It was a journey that began back in July, on a hot day in Latrobe, Pa., when Steelers players took the field for the first time in 2011.
There was a path the journey was to have taken, one that was in the etched into the minds and hearts of every Steelers player and coach the minute the prior season ended.
The goal was to continue playing for about another month, with winning Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis the final destination. It’s what they gave their blood, sweat and tears for. It’s what they worked for every day.
But things didn’t end the way everyone had hoped. And on Monday the reality was still setting in.
“We are still coming to grips with what happened last night and how it unfolded, and the fact that our journey has come to an end,” said Coach Mike Tomlin during his season-ending press conference. “We acknowledge that there can only be one and it’s not us this year. That’s what stings. Not only was it a goal, but it’s what we were working towards.
“There are always tough feelings that come with that. That’s part of this deal. We will move forward. At the appropriate time we will start the process of chasing it again in 2012.”
The Steelers lost a heartbreaker in overtime to the Denver Broncos in an AFC Wild Card game, but they never lost their fight.
“I am extremely proud of the group of men that represent us and what they are willing to do, more than what they are capable of doing,” said Tomlin. “What they are capable of is impressive but I respect what those men are willing to do, not only in terms of the cause but what they do for one another. I enjoyed this group.”
It’s a group that might have been together for the last time on Monday during a team meeting. Each offseason brings change through various avenues, from free agency to the draft. There is always turnover. If there is one constant in the NFL, it’s that change will occur.
“There’s always going to be changes,” said Tomlin. “There are changes every year. I am not going to sit here and pretend like there’s not going to be changes. To what extent, at this point I am not ready to address. That’s why I enjoy these journeys. They are precious. At the end of this thing, the wheels do continue to turn.
“There will be some changes. We will see where this all takes us. Right now I just have a great deal of respect and appreciation for the men in that room and what they are willing to do for us this year.”
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While the roster is likely to change, Tomlin was asked if he expects both of his coordinators – Dick LeBeau and Bruce Arians – to be back next season.
“I anticipate it, but of course we all understand what the end of the season is about and movement is a part of it in today’s NFL for players and coaches,” said Tomlin. “We are going to try to maintain continuity like we always do. We believe that is a benefit to us, but we also understand that things can happen, and we will deal with those as they arrive.”