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Tim Benz: Hines Ward is right – Steelers are now the Bengals, must become the Patriots | TribLIVE.com
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Tim Benz: Hines Ward is right – Steelers are now the Bengals, must become the Patriots

Tim Benz
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Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Wide receiver Hines Ward won a Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006.

Last week I made this statement about the Pittsburgh Steelers.

That thought was met with predictable fan response from Steelers Nation.

• “You’re just “spitting hot takes!”

• Fake news!

• You’re short! You never played in the NFL! What do you know?

That last one is true. I am short, and I never played in the NFL.

So, if you don’t value my opinion on the declining state of the Steelers, that’s fine. Maybe you’ll value the opinion of another guy many folks said was too short. Except he did play in the NFL.

He was pretty good at it. You might remember him. His name is Hines Ward.

“When we’re talking about the Steelers off the field more than we’re talking about the Steelers on the field, it’s a problem,” Ward said to USA Today. “Remember those Cincinnati Bengals, when they were worried about the shenanigans with (Chad) Ochocinco and T.J. (Houshmandzadeh)? That’s who the Steelers are now.”

Sounds familiar, no?

“I just think the culture that Mike Tomlin has created, or that exists in Pittsburgh, that’s not the standard of the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Ward added.

The former Steelers receiver made those comments during Super Bowl week, a few days after I sent that tweet. So, apparently, we are of like mind on this front. The one-time Super Bowl MVP also used the word “circus” to describe the Steelers. That’s another word I have used myself, much to the chagrin of Steelers management.

Ward is right. The Steelers have become like those other teams: A talented but disorganized and underachieving lot that’s more known for their headlines off the field than the ones they make on it.

The only people refuting that belief are those in the organization trying polish the horse droppings of 2018, some fans who can’t bring themselves to admit the truth, and some media members who feel like carrying water for the team.

Ward said those things from a place of concern for his NFL alma mater. Not to get folks retweeting his quote with flame emojis.

Frankly, I was doing the same. I hate admitting what the Steelers have become. I’d love to see the team get back to what it was when Ward was playing.

It wasn’t the smoothest of times back then either, mind you. Ward played a role in that. He once griped about not getting the ball enough … in training camp. He questioned Ben Roethlisberger for not playing when the quarterback had a concussion.

Roethlisberger created a monsoon of negative press. Joey Porter constantly found himself in off-the-field situations. Plaxico Burress, too. Not to mention Cedric Wilson and James Harrison.

But when it was time to play — and practice — in the early 2000s, those guys shelved those issues and took care of business and went to Super Bowls.

Remind you of anyone else?

• A certain club that had a mini-series worth of drama published about the relationship between a championship coach, hero quarterback, and owner.

• A team with a future Hall of Famer flirting with retirement.

• A drug-addled receiver who couldn’t be kept on the roster despite extreme efforts to do so.

No. I’m not outlining the Steelers here, even though all those descriptions would apply in Pittsburgh over the past two years. I’m describing the Patriots — a franchise that just went to their ninth Super Bowl since 2001 and won their sixth in that same stretch.

Yes. The Pats did that despite the three-way saga between Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft. In spite of Rob Gronkowski mulling his future. In spite of the failed Josh Gordon acquisition. All that happened, and those guys won yet another Super Bowl.

Furthermore, they did it with a team that may have less raw talent than the Steelers have had in recent years.

But they do have stronger fiber. Much stronger. That’s a significant difference between the organizations right now. Their leaders are more in control of the locker room. And their coach is more in command.

Some try to defend the Steelers by saying, “Well, the other 31 teams have their issues off the field too, you know!”

Sure, they do. Including the one on top of the heap. Although, the other teams don’t seem to run into these problems as often, with such magnitude, and with such results as the Steelers do.

So, let’s stop with the “what-about-ism” arguments, please.

Instead, let’s acknowledge the truth. In one regard, the Steelers have already become something their fan base used to hate — a team like the Bengals or Raiders defined more by strife and negativity than wins.

Now, the only way to fix that is to become like another team they hate.

The Patriots.

New England is a team that has all those problems but doesn’t allow them get in the way of what the club is meant to be — a Super Bowl champion.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.