Steelers battered, bruised

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. (Reuters files)

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. (Reuters files)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:09 PM ET

HOUSTON - Chuck Noll’s jokes usually couldn’t elicit a snicker out of ferocious figures such as Jack Lambert and Mean Joe Greene, but the man certainly knew how to efficiently keep a locker room stuffed with Hall of Fame egos in check.

While Noll didn’t think emotion was a key aspect of the game, Bill Cowher spewed that trait from the end of his toes all the way up to the tip of his chinny chin chin, which seemed to balloon outward each time he clenched his famous jaw.

Somewhere between those two polar opposites is where you’ll find Mike Tomlin, the man who will lead the bruised and battered Pittsburgh Steelers into Sunday’s wild-card showdown against the Denver Tebows in the Mile High City.

Unlike Noll, Tomlin isn’t afraid to show his competitiveness on the sidelines or in the locker room, where he often can be seen urging his players on during some fierce games of ping pong at the Steelers practice facility.

Unlike Cowher, you won’t see Tomlin blowing a gasket on the sidelines or chasing down an official with an aerial photo that indicated the zebras had made a wrong call, an incident that The Jaw will forever be remembered for in Steeltown.

Three different men who chose different routes to success, unique paths which ultimately merged on the second floor of the Steelers offices where the team’s record six Lombardi Trophies sit glistening for all the players to see every day as they walk past en route to team meetings.

In the end, the Steelers haven’t won the most Super Bowls in league history because their head coaches have shared the same philosophies. No, Pittsburgh’s winning ways have come because ownership has allowed each of their sideline leaders to establish their fingerprints on the team in their own individual ways without threatening to pull the plug at the first sign of adversity.

Think about it. Since 1969, Noll, Cowher and Tomlin are the only head coaches the Steelers have ever had. That’s just two years after the Maple Leafs last hoisted the Stanley Cup. Remarkable.

It’s amazing how consistency on the sideline has equated into consistency in the win column.

In the case of Tomlin, his legacy will show that he never makes excuses. No matter how bad a referee’s call, no matter how lucky an opponent might be, he always views a result by how accountable his players were. External factors never come into it.

When Tomlin talks about potentially crushing injuries such as the season-ending ACL tear suffered by stud running back Rashard Mendenhall last week, there is never any “woe is me” whining. Instead, he simply expects a backup like Isaac Redman to step in and do the job. In Tomlin’s mind, that’s football evolution.

Through it all, Tomlin keeps everything in perspective.

When safety Ryan Clark thought he had located doctors who had found a way for him to play in the Mile High City, Tomlin came up with an argument that even the Steelers safety could not debate.

Tomlin told Clark that, given the same circumstances, he would not allow his son to play, let alone Clark. For Clark, who has sickle cell trait condition that can be problematic in the high altitude of Denver, it made him feel like family.

As Tomlin put it, yes, it’s a big game. But in the overall scheme of life, it’s only a game.

As his team enters Tebow Territory, Tomlin is facing the type of adversity rarely seen in his five seasons at the helm of the Steelers. No Clark. No Mendenhall. Potentially no Maurkice Pouncey, the Pro Bowl centre who is suffering from a left ankle sprain. And a quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger whose own left ankle sprain likely will severely inhibit his mobility.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Tomlin had to inform his players on Friday that running backs coach Kirby Wilson had suffered burns to 30-50% of his body during a house fire.

Put it all together, and it seems like a lot to overcome.

But if any coach can do it, it’s Mike Tomlin.

That’s just the Steelers way.


DAWKINS CAN ONLY CHEER

There will be plenty of talent at the safety position off the field instead of on it in Denver on Sunday.

With Pittsburgh’s Ryan Clark sitting out with a blood condition that becomes more dangerous at the high altitude of Denver, the Broncos announced on Friday that safety Brian Dawkins will not play in the team’s wild-card game against the Steelers because of a neck injury.

Dawkins will serve the role as cheerleader, which he did last week when he delivered a passionate speech urging his teammates to forget the three consecutive losses they suffered to end the regular season.

“He’ll be effective, one way or another,” cornerback Champ Bailey told reporters in Denver. “He’s the leader of this team.”


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