James Harrison's a jerk. Always was. Undoubtedly always will be.
But what I respected most about the man -- amid so much to disrespect -- was that there was never any doubt it was genuine. He'd be as much of a jerk to the opponent's right tackle as he would his own head coach, his teammates, reporters ... it was just general jerk-itude. He never left anyone wondering who or what he really was.
JuJu Smith-Schuster blew through reporters Wednesday at the Rooney Complex, following the Steelers' second day of OTAs, rejecting interviews as he whisked into the locker room, same as he had Tuesday. No smile, no jokes about his dog or his bike, none of that social-media-famed joviality. Just exactly who or what he's really been in the background for a couple years now.
And then, he reemerged.
Maybe in more ways than one.
About a dozen minutes after he'd disappeared, JuJu was back out onto the field -- where media must stay during OTAs -- being ushered by one of the team's public relations people and, apparently, being directed to do so by the resident franchise quarterback.
“Tell Ben I came out here and did the interview,” JuJu said, referring obviously to Ben Roethlisberger, that smile now flashing for the cameras. “He said I’m turning into that one-day interview guy on Thursdays. I’m definitely not doing that. You guys can talk to me any time of the day.”
Translation: He won't act like a superstar.
For years, Roethlisberger has spoken to the media once each week, though he's always been accommodating to the occasional individual approach, including by me. That's standard fare for NFL quarterbacks. They're busier than most players, and they've got extensive demands on their time.
In recent years, that 'one-day interview guy' became two guys, then three, then four. Harrison was a Friday-only. Then Antonio Brown. Then, presumably because his locker stall was in the same corner as those two, Vince Williams. And then came JuJu, at the veteran age of 20, seeking the same treatment, in addition to being mostly aloof anytime he was approached individually.
But in the same spirit that's seen these punching-bag Steelers finally punch back at the countless sweeping criticisms they've faced, primarily from national media but also within their own fan base, this, too, clearly is being addressed.
Roethlisberger fielded a ton of questions on the first day, then paused for the first reporter to stop him on the second.
Williams held court for, man, nearly a half-hour.
Cam Heyward, Ramon Foster and other leaders who'd spoken at length on the first day, offered reprises of their own.
In fact, if not for freshly beleaguered Terrell Edmunds -- who liked one of AB's tweets calling Roethlisberger "Two face," then deleted the like and a corresponding non-apology -- being conspicuously escorted off the field by one of the team's public relations people, the participation would be at 100 percent and change. And even in Edmunds' case, I'll assume he's been told to shut up and to save his explanation for some other day.
So far, it's been a great show.
Which leads, so very naturally, to this question: Who cares?
Come on, I'm sure that's what you've been thinking in reading to this point. That's what everyone thinks when they hear, read or see that the media's been inconvenienced. The media, as we're now told from all perspectives socially and politically, is inherently evil.
Which is fine. I don't care, either. Honestly. I hadn't even been aware that Juju initially blew through the media both days, as I hadn't exactly been expecting anything else and there were roughly 90 other potential interview subjects. That's been my approach forever: Anyone who doesn't want to be interviewed ... well, that's one less set of transcriptions I've got to do, right?
That said, I do think it's important that JuJu -- or Ben or whoever -- made this decision today to get him back on the field: People really want to like the Steelers again. And if JuJu really is that lovable, creative, generous person he portrays through social media -- and I've never ruled that out -- then both he and the team would benefit immensely from his being that in all walks.
I'm going to repeat this: People really want to like the Steelers again.
And this, too: No one's better positioned to make that happen than JuJu.
The wounded feelings of a reporter here or there, that doesn't matter. But the Steelers having their Nation behind them again, that does.
So, away he went. JuJu took questions for more than seven minutes -- that's a long group session, for the uninitiated -- and didn't bristle at a single one.
In this one, I asked if he could provide a positive example for other receivers in terms of work ethic, as AB always did:
Pretty mature answer for a 22-year-old, or for anyone, under the awkward circumstance, huh?
He had plenty more ...
• On being No. 1 in AB's absence: “It’s super exciting, but I don’t think of it like that. It’s not about a No. 1 guy. Yeah, you have a No. 1 quarterback, a No. 1 running back ... but it’s a collective game. The only way you move the ball is if all eleven make plays. That’s what it’s gonna take to win the Super Bowl.”
• On whether he's worried about double-coverage: "No. I felt that last year with the Patriots, where they doubled me and AB. That was nothing new. This year, it's going to be the same thing. We've got so many guys who can make plays. No, I'm not worried about it."
• On possibly comparing his future stats to AB: "Nah, there’s no need for that. I’ll be looking at mine, at my own team and how we do and how we win. I'd rather take five catches for 30 yards and win the game than have 10 catches and two touchdowns. It’s not about myself. It’s getting to the Super Bowl.”
• On AB ripping him on Twitter for that late fumble in New Orleans: “At the end of the day, that’s his opinion. For myself, I stand from afar. I’m not worried about what he’s got going on with his team. I wish him nothing but the best. He’s a great player. He dominates on the field. I’m worrying about the guys we have here, my teammates, and how I can be great on and off the field.”
• On the locker room these days: "It's great. The chemistry's on point. We don’t really have … everyone's on the same page and communicating. There's no ... drama, I guess you'd say.”
• On what he, as a still-young player, can contribute as a leader, including maybe being vocal: "Vocal? I’m just vocal. That’s how I am. There’s no need for me to go out of my way and yell at guys. We’re all adults here. Everyone works. Everyone has a voice in that room. It’s not just mine.”
No, but his counts maybe more than he'd realized.
Once the session ended, he began bounding through the grass back toward the locker room, then he whirled back around and playfully shouted to the reporters: “Whatever y’all need this year, OK? I’m not gonna be an a--hole! Promise!”
Not many among our pack could keep any such promise.
MATT SUNDAY GALLERY
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