Steelers want payback vs. Bengals
Steelers host Bengals on Sunday for first place in AFC North
Some players don't want to play in Pittsburgh because of money issues
Concussions and playing through pain are simply part of football
Throughout the 2009 NFL season, SI.com's Jeff Ritter will work with Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley to get his thoughts and observations on the NFL and take you behind the scenes with the Steelers. Woodley is in his third season and finished with a career-best 11.5 sacks in 2008 while helping Pittsburgh win a Super Bowl title. The 6-2 Steelers host the 6-2 Bengals on Sunday.
Beating the Broncos on Monday night was great, but when you play for the Steelers, every week is a big week. It doesn't matter if the game is on a Sunday, a Monday or a Thursday. They're all big games. This week, first place in our division is on the line. I'm not surprised the Bengals are an improved team this year. They've made some good draft picks, Carson Palmer is healthy again and Cedric Benson has been doing a great job for them. But when they beat us earlier this year, they celebrated on the field like they had just won the Super Bowl. The second that game ended, I started looking forward to playing them again.
I know I'm lucky to be a Pittsburgh Steeler, and to be a part of an organization with such a winning tradition. We have a great thing going here, and I think it all starts with the quality of the players. The Steelers are a group of guys who care more about the team than about the individual. We don't have players trying to be in the spotlight, or a bunch of trash-talkers. We have team guys. The Steelers are great at finding these kinds of players and getting them here. Now that we've built a tradition around these players, and this mentality, that trickles down from the veterans to the younger guys, like me. And as new guys join the team, I'll continue to pass on this tradition myself.
If being a Steeler sounds a little like being a part of a college program, that's because it is. The Steeler tradition is almost exactly like how it was for me when I was at Michigan and a part of that tradition. When I first got to the Steelers, I realized that guys care about team first. Plus with the history, the fans, and the way players conduct themselves, I loved it here immediately. This place just fits me perfectly. This is a team that gets it done on the field and is respected across the league, across the country ... why wouldn't you want to play for a team like that?
Despite all this, I have a few friends on other teams who don't want to play for the Steelers because they feel like the organization won't pay them the money they want. Maybe the Steelers aren't known for paying the highest salaries. But what are the Steelers known for? Winning championships. At the end of day, when you're done playing in the league, you're going to want to have those rings on your fingers. Not everyone has that opportunity. I've got one, and I look forward to competing hard and trying to win a Super Bowl every year. That's one of the things that make it special to be a Steeler -- knowing that every year I'm going to have a chance to put another ring on my finger.
Concussions have been a huge story this season, and it seems like head injuries are becoming almost common. I've been lucky -- I've never had a concussion, so it's impossible for me to say what it feels like. I think team doctors do as much as they can to be cautious and keep players safe after they have a head injury. Multiple concussions can definitely add up, and if one of our players isn't right, the Steelers' doctors keep them on the sidelines.
Unfortunately, there's no way to completely prevent concussions from happening on the field. They've made some advances in helmets -- some of them almost look like hockey goalie masks -- and they say those will help prevent head injuries. But come on, no helmet is going to prevent a concussion. Sometimes guys get hit a certain way, from a certain angle, and a concussion just happens. You can come up with all the rules you want, but when guys are out on the field, they don't have time to think about whether to tackle a guy a certain way. They're just trying to make a play. No matter how many rules or equipment changes you have, I just don't think you can eliminate concussions from the game.
As a player, you're always tempted to say, "I'm feeling good," even if you're not. One time when I was playing college ball at Michigan, I had a hairline fracture in my forearm. It wasn't a serious injury, but it was painful. I was in a cast for two weeks, and when the doctors cleared me to play they warned me that I would still experience some pain. I had a soft cast over it, but I could still feel it when I got in a three-point stance, or anytime I tried to push or pull on offensive linemen. I just wasn't as strong, and anytime someone chopped my arm, it would seriously hurt. As a player, it's up to you -- you have to decide how you feel, and whether you can go out there on the field. It's common for guys to decide to play through the pain. Sometimes you can make an injury worse, or other times it might not bother you at all. But the players themselves have to live with that decision because it's their body.
I think about my health and future all the time. There's life after football. When I'm done playing this game, I want to be able to walk away and be healthy for the rest of my life. If you have kids, you want to be able to play with them, not limp around and take medication every day. I have a daughter, and I want to be able to play with her when she gets older. All players think about these things.
How does a player know when it's time to hang it up? That's hard for me to say. I've talked to a couple veterans on my team, James Farrior and Hines Ward, and they've told me that you really don't know. Lately it seems like they come in every summer and say something like, "This might be my last year," but then at the end of the season they say, "I'm going to play again, I'm feeling good." Who knows when they'll decide to retire? Hopefully they'll get to make their own decisions, and not have it forced on them because of an injury.
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