lines out of rubber bands and chewing gum until one finally coalesced last year. Its once proud defense has deteriorated through age and attrition. And the front office’s touch on draft weekend has largely gone from “Midas” to “minus”.
That’s not to ignore Ben’s role in Pittsburgh’s recent post season drought. He’s been stubborn with offensive coordinators, taken way too many sacks, and had some bad key games himself.
But in the case of Crosby, it appears to be more on him. He’s long been the captain of a team where mental toughness and emotional control have been major flaws in post season failures. His personal post season numbers haven’t been comparable to his regular season production. And it’s not like the organization has held on to draft picks and turned its nose up at a “win now” attitude. Look at the laundry list of in-season trades and off-season signings both Ray Shero and Jim Rutherford have made to hopefully extend summer runs.
And of course, in the case of both you can blame injury. They have each suffered more than their share (both individually and to key teammates) at inopportune times.
Regardless of who is to blame…the players or their teams…these once blossoming stars have now both been in the league for at least a decade each. Some prime years still do remain. I just hope they aren’t continually wasted in seasons that end too early for their talents.