PITTSBURGH — Art Rooney II only needed 69 words in order to invoke the name that haunted them.for two decades.
First-round picks are introducedRooney brought up Dan Marino (a Pitt great who the Steelers had the chance to pick with the No. 21 pick in the 1983 draft.
“We are excited, obviously, to be able to introduce Kenny to you all today,” Rooney said. “And usually, I get to say to the individual, ‘Welcome to Pittsburgh,’ and today I get to say, ‘Welcome to this side of the building.’ It's a great feeling to be able to do that.
“And it's also something for me to be able to say that we drafted somebody who broke all of Dan Marino's records in college, which is pretty special.”
Pittsburgh chose Gabe Rivera instead of the local quarterback 40 years ago. After being paralyzed in a car accident, the defensive tackle played six games during his rookie season. Terry Bradshaw felt an immediate pop in his surgically-repaired right throwing elbow.The Steelers never again played. The Steelers didn't have a plan for succession and were left in the wilderness of quarterbacking, looking for temporary answers until they were drafted. 2004
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Marino continued to play for the club for 17 seasons.Earning MVP honors in 1984 and rewriting records books on the way to his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction, 2005.
“I was walking out into the press room when [former Pittsburgh Press and later ESPN reporter] John Clayton was there, and he said, ‘I’ve got a great idea what you should do,’” Dan Rooney said in an interview with WTAE in 2014, recalling the 1983 draft. “Marino is still there. He said ‘You should take Marino and trade [Cliff] Stoudt for a second pick.’ I said, ‘That’s really a good idea.’ I went into the room and gave them the idea. [The scouts] said, ‘Who’d you talk to?’ I was so dumb, I said John Clayton. That was immediately the end of that.”
This time, though, the Steelers selected the quarterback next door, the one who shattered Marino’s college records.
“It’s special,” Pickett said of his connection to Marino. “I'm glad they didn't pass on me this year. It's great to be here. Dan has been a great friend. I'm going to continue to talk to him and use him as a resource.”
Thursday night was the perfect chapter of a Pittsburgh fantasy. But it’s far from guaranteed that Pickett will have a fairy-tale ending.
He proved himself with a terrific senior season, a fifth year granted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but now he’ll have to do it all over again.
Pickett not only reenters the doors of the UPMC Sports Complex with elevated expectations as the draft’s only first-round quarterback this year, but he also arrives in the shadows of Roethlisberger, the Steelers’ future Hall of Fame quarterback who retired after last season, and to a lesser extent, Marino.
“There's comfort,” Pickett said of remaining in Pittsburgh, “but there's a job at hand, and I know what I have to do. I'm confident in how I can run my business and I'm thrilled to be here. That first game back in Heinz Field instead of being in blue gold, it’ll be black and gold, I am really excited for that.”
While he has a relationship with Marino, Pickett said Friday he doesn’t really know Roethlisberger but has talked to current quarterbacksand As he prepares for his first job, he meets with both potential mentors and competitors.
“I think the pressure is always going to be there, but it’ll all be good pressure because he’s a competitor,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “He wants to compete.
“But when you look at playing in Heinz Field, how familiar he is, he’ll know where to park. … He knows where he’s going. He’s not going, ‘Where am I going to live?’”
The Steelers evaluated Pickett over five years and concluded that the maturity gained during his extra collegiate season made him more prepared to handle the unique pressure of being this Steelers quarterback.
“Kenny is just a mature, even-keeled guy,” general manager Kevin Colbert said. “A lot of times, like when we're studying the quarterbacks, we not only watch them on the field, but we watch them off the field, when they come off, how are they with their teammates, how do they interact with their coaches, how do they conduct media interviews.
“We talk to Kenny about how he's going to handle this in this market because he's going from a University of Pittsburgh great to a potential Steeler great. It'll be different for Kenny. He will no longer be a college player, he will become a professional and have different expectations. But we feel that the maturity that he displayed on and off the field will help him in that endeavor.”
Pickett knows that he has big shoes, filled with quarterbacks who won Super Bowls and what-ifs who didn't get the chance. Pickett can only do what he did throughout his career: He can put his head down and get to work.
Pickett stated that he didn't know if he was Dan Marino at his March pro day. “He's a great guy. He's the man I chased all my time at Pitt. He's an excellent role model. … It is unbelievable to be in the exact same sentence as him. To be able to have a career that is as successful as his, I'll work hard.