Healthy and happy, Maurkice Pouncey sat at his locker at the Rooney Sports Complex patiently awaiting Wednesday's practice for the Steelers.
Pouncey doesn't typically practice on Wednesdays as Mike Tomlin likes to give his veteran center the day off to save the wear and tear on an ankle that required multiple surgeries to repair a few years ago.
But it's unlikely the Tomlin could hold Pouncey back from practicing on this Wednesday. After all, the Steelers' All-Pro center hadn't taken a hit, bump or snap in the past two weeks while serving a two-game suspension for his involvement in an on-field brawl Nov. 14 against the Browns in Cleveland.
Wednesday was Pouncey's first day back on the job and he was more than happy to be back.
"I feel like this is the beginning of the year," Pouncey said. "I've got a lot of energy. I'm excited. We've just got to stay humble and focused."
That shouldn't be a problem. The Steelers (7-5) went 2-0 without Pouncey in the lineup, beating the Bengals and then winning the rematch with the Browns, 20-13, last Sunday. They travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals (3-8-1) this Sunday and currently hold down the sixth spot in the AFC playoff standings.
Pouncey's teammates wore sweatshirts before the game that read "Free Pouncey," and following the game, he was part of the team's locker room huddle on FaceTime and was awarded a game ball, which defensive captain Cam Heyward hand delivered to his house.
Pouncey not only got the game ball, he got two of the shirts, one for himself and one for his twin brother, Mike, a center for the Chargers.
"I'm going to send one to my brother, too, just in case he gets locked up," Pouncey said with a laugh.
The show of support was surprising, but not unexpected for the Steelers' offensive captain.
"I was honestly, but not the sweatshirts. I knew about that," Pouncey said when asked if he was surprised. "But the game ball for sure. I never got a game ball sitting at the house, so that was pretty cool."
Pouncey was suspended three games by the NFL for punching and kicking Browns defensive end Myles Garrett after Garrett ripped the helmet from Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and hit him over the head with it. Garrett was suspended indefinitely for his actions, while 33 players received fines for the incident, which occurred with 8 seconds remaining in Cleveland's 21-7 victory.
Pouncey appealed his suspension and the league reduced it to two games. He was eligible to return to the Steelers Monday, but the team asked for and received a two-day roster exemption.
His argument in getting the suspension reduced?
"As soon as the brawl stopped, I stopped," Pouncey said. "I didn't go chasing after players. It was just one guy."
The Steelers activated him from the Exempt/Commissioner Permission List Wednesday and he can resume team activities, though the team must make a roster move to free up a spot on the 53-man roster.
One thing is for sure, B.J. Finney, who started the past two games at center for Pouncey, won't be going anywhere. The Steelers are now 11-1 in his career when Finney has been forced to start.
"He played outstanding. He made a lot of money for himself," Pouncey said. "He played really, really well."
Pouncey has received an outpouring of well wishes from Steelers fans, something he said he received everywhere he went during his suspension. He spent his time at local gyms working out and talking to fans, who loved the way he came to the defense of his teammate.
It's something Pouncey said he would do again, if necessary, though he said he might not take things quite as far as he did.
"Maybe just one game," he quipped.
"No regrets. But I'm moving on now. Everybody had to pay their fines. The money was worth it, trust me."
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