CLEVELAND -- Mason Rudolph stepped out from behind the double-doors, slung his black leather bag over his left shoulder, and began striding toward the team bus.
This was midnight Thursday, down in the bowels of FirstEnergy Stadium, just outside the Steelers' locker room. The game had just ended. The fight had just ended. All the questions about the game and the fight had just ended. And all that was left now was to board up and head back down the Turnpike.
It was then that one of those silent motorized carts whisked up next to Rudolph. The driver, a team employee who evidently was aware of the kind of evening his quarterback had just endured, offered a lift to cover the 400-plus feet to the loading dock.
Rudolph crinkled his nose slightly, almost playfully, as if to decline.
"You sure?" the driver came back. "You OK?"
This time, Rudolph's reply was verbal.
"Oh, yeah, I'm fine. Really. Thanks, man."
With that, he kept right on. And I'll emphasize anew: He was striding. Not dragging or moping. Strong gait. Shoulders square. Chin high.
Look, I don't know, either. I don't know if he's the franchise quarterback of the future. None of us can know that. Maybe none of us should know that right now since, circumstances be damned, it's unsettling to see the player at the most important position perform at this level -- 23 of 44, 221 yards, four interceptions and sacks each -- in an already lousy, 21-7 loss to the bleeping Browns.
In the same breath, I can say this with conviction: I've never felt more certain that he's the quarterback of the present. And the present, right now, is all that matters.