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The Steelers Are the Most Gloriously Dysfunctional Team in the NFL

Is Pittsburgh bound to have a season from hell? Maybe. But Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and Co. are the league’s most compelling theater.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

It is rare when the NFL has an off-the-field story line that can be classified as “fun.” Yet the Steelers are rapidly approaching a level of drama and pettiness usually reserved for the NBA. One of the most famously reserved franchises in American sports has become a quasi sideshow, and we need to soak in the silliness while we can.

This week’s episode began when Antonio Brown, the drop-kicking Madden cover star who arrived at training camp via helicopter, tweeted “trade me” at a former Steelers public relations employee on Monday.

The tweet came one day after Brown was seen yelling at new offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner on the sideline during their loss to the Chiefs. Pouring lighter fluid onto the fire, Brown did not report to the team facility Monday. Head coach Mike Tomlin said at a Tuesday press conference that he wouldn’t get into “whether or not [Brown] was excused.” Later, Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that Brown was attending to a personal matter and that he did not want to be traded. This may all blow over by the end of the week, but it does not bode well for the Steelers’ 2018 prospects that Brown isn’t even the only All-Pro on the team creating drama.

While Tomlin was deflecting questions about his superstar wide receiver, a video emerged of his superstar running back Jet Skiing in Miami.

Bell, who has yet to sign his franchise-tag tender in his complex standoff with the team (and may or may not own apex swamp predators) has already been flamed by 60 percent of the Steelers offensive line this season, including comments such as: “He makes us all look kind of stupid a little bit. … Just sit out the whole year then” (guard David DeCastro); “Here’s a guy who doesn’t give a damn” (team union representative and guard Ramon Foster); and “Man up and tell us what you’re going to do” (team captain and center Maurkice Pouncey). Listen to any Steelers fan (seriously, any Steelers fan) and you’ll hear much worse.

While Bell is enjoying his extended vacation, his replacement, James Conner, has become a bona fide hometown hero. As a Pitt alum who hails from Western Pennsylvania and who beat Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2016, every aspect of Conner’s journey to the Steelers’ starting running back job feels like a cheesy movie — until he takes his helmet off and reveals the worst haircut in professional sports.

The look is spreading. Conner told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that he plans on changing his haircut throughout the season, but didn’t say he’d opt for something more traditional, which means there’s a chance it could get worse.

If the first two weeks of the season haven’t been enough of a circus, Stormy Daniels’s lawyer — all of America’s plotlines are converging— tweeted on Tuesday, “We have no further comment at this time regarding the details relating to Ben Roethlisberger in the book.” You can peruse the details on your own time.

This internal chaos is mirrored on the field. In Week 1, the Steelers turned the ball over six times and tied the Browns. A week later, they didn’t turn the ball over once, but still lost to the Chiefs, 42–37. As Football Outsiders’ Scott Kacsmar noted, NFL teams that scored 37 points at home with no turnovers were 386–0 since 1940. With the Steelers’ performance Sunday, that figure is now 386–1.

For Steelers fans, this is cruel and unusual. For everyone else, this is delicious. On Monday, the Steelers will take on the suddenly excellent Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by Grand Theft Auto character Ryan Fitzpatrick. Pittsburgh might start a humiliating 0–2–1 as their internal grievances are aired in front of the nation. Monday Night Football is appointment television again.