The ringing of a Pittsburgh bell is just one of the sounds heard from a distance, and suddenly, people have stopped to listen for it, to give all their attention to a team in contention for a Super Bowl. The wonderful chime of electric running back Le’Veon Bell has made quite a noise on Sundays from Steelers Nation, louder than Big Ben and Mike Tomlin’s video of him using profane language during a locker room speech to take shots at the Patriots.
All season long, running through, around and over defenders, Bell is tearing it up on the ground so far, which indicates he’s an integral part of the Steelers offense. It’s too often these days, especially in the playoffs, that he’s running faster than a distressed kid who is badly trying to escape from a vicious pack of pit bulls. Nearly a week removed from Antonio Brown streaming the Steelers’ locker room celebration, much buzz surrounds the stupidity of a star receiver after stealing the spotlight from his teammate when we should be talking about Bell’s performance in his first playoff appearance. A week after running for 167 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries, to wear down the Dolphins defense until they could do absolutely nothing, he laid his claim to being the game’s most complete running back.
With the AFC Championship game looming, Bell is riding confidence into a game where a dynasty-driven Patriots team stands in his way and could end the Steelers’ season. He doesn’t just own the Steelers’ single-game, regular-season rushing record. After just one playoff game, he now holds Pittsburgh’s single-game postseason record, launching a stud career with thousands of Terrible Towel-swinging fans watching the incredible growth of a Pro-Bowl running back and gazing at him put on the greatest show in a city where devoted fans are emotionally attached to their football team, one with traditionalists and suddenly a revolutionist.
He is a dynamic and versatile player, a brilliant and ebullient performer when he steps onto the field, and as dominant as he’s been on the gridiron — because of his creative and unique rushing style — he’s revolutionary and quite unstoppable on the ground. He’s an NFL phenomenon, now that he’s slicing and dicing defenses, showing off his speed and lateral quickness that are simply unmatched. Now that he thinks he’s making the kind of impact that Stephen Curry is in the NBA, he faces a tremendous amount of pressure entering Sunday’s contest against the Patriots. He is the man most responsible for a Steelers team on the brink of reaching a Super Bowl. Bell’s superstar ascendance this season and his dominance is a watershed moment in his career because he has been nothing short of remarkable, a clear-cut top ball-carrier carrying the load and playing behind veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
While he’s been given himself credit for changing the game of football with a patient running style that could influence the youth, Bell has torched opposing front sevens to sprint and plow into the end zone each week. With that in mind, he has reached a plateau in his breakout season, already reaching the 100-yard mark in the first half of a playoff game while anchoring a high-powered offense with a bevy of offensive reinforcements. At this point, Bell has proven to be more than a one-dimensional player and appears to be more dangerous in the Steelers’ aerial attack.
It took Bell a long time to shrug off the scrutiny he received after a suspension for a DUI charge for marijuana possession in August 2014 and a violation of the substance abuse policy. He had soon realized that he still had a chance to rehabilitate his career, and dodge questions about his character, judgment and maturity. The gravity of damage he has done to his career finally woke him up and reminded him how it could take years to build a reputation but seconds to lose it, if not smart and careful when making choices off the field. Over the summer, he recovered from two torn ligaments in his right knee and returned to the field for the 2016-’17 season in which he had a transcendent season, put a troubled past behind him and reinvented himself as a franchise cornerstone. He’s been the catalyst of the Steelers’ running game and partly responsible for Pittsburgh’s run of nine straight wins, a team that’s riding a wave of momentum into the AFC title game and relying on Bell to be a steadying factor. Playing with limitless confidence, he’s a duel-threat player and darts up the field efficiently and makes abundant of sharp cuts to the middle where he eludes tacklers, makes them miss and explodes into the open that have terrorized Pittsburgh’s opponents all season long.
For Bell, actions have spoken louder than words when he refocused this season to fulfill his promises and looked to make his mark, finally staying out of trouble and maintaining good health. He wasn’t expected to return to full strength for the season opener, and doctors said Bell wouldn’t likely be back to his normal self until November. By late September, after sitting out three games because of missed drug tests, he started against the Kansas City Chiefs and had a stellar season as the best all-around running back in the game. People talk about Bell bursting through gaping holes and pausing in heavy traffic, then cutting inside. Most of the conversations revolve around Bell’s patient style and revolution, and he catches everybody’s attention, making him a subject of originality and modernity.
The style seems to work in Bell’s favor — which he is polished and refined — transforming the running back position in today’s NFL. He perfected his intellect and patient approach from an early age when he played youth football in Columbus, Ohio, where his uncle, Clarence Bell, broke down film of games and taught him the importance of having patience and not to run over the linemen who blocked for him. So rather than attack defenses, he anticipates, scans patterns on the grid and waits until a running lane develops. He’s a three-time letterman at Groveport Madison High School as a 230-pound rusher, playing with stamina and finesse.
He does more than just run, more than just spit lyrics for his side job as a rapper and more than just give back to charities in the Pittsburgh community. It turns out he’s also a great chess player in his spare time. Bell’s backfield mate at MSU, Larry Caper, said his chess strategy insinuates that holding back and waiting for his opponents to strike first works to his benefit on the field. Since 2013, he’s gotten lighter to enhance his speed and quickness, and when he worked to hone his craft with trainer Pete Bommarito, Bell caught passes in several offensive drills. Bommarito obsesses over his quick hands, size and his strength at a lighter weight.
Either way, that is, he has dedicated himself to making progress, and certainly, winning games to reach this point has taken care of everything else that has happened in his past. There’s not much of a concern about his character or health when he seemingly is serious about being at his best.
This is not to say the Steelers are close to negotiating and giving Bell the mega-size, long-term contract he wants. But the way he’s made a full recovery from severe injuries and has matured as a player it’s safe to say he will be back with the Steelers next season.
They couldn’t have gotten this far without hearing this sound of the Bell.