B.J. Finney grew up a Steelers fan and when he was signed by the team as an undrafted rookie free agent back in 2015, it was a dream come true.
"Growing up, watching football with my dad, it was always the Steelers on Sundays, black and gold, no other option," said Finney back when he first signed with the Steelers. "We didn't have a tie to Pennsylvania. He just watched the 1970s dynasty and fell in love with them and that's the way I grew up. I fell in love watching this franchise."
Finney is back with the team he first fell in love with after signing a one-year contract with the Steelers last month, a chance for him to come back to his football home.
"Honestly, it's like coming home," said Finney. "You can't wait to get home, so we are excited to be back. My family and I are excited to be back. Hopefully everything plays out well."
Finney left the Steelers during free agency in 2020, but never really left his friends behind.
"You can never fully get away from anything with all of the friends and family we have on the team," said Finney. "Last year we were keeping tabs on everybody, checking in on everyone to make sure they were doing all right, keeping the lines of communication open. When you still have friends and family on the team, you are still going to follow it."
But it was following from a distance. He signed with the Seattle Seahawks in free agency, moving about as far from Pittsburgh as he could. He played in six games for the Seahawks last season, before being traded to the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 28. Finney played in just one game for the Bengals following the trade. The Bengals released Finney on March 5, and the Steelers signed him on March 14.
"It was within a couple of days of being released by Cincinnati that Mr. (Kevin) Colbert and Omar (Khan) reached out to my agents," said Finney. "They were like Pittsburgh is interested in bringing you back. We can work out the details and see what takes place. A couple of other teams were interested but didn't know what they had with the salary cap and so forth. We were stern and said tell us what you are going to offer, or I will be on a plane to Pittsburgh. Fast forward a couple of days and I was headed back to Pittsburgh."
Or as he said, headed back home.
"There was a bit of relief," said Finney. "There is always excitement going back with the people we know and love, not just with me but with (my wife) Amanda and (daughter) Zoey. Being able to jump back into the system we have, there wasn't a lot of unfamiliarity so there was excitement on that end. Also, they know me and my value, know what I can prove and how I can play. There is a lot of excitement.
"It's nice to know the system I am heading to and stepping back into and having that familiarity with my expectations for myself and the ones the coaching staff and front office have for me. It's nice to know what you are walking into."
Since he has been gone, though, there have been changes. Last offseason Ramon Foster retired. This offseason Maurkice Pouncey retired and Matt Feiler, one of his closest friends on the team, left via free agency for the Los Angeles Chargers, and there is a new offensive line coach in Adrian Klemm.
"We had that same crew of guys for my entire five years on the line and now it's potentially just Dave (DeCastro) and I left out of the original seven," said Finney. "I went from being the youngest in the room to now the second oldest I believe. Just one year removed it all changes so fast. There is always learning to be done, especially with new players and coaches, just figuring out how to do things."
It's the departure of Pouncey that makes the signing of Finney key. Finney has played in 66 games in his career, the majority during his first four seasons with the Steelers. While in the black and gold, he started 13 of 59 games and his versatility has been a huge key, playing both center and guard. While he said he hasn't specifically been told his role yet, he has been told it's in his hands what happens.
"They just painted it with a broad-brush stroke," said Finney. "Coach (Mike) Tomlin told me my fate is in my hands and we will see where it leads. We always have control over it. It's just a matter of opportunities rolling our way. It's nice to be in more control than I had prior to.
"If that is where they want me to play, at center, I will accept the challenge. That is a legacy that is hard to live up to in Pittsburgh with all of the great centers we have been fortunate to have as an organization. To throw my name into the ring, to have the opportunity to be one of those centers, is amazing in itself. It's not something to be taken lightly, and I am not. I want to do the best that I can, and the best I know how to do it is how I have been raised to do it. Coach T knows that and sees that, and we will see where it leads."
The one advantage he has is a familiarity with his quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, who will be back for 2021.
"I don't know if you can describe it and put it into words," said Finney of having Ben back for 2021. "Ben is Ben. To have that competitive edge that he brings, that devotion and passion he brings to the game and gives to the rest of us, it makes it a lot of fun. To be out there with him again is something I can't wait to do."
What else he can't wait to do is help the younger players on the offensive line. When he came to the Steelers he benefited from the leadership of Pouncey, Foster and DeCastro. As he said, he is second in experience on the offensive line, and now it's his turn.
"The one thing I can do and bring to the room is experience," said Finney. "A lot of guys are a lot younger and don't know the ropes, the things to look out for. I can bring the knowledge of body maintenance, how to study, things like that to help them with their game. As you become a veteran, it's natural to be put into those roles because you have more knowledge to share than the ones who are younger than you."