There was a moment during the latter portion of a press conference today at the Steelers’ practice facility called to announce a contract extension that explained the whole thing.
It explained why the team wanted to enter into this kind of a long-term arrangement with the player. It explained why the player will be worth the money he’s to be paid. And it explained why Dan Rooney, Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert, and Mike Tomlin all took time out of their days in a show of support.
Take a look at some images of Steelers Center Maurkice Pouncey.
Before Thursday’s final OTA of this offseason, Maurkice Pouncey signed a contract extension that binds him to the Pittsburgh Steelers through the 2019 NFL season, and in return he’s to earn what’s been reported to be $48 million over the next six seasons. That’s a tidy sum for a center, and a king’s ransom for a man who won’t celebrate his 25th birthday until late July.
There are a lot of things that can come from such a mixture of wealth and youth, but what came from Pouncey was humility and gratitude.
As these occasions so often do, it all began with smiles and handshakes.
“I would like to start off and thank Art Rooney II and Mr. Dan Rooney, Kevin Colbert and Coach Tomlin,” said Pouncey soon after he took the microphone. “It’s like a dream come true. I was just telling Coach Tomlin outside, it seems like five years ago all over again. I’m ready to start on this path and help this team get back to where we need to get back to, and I’m excited about the new adventure. This is really an awesome feeling, and words can’t really say enough about this.”
When the questions got around to the issue of what this financial commitment told him about how the Steelers value him, Pouncey’s emotions began to get the better of him. That’s because nine months ago, Maurkice Pouncey was loaded onto a cart and driven off the Heinz Field grass, his knee sufficiently damaged to have him thinking, “I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to walk again. I think playing football (again) was the first thing that came to my mind.”
That of course was a worst case scenario that never materialized, but it says something about a man who was staring down the barrel of a major knee injury at the start of the fourth year on the five-year contract he had signed as a rookie that money wasn’t his primary concern.
“Words can’t explain that,” said Pouncey about the Steelers’ commitment to him and belief in him, and it became clear he was trying to gather himself before the dam of tears could break.
“I’m just glad to be a Pittsburgh Steeler, to be honest with you guys … I’ll do anything for this team … . I’m trying not to bust out crying, so it’s hard to really talk right now … The organization and the loyalty they showed with this new contract, it’s true love here.”
That was the end of the news conference, but the reason for the news conference itself also could be viewed as a beginning. It’s the beginning of the next phase of Maurkice Pouncey’s career, a phase where Pouncey is the unquestioned leader of his unit and one of the most important personalities in the Steelers locker room. It’s Pouncey’s time, and everybody there understands that.
“I’m a hard-worker,” said Pouncey when asked what makes him a leader. “I go out and try to do my best every single day. I try to give advice whenever I’m asked and just try to lead by example. I think (I’m) a little more outspoken than most guys, and I think some of the guys really appreciate that. Sometimes it’s hard, but sometimes it’s not.”
It was Pouncey who “explained” practice etiquette to rookie Ryan Shazier during the first of the team’s OTAs. It will be Pouncey reinforcing whatever Mike Munchak is teaching. When the first critical moment of the 2014 season occurs for this Steelers offense, the players will turn to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger first, but then they will look to Pouncey.
“I think it just reiterates what we all feel and believe, and that is we all believe in him,” said Roethlisberger. “We believe in his work ethic, the type of player he is, the type of person he is, and the teammate he is. He’s a great football player.”
Pouncey’s rehabilitation from his injury has gone smoothly enough to allow him to participate fully in the offseason activities to date, and he continues to work on rehabilitative type things to make sure there are no setbacks. And outside of the freak accident that claimed his entire 2013 season, Pouncey had missed just three games to injury during his first three seasons.
“I was telling one of the rookies today, Wes Johnson. We were sitting in the hot tub, and I was telling him it flies by so fast,” said Pouncey. “It feels like yesterday that I got drafted, and this is year five, and (now I’m) on a new deal. It’s really unbelievable. I’m so thankful for this moment right now. It’s truly awesome.”