Ron Cook: Mendenhall's bandwagon has lost final passenger
December 12, 2012 8:00 PM
By Ron Cook Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Don't worry, I'll get the light. As the last one off of the Rashard Mendenhall bandwagon, it is my responsibility to turn it off.
People have been jumping off since Mendenhall crushed the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV against the Green Bay Packers with a fourth-quarter fumble. I defended him. Fumbles happen. It's not as if Mendenhall had a reputation for them, contrary to what many think. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews made an awesome play. The loss wasn't all Mendenhall's fault. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown. The defense couldn't stop Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns and was named the game's Most Valuable Player.
Many others bailed on Mendenhall after his sympathetic tweets about Osama bin Laden after bin Laden's death in May 2011. I defended Mendenhall's right to have such strong opinions, including questioning the events of 9/11. I even praised him for having the nerve to put his name on his opinions when so many were offended by them.
Those of us with Mendenhall dwindled even more when he had a mediocre season in 2011. I stuck up for him. He scored nine touchdowns, didn't he? Former Steelers great Jerome Bettis always said a running back makes his biggest contribution to the team by scoring touchdowns.
Hardly anyone was left with Mendenhall as he struggled this season, rushing for just 113 yards on 34 carries and scoring no touchdowns. He missed the first three games because of a knee injury, had a decent performance Oct. 7 against the Philadelphia Eagles, was injured again (Achilles tendon) the next week against the Tennessee Titans and missed four more games. He did little in a home loss Nov. 18 against the Baltimore Ravens and fumbled on two of his four carries in a road loss to the Cleveland Browns the next week. That was enough for just about everyone to give up on Mendenhall, including Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who demoted him from first- to third-string behind Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman and deactivated him for the past two games against the Ravens and the San Diego Chargers.
Only one of us was left with Mendenhall at that point.
I'm embarrassed to admit it.
I was on 93.7 The Fan this week saying it was time for Tomlin to go back to Mendenhall. Dwyer and Redman haven't exactly shined, although some of that can be blamed on an injured offensive line. Mendenhall has more talent than either of them. He figured to be hungry, eager to show other NFL teams that he could help them next season as a free agent.
Then, the Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette reported Tuesday night that Mendenhall will be suspended for next Sunday's game at Dallas because he failed to show up for the Chargers game Sunday at Heinz Field, apparently because he was ticked he wasn't going to get -- in Tomlin's words -- "a hat." Mendenhall wasn't just incredibly stupid. He was incredibly selfish.
The stupid part is clear. Mendenhall needs to play -- or at least keep himself in position to play -- to get a big contract next season. Some team will sign him because he has the power to break a tackle and the speed to turn a 5-yard gain into a 50-yard home run. But big money? Shame on the team that gives it to him.
The selfish part might be even more troubling. Mendenhall has an obligation to his teammates to be there for them at all times, if not to help them on the field in uniform, then to support them on the sideline in street clothes. I don't know how he's going to look them in the eye when he rejoins the team next week.
Do the Steelers need this distraction now as they start the push for the playoffs? I don't think so.
It's been fairly obvious all season that the Steelers' No. 1 priority in the offseason has to be a big-time running back. Mendenhall's suspension merely confirms it. The team has to find someone better than Dwyer and Redman. It's certainly not going to be Mendenhall.