In case you were living under a rock yesterday, you should know by now that former Miami Heat forward (slash hypothetical tight end slash wide receiver) LeBron James chose to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers, rather than signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Reportedly, there were tensions due to the fact that the team already had Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount monopolizing the prefix of his first name. But I digress.
The four-time NBA MVP said that he wished to return to his home in order to bring a championship back to Northeast Ohio, but that Miami would always be like a second home to him.
Pittsburgh has been a second home for many a professional football player over the years, a place that many have found themselves returning to after seeing how things are done elsewhere around the league.
This has been especially true in recent years, though that may be in large part due to the front office’s greater willingness to re-sign former players under Art Rooney II than may have been true of the past.
Two such once-removed denizens of the ‘burgh are on the current Steelers roster, in fact, having rejoined the team last season.
Cornerback William Gay spent one year with the Arizona Cardinals after the Steelers did not re-sign him after the 2011 season. He was released after the 2012 season, and soon after signed with the Steelers, about which he could hardly be happier.
Gay isn’t the first cornerback to experience a one-year detour in Arizona before returning to Pittsburgh. Bryant McFadden turned a Super Bowl season in 2008 into a nice contract for himself with the team the Steelers had just beaten, only to be traded back to the Steelers the following year in the draft, along with a sixth-round pick, for a fifth-rounder.
Tight end Matt Spaeth, too, re-signed with the Steelers soon after being released by the Chicago Bears. He spent two years there after the 2010 season, but free agent acquisitions made him expendable.
Though the Steelers recently released him (only to see him sign with the Cardinals, of course), linebacker Larry Foote knows as well as anyone the value of playing with the Steelers. He signed with his hometown Detroit Lions in 2009 after requesting his release, only to be happily re-signed a year later as a reserve, finding that unlike LeBron, playing for your true hometown team isn’t always so glorious as it might sound.
Others have simply chosen to call it a career when the front office told them it was their time, such as Hines Ward, James Farrior, and Aaron Smith. Continuing their careers with another team was not long on their minds.
To further drive home the point that Pittsburgh has been a true second home for many former Steelers, recall the retirement ceremony that the team held during training camp for four former players, including Smith, Marvel Smith, Willie Parker, and Joey Porter, all of whom wanted to officially retire as Steelers.
Even Kordell Stewart, who hadn’t played since 2005, chose to retire as a Steeler in 2012 because of how much the city and the team had meant to him.
These are not isolated incidents, nor coincidences. Many who spend time playing for the Steelers organization find that it’s a special place to play, full of history, tradition, and loyalty.