Tom Jackson famously told John Madden: "It's all over, fat man" when, on January 1, 1978, the underdog Denver Broncos beat the Oakland Raiders 20-17 in the AFC Championship game. And, for the rotund head coach of the Raiders it was, indeed, all over.Madden would coach the Raiders to a second place finish in the AFC West the following season and then waddle off into the NFL sunset having not recovered from the blow that Broncos team delivered.
This is going to piss off a lot of Steelers fans. But I can't stand Steelers fans so that's OK.
It's all over, Big Ben.
When Tim Tebow delivered that long, wobbly bomb to the wide-open Demaryius Thomas to defeat the Steelers on the first overtime play of last season's Wild Card game at Mile High, the Steelers' era finally ended. Pittsburgh, which has been a perennial playoff powerhouse, has, in past decade, won ten games with Tommy Maddox, seen Ben Roethlisberger be the NFL Rookie of the Year, had two NFL Coaches of the Year, two NFL defensive Players of the Year, two Super Bowl MVPs and won two rings. And now they're old, beat-up and over-rated.
There will be no heart-breaking Playoff losses for the Steelers this season. They will miss the post-season for the first time since 2006. And it will take them several years (and several drafts) to get back there. Their "Championship window" is closed. It was slammed shut by the Denver Broncos who will, on this coming Sunday night, contribute to the Steelers' continuing collapse by soundly thumping them in the same house of horrors where Demaryius Thomas high-stepped them into obscurity last year.
Ben Roethlisberger is hobbled and showing his age. He's thirty now; an eight year veteran who's career is on the decline. His offensive line allows him to take regular beatings. It's as though the entire league has a bounty on him. Ben gets injured to some degree in vitually every game. And he begins this season without a decent running back to ease the pressure on him.
Starter Rashard Mendehall is off the PUP list. Still, the soonest he is likely to return is week six. Backup (and Bronco killer) Isaac Redman is banged up, too. That leaves the Steelers to rely on Jonathon Dwyer, Baron Batch and Chris Rainey to tote the rock. In other words, Ben will be running for his life again this season. Tattered as Ben is, would anybody be surprised if Byron Leftwich start multiple games in 2012?
The vaunted Steelers defense is aging, also. It's heart and soul, the hairy Troy Palamalu, is 31. Nose tackle Casey "big snack" Hampton is 35. Beardy Brett Keisel, the right defensive end, is 33. Inside linebacker Larry Foote is 32. Outside Linebacker James "too dirty" Harrison is 34. Cornerback Ike Taylor is 32. Ryan "sickle cell" Clark is also 32 (and can't handle flying to Denver). This group, which has for so many years covered up for the deficiencies of the Steelers' offense, projects to give up many, many big plays in the coming seasons.
They say that the NFL stands for "not for long". To the Steelers' credit, they have been good for a very long time. It's been an impressive run for the black and gold. They've shined. But Tim Tebow, Demaryius Thomas and the Denver Broncos snuffed their candle out back on January 8th. The Steelers are in rebuilding mode.