Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall must have had Juneteenth in mind when he closed his recent “I never fumbled that ball” tweet with the hashtag #Free34.
On Sunday June 19, Mendenhall — who wore jersey No. 34 during the five seasons he played for the Steelers (2008-12) — essentially asked to be absolved of blame for his costly fourth-quarter fumble in Super Bowl XLV, arguing:
“I was SEPARATED from the ball, 4 yards into the backfield… That’s the RB equivalent of a strip-sack…. There’s NOTHING I could have done about it.”
At the risk of bringing up a bad memory, below is video of the fumble in question:
As you may recall, Mendenhall’s lost fumble came at the outset of the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLV, while the Green Bay Packers were leading the Steelers, 21-17. It was linebacker Clay Matthews and a fellow Packers defender who knocked the ball loose, having come into the backfield more or less untouched after center Doug Legursky and fullback David Johnson missed their blocks. The Steelers proceeded to lose the game, 31-25.
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Steelers Fans React to ‘I Never Fumbled That Ball’
While a few Steelers fans said they could understand Mendenhall’s perspective, it’s safe to say that most are not in agreement with his assessment.
“Ima try this bullshit with my own boss…. I wasn’t late to work, traffic separated me from the office between 8:30-9am.”
On other occasions, Redditors utilized the word “semantics” or talked of a distinction without a difference.
“So … a fumble,then,” wrote another.
Above all else, though, Mendenhall seems to have unwittingly given birth to a new meme, one that promises to be recycled many times over.
“Truly an unlimited potential copypasta. I was here for the birth of Mendenmeme,” crowed one Steelers fan, this in response to a Redditor who married Mendenhall’s words with former Steelers quarterback Neil O’Donnell and the pair of interceptions he threw against the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX.
“I never threw those interceptions… #SBXXX
My coaches would feel like assholes to say that I did, I never did.
My passes were SEPARATED from the receivers, who were yards away on the field.
That’s the QB equivalent of an incomplete pass.
There’s NOTHING I could’ve done about it.
Respect my career. #Free14”
Meanwhile, others used the tweet to remind us about past Rashard Mendenhall oddities.
“Next thing you know he’s going to say this isn’t humping,” wrote another observer, a reference to the time Mendenhall executed a few thrusting motions after mounting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during a game against the New York Jets.
And this isn’t the first time that Mendenhall tweet has raised eyebrows.
In May 2011, the former first-round pick responded to the news that a U.S. military team had killed Osama bin Laden by tweeting a message that stated: “What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE (a) man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side,” he concluded, as recalled by NFL.com. Mendenhall went on to question whether 9/11 actually happened, adding: “I just have a hard time believing a plan could take a skyscraper down demolition style.”
Two months before that he likened the NFL to modern-day slavery.
“Anyone with knowledge of the slave trade and the NFL could say that these two parallel each other,” Mendenhall tweeted, as highlighted by ESPN.com news services at the time.
Former Steelers Offensive Lineman Trai Essex Sticks up for Mendenhall
Less well-remembered is that injuries forced the Steelers to play Super Bowl XLV with a largely second-string offensive line made up of Jonathan Scott (LT), Chris Kemoeatu (LG), Doug Legursky (Center), Ramon Foster (RG) and Flozell Adams (RT).
That helps explain why former Steelers offensive tackle/guard Trai Essex came to Mendenhall’s defense on Twitter on Monday.
“Everybody needs to stop blaming Mendy for this,” he tweeted. “People forget that his running was the reason we got back into the game. That was a bad play into a bad defense that was blocked bad at the point of attack. Blame the OL!” concluded Essex, who in 2010-11 was in the last of his seven seasons with the Steelers.
As for Mendenhall, he was Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, selected No. 23 overall out of Illinois. He played in 57 games for the Steelers (with 48 starts), recording 864 carries for 3,549 yards and 29 rushing touchdowns, as per Pro Football Reference. He finished his career with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013, having averaged 3.9 yards per carry over the course of six NFL seasons.
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