PITTSBURGH -- As we head into Championship Sunday, we think we have a fair understanding of the players we are watching. But do we really?
A little more than half of the Pittsburgh Steelers' locker room was polled this week, to get a better sense of who these men are. Some of the survey respondents tried to negotiate multiple answers (like linebacker Vince Williams), some repeatedly turned to teammates for help (like running back Le'Veon Bell) and some took issue with others' answers (like Cam Heyward, who became upset when long snapper Greg Warren did not offer his name for one of the queries).
Note: This piece comes with apologies to one run in December 2011 in the Wall Street Journal, when this writer polled the Giants, at the tail end of what would be New York's fourth Super Bowl season. Yes, some of the questions are repeats. But that's just because they were too good not to ask again, of another group of football-playing teammates. For the first in what should clearly become an annual exercise, click here.
Who is Mike Tomlin's favorite?
Timmons was the first first-round draft pick of Tomlin's tenure, making him, as Cam Heyward put it, "Coach T's first-born. He's the baby he breast-fed." Timmons -- who gave his vote to Bell -- protested, saying, "That's crazy and no way." Still, he did acknowledge he is the player Tomlin has perhaps bestowed with the coolest nickname: Lionslayer.
Who could play another sport professionally?
Roethlisberger named himself, saying he once could've played basketball professionally. Seven of his teammates named him too, but said it was golf he would play professionally, to which Roethlisberger said, "Oh, that's a better answer." And then there was linebacker Vince Williams, who said Roethlisberger could play whatever he wanted: "He's the slowest, best athlete I've ever seen in my life."
This is a group that does not lack for confidence. Seven Steelers named themselves as most likely to play another sport; five said they could be in the NBA, wideout Cobi Hamilton said he could play Major League Baseball, and Timmons said he could bowl professionally. (In fact, Timmons said, he still might one day.)
Who could run for public office?
Villanueva, the winner, is a Captain in the U.S. Army, a former Ranger who was awarded the Bronze Star for valor and logged three tours in Afghanistan. He played three different positions at West Point, only became a left tackle last year and he has, as Heyward said, "that 'Homeland' thing down."
Who needs a makeover most?
Villanueva's 6-foot-9, 320 pounds and is currently sporting a Fu Manchu mustache the Army would most definitely not approve of. The military is also unlikely to approve of the shaggy hair or the too-short pants. And really, none of this is hurtful because Villanueva chose himself, too.
"Can I actually get one if I win?" he asked.
Who is the LAST guy you'd call if you had a flat tire?
Williams got on the list because, safety Mike Mitchell said, "He'd probably laugh at you." Timmons doesn't answer his phone, and as for Roethlisberger, it was two rookies who named him, with first-round cornerback Burns explaining: "I'm not bothering him."
But Brown was the far-and-away winner, named without hesitation most frequently. Why?
"Because he'd be late," Roethlisberger said.
"You could buy a new car before he got to you," Bell said.
Brown wasn't offended to hear he won, first saying, "Yeah, I'm not changing any tires." And then, "And I'd probably be late." But then, as his questioner was walking away, he called out, "I'd call AAA for you, though!"
If you had to go out of town for a week, who would you leave your kids with?
Williams and Moats each have three kids, Foster has two, and multiple Steelers spoke glowingly of Moats' wife. But the man Heyward called "Uncle Deebo" won here -- and it's not that surprising. Harrison's two sons, James and Henry, are fixtures in the Steelers' postgame locker room, patiently sitting in their father's locker as they wait for him, politely smiling and saying hello to anyone who walks by. They shake hands, they don't interrupt and they watch out for each other, too. And their dad, well, he turns to mush around kids, with no less than three teammates saying, "He's awesome with mine."
Harrison was visibly pleased to hear he won this category, saying, "That's cool." But then he put on his trademark scowl as he promised, "You know they'd get their homework done and be well-disciplined if you left them with me."
The most creative answer goes to wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who said he'd leave any future kids with the always-flashy Brown. "They'd get a ride in the Bentley, or go fly on a private jet. It would be fun," he said.
Who would you let date your sister?
Linebacker Jarvis Jones said, "No-damn-body," Roethlisberger shuddered and said, "Thank goodness my sister just got engaged," and most of the respondents didn't even bother scanning the room before answering as they did. Timmons called the question "crazy" and Villanueva said, "That's very, very tough. Very tough." Although he did eventually settle on Landry Jones, calling him "a nice guy."
Being totally honest, were you nervous the first time you met James Harrison?
Most popular answer: Yes (17).
Runner-up: No (9).
Jesse James said forget nervous, "I was scared!" Perennial Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey said the same, describing himself as "scared as (expletive). I didn't even talk to him for a month." Villanueva said he couldn't block Harrison for 10 days and that "it was horrible," and rookie defensive end Johnny Maxey asked, "Isn't everyone nervous around him?"
Both Pouncey and Mitchell said anyone who answered no to this question isn't being honest, although both fullback Roosevelt Nix and Roethlisberger have valid reasons for answering this way. Nix went to Harrison's alma mater, Kent State, and said he met him while there. Roethlisberger, a Miami (OH) grad, faced Harrison in college and said, "He didn't really have that James Harrison face yet."
As for Harrison, he only had one question: "How many guys said they're still nervous?"
Steelers who participated in this exercise:Le'Veon Bell, Jordan Berry, Artie Burns, Anthony Chickillo, David DeCastro, William Gay, Xavier Grimble, Cobi Hamilton, Cameron Heyward, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Chris Hubbard, Jesse James, Jarvis Jones, Landry Jones, James Harrison, Johnny Maxey, Dan McCullers, Mike Mitchell, Arthur Moats, Roosevelt Nix, Maurkice Pouncey, Ben Roethlisberger, Lawrence Timmons, Stephon Tuitt, Alejandro Villanueva, Greg Warren, DeAngelo Williams, Vince Williams.