It's the time of year when honors are handed out and that was the case when Cameron Heyward and Najee Harris were both honored by the Pittsburgh Chapter of Pro Football Writers of America. Heyward is the winner of 'The Chief' Award, while Harris won the Joe Greene Great Performance Award, presented to the team's top rookie.
'The Chief' Award, which was established in 1988 in honor of Steelers' founder, Arthur J. Rooney, Sr., is presented annually to a member of the Steelers' organization that best exemplifies the spirit of cooperation with the media that he embodied. This is the third time Heyward has won the award, previously doing so in 2014 and 2019.
"I appreciate your job, it's not easy," said Heyward after being presented with the honor. "I just try to be honest."
Heyward said he was trained while at Ohio State how to deal with the media, and it's still benefiting him.
"Not only dealing with the media, but creating relationships and being able to talk open and understanding that you have a platform and you can use it for good or bad," said Heyward.
With NFL locker rooms still closed to the media because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Heyward always makes himself available to the media during the week and postgame, never saying no to requests and standing tall in victory and defeat.
"I am not the happiest person after we lose," said Heyward. "I tend to take it personally and individually, that I let my team down that we weren't able to do it. I know it's a cliché thing where it's give yourself five minutes, collect your thoughts and try to muster up something together. But that's what I tend to do."
And when he speaks, he speaks from the heart because that is who he is, showing the leadership qualities he has become known for among his teammates, coaches, staff and media.
Cameron Heyward won 'The Chief' Award, for exemplifying cooperation with the media
He doesn't hold back, sharing the good and the bad, being honest and open, but always handling everything with class.
Heyward is a Pro Bowl selection for the fourth straight year, and the fifth time overall, after being Mr. Consistency for the defense all season long with nine sacks this season.
"I think he's just an all-around leader," said defensive lineman Tyson Alualu, who is on the Reserve/Injured List. "He is a leader that will be there to tell you what you need to do. At the same time, he leads by example and shows guys what it takes to be an elite player. Him just leading by example is the best attribute. He is always out here trying to get better in every aspect of his game."
Heyward, who is 32-years old and in his 11th season in the NFL, has always had those leadership qualities. This is the seventh straight year he was voted a defensive team captain by his teammates, but those qualities that earned him that honor were there from Day 1 when he was selected with the Steelers No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
"I think it's comes from a couple of different things," said Heyward of the leadership qualities. "Whether it was my parents always pushing me, if I'm going to do something, I'm going to go 100 percent with it.
"From my point of view, I've always been the one who's wanted to lead. I've always enjoyed being a leader. As much responsibility comes with it, I enjoy that. It keeps me engaged. And then seeing leaders before me here. Whether it was Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel or Aaron Smith, all different types of leaders, but they were great leaders in their way."
Heyward is also the Steelers nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, presented by Nationwide. It's the fourth time Heyward has been nominated for the prestigious honor, and quite honestly one he should win hands down, even though he doesn't do any of it for recognition or praise.
Every NFL team names a Man of the Year nominee, and they are all eligible to be the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year, presented by Nationwide.
The award recognizes a player's off-the-field community service, as well as his playing excellence. Heyward is a standout in both areas.
"It's really important to give back," said Heyward. "A lot of people out there need our help. I will always continue to give back. I always want to make sure I can help people succeed and this gives me an opportunity to do that.
"It's not just about football. We want to be men of service."
'The Chief' Award Recipients
1988 - Dan Rooney
1989 - Dwayne Woodruff
1990 - Merril Hoge
1991 - Gerald Williams
1992 - Tunch Ilkin
1993 - D.J. Johnson
1994 - Rod Woodson
1995 - Levon Kirkland
1996 - Chad Brown
1997 - Darren Perry
1998 - Jerome Bettis
1999 - Lee Flowers
2000 - Jerome Bettis & Deshea Townsend
2001 - Lee Flowers
2002 - Hines Ward
2003 - Mike Logan
2004 - Jerome Bettis
2005 - Alan Faneca
2006 - Brett Keisel & Deshea Townsend
2007 - Alan Faneca
2008 - Ryan Clark
2009 - James Farrior
2010 - Ben Roethlisberger
2011 - James Farrior
2012 - Casey Hampton
2013 - Ike Taylor
2014 - Cameron Heyward
2015 - Ramon Foster
2016 - Arthur Moats
2017 - David DeCastro
2018 - Joe Haden
2019 - Cameron Heyward
2020 - Ben Roethlisberger
2021 - Cameron Heyward
The Joe Greene Great Performance Award was established in 1984 and named after the legendary Hall of Famer. Harris is the fourth running back in team history to win the award, joining Warren Williams (1988), Bam Morris (1994) and Le'Veon Bell (2013).
Harris, the Steelers No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft out of Alabama, has set multiple Steelers rookie records this year. With his performance against the Cleveland Browns, where he rushed for a career-high 188 yards on 28 carries, he passed Franco Harris for most rushing yards in a single-season by a Steelers rookie with 1,172 yards, with one game remaining. Franco Harris had 1,055 rushing yards in 1972.
He also set a rookie record for most yards from scrimmage in a single-season, passing Bell who had 1,259 yards from scrimmage in 2013. To date he has 1,172 yards rushing and 440 receiving yards, for a total of 1,612 yards from scrimmage.
Najee Harris won the Joe Greene Great Performance Award, presented to the team's top rookie
"He's a multi-talented, faceted running back," said Baltimore Ravens Coach John Harbaugh. "He's big, strong, fast. He has great vision. He runs routes out of the backfield. He lines up out there and runs routes. He can catch it. He's just an elusive…for such a big back, he's very elusive. (He's) a tackle breaker-type guy."
Harris has three 100-yard games this season and became the first rookie running back in the NFL to register three or more 100-yard rushing games, and a 100-yard receiving game, in the same season since Washington's Roy Helu Jr. did so in 2011. He also became the first running back in Steelers history and eighth in NFL history to register three or more 100-yard rushing games, and a 100-yard receiving game, in the same season since 1949.
"They really hit on this back. He's a really complete back," said Los Angeles Chargers Coach Brandon Staley. "He's smooth, he can see, he can run with power, he can catch the football out of the backfield. He has a physical presence, so he's willing in pass protection. He's definitely a strength of their football team. He is one of these young runners that's making a name for himself in the league. I definitely think they've done an outstanding job of bringing him along. He certainly has a great pedigree, coming from Alabama. He's an outstanding young player."
Harris had the first 100-yard game of his career in Week 5 when he rushed for 122 yards on 23 carries against the Denver Broncos. It was part of a strong month of October for him that earned him NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month for October for his efforts, which included four games from Week 4-8.
During the four-game stretch Harris had 88 carries for 356 yards, a four-yard average, and three touchdowns. He also added 17 receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown. He scored one touchdown in every game during the month.
"He has been consistent. He's a really competitive football player," said Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll. "He is real creative and really aggressive. He's bigger than most guys, he's over 230. He runs through people, makes them miss, and makes them bounce off. He's a really effective football player and is a really good player."
Harris' dedication to the game is something that doesn't go unnoticed at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. He stays late watching film on a regular basis, oftentimes having to be told to leave the building and go home and relax by the coaches. And when he is at home, a lot of time he is texting running backs coach Eddie Faulkner asking questions.
"I stay here so late," said Harris. "It's just because I have nothing else to do. I don't have a life outside of this. So, I stay extra."
Harris has also had incredible ball security this season, without a fumble through 16 games.
"I want the ball, so that is one way to show them I can have a big workload," said Harris. "The main thing about being a running back is protecting the ball. That is the whole Pittsburgh Steelers fan base, the whole organization, all on my one arm. It means a lot to not only me, but a lot of people watching the Steelers. Holding on to the ball is a number one thing people look at running backs in the draft. Is he good at holding onto the ball?"
One thing Harris has wanted to do all season is break a long run, which he did against the Browns with a 37-yard scamper. At the same time, though, he knows every yard matters.
"Ben (Roethlisberger) would always tell me you can't break every run," said Harris. "When I got here, he said you can't break every run in the NFL. Understanding how important it is to get just even two yards, or one yard in NFL is really hard. Especially with the type of guys they've got across the ball. Understanding that not every run's going to be a home run. A four-yard run is good because now second down is shorter, it makes it easier for the offensive coordinator and the rest of the team. Taking what they give you is really big in the NFL and I'm learning that."
Joe Greene Great Performance Award Recipients
1984 - Louis Lipps, WR
1985 - Harry Newsome, P
1986 - Anthony Henton, LB
1987 - Delton Hall, CB
1988 - Warren Williams, RB
1989 - Carnell Lake, S
1990 - Eric Green, TE
1991 - Adrian Cooper, TE
1992 - Darren Perry, FS
1993 - Chad Brown, LB
1994 - Bam Morris, RB
1995 - Kordell Stewart, QB
1996 - Jon Witman, FB
1997 - Chad Scott, CB
1998 - Alan Faneca, OG
1999 - Troy Edwards, WR
2000 - Dan Kreider, FB
2001 - Kendrell Bell, LB
2002 - Kendall Simmons, OG
2003 - Troy Polamalu, S
2004 - Ben Roethlisberger, QB
2005 - Heath Miller, TE
2006 - Santonio Holmes, WR
2007 - Daniel Sepulveda, P
2008 - Patrick Bailey, LB
2009 - Mike Wallace, WR
2010 - Maurkice Pouncey, C
2011 - Marcus Gilbert, OT
2012 - Mike Adams, OT
2013 - Le'Veon Bell, RB
2014 - Martavis Bryant, WR
2015 - Bud Dupree, LB
2016 - Sean Davis, S
2017 - JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR
2018 - Terrell Edmunds, S
2019 - Devin Bush, LB
2020 - Chase Claypool, WR
2021 - Najee Harris, RB