Sometimes you ask a question and in your mind you have a feel for what the answer will be.
So, when I asked some Steelers' players what stood out about the 2014 season, while I expected an array of answers, I thought they might be along the lines of the performance of Le'Veon Bell, the play of Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger, William Gay's three interceptions for touchdowns.
But, none of those were the answers. As a matter of fact, not one answer had anything to do with what transpired in game action. But to a man, the answers all had the same theme. And, honestly, I shouldn't have been surprised.
*"The camaraderie we had," said wide receiver Markus Wheaton. "There was more this year, definitely. I have no clue why, but it was there."
Photos of the team throughout the 2014 season.
I was fooling myself to think anything but that would have been an answer, because knowing these players, seeing what I saw in an array of settings, there is no doubt the 2014 season was about the team, being one, being family.
*"I think more than anything the overall cohesion of the team," said linebacker Jason Worilds. "I think the team as a whole grew close. That was the only way possible for us to grow the way we have throughout the course of the season. That is the biggest thing I am happy for and excited about."
You could see the closeness in every aspect of what players did, from the offensive linemen working out together in the weight room, pushing and encouraging each other every step of the way, to teammates sitting in the training room with injured teammates, encouraging them, keeping their spirits high and not letting them get down. It was gestures small and large, from carrying a tray in the cafeteria for a teammate on crutches to players suggesting to have rookie practice squad member and U.S. Army veteran Alejandro Villanueva as a co-captain for the game against the Titans, which fell close to Veterans Day.
*"As a team we grew closer, we grew together and I think it showed in a lot of ways and I was happy to be a part of it," said guard Ramon Foster. "You saw everybody care for each other and that was the most important thing. Personally and on the field. We all wanted to play a part in this team and it showed in a major way. I was happy to see it."
The closeness continued when players left the practice facility, whether they were spending time together as families enjoying fun activities, hanging out together, having dinner, or attending teammates charity events because they wanted to be there for each other.
*"Everybody from the young guys to the older guys hanging out, people getting to know each other personally," said cornerback William Gay. "That is always a great thing for a locker room. It shows up big on the field, knowing you can trust the guy next to you. That is always big. For the young guys to do it and see the older guys already here doing it made our team stronger. The younger guys bought into it and looked at it not as a job, but as a brotherhood and you don't want to let your brother down. The young guys did that this year and that's what we are going to build on for next year."
There was a closeness, there was a bond, there was a love for each other, not something that has been absent in recent years, but something that was far more prevalent this year.
*"We had a team that put aside all of their agendas and made one goal and that goal was to be better than what we were last year, grow together," said tackle Marcus Gilbert. "The offense and defense put it all together and we all believed in each other. Even though we came up short, we grew on the field and closer and did a lot of positive things this year."
*It's a bond so strong, that even when talking about it, safety Mike Mitchell couldn't hold back the tears.
"It was a group of guys coming together," said Mitchell. "It was all of us persevering and being one."
It was a team, and the good news is, this group is only going to get tighter and stronger.