Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Heaven? Heinz Field? One and the Same for Haden

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Heaven? Heinz Field? One and the Same for Haden

Article excerpt

Imagine, for a moment, Joe Haden as Shoeless Joe Jackson in the motion picture "Field of Dreams." Only instead of standing on a foggy baseball diamond, Haden is standing in the tunnel at Heinz Field just before player introductions Sunday afternoon.

"Is this Heaven?" Haden asks his teammates.

"No," they answer. "It's Pittsburgh."

Haden is finally on his field of dreams after slogging through seven seasons in Cleveland, where fans threw a parade after the Browns finished the regular season 0-16. Now, Haden is set to play in his first career playoff game with the Steelers.

"It's crazy," Haden said. "We're in the playoffs and we didn't even have to play last week. I'm just glad we're still playing football. I watched these guys play against the [New England] Patriots last year, just sitting in my crib."

This is something Haden has dreamed about since entering the NFL as the No. 7 overall pick in the 2010 draft. How he got here is just as crazy.

Haden made the Pro Bowl twice with the Browns, but injuries hampered his performance the past few seasons. The Browns wanted Haden to take a pay cut just before the start of the regular season. When he refused, they released him.

The Steelers still can't believe their good fortune. Haden stepped into a secondary that struggled in the previous season and helped it become one of the league's top-rated pass defenses.

This playoff game means a lot to every member of the Steelers organization, but it represents something special for Haden. The Browns are synonymous with dysfunction. The closest Haden came to making the playoffs was in 2014. They were 7-4 and in first place in the AFC North after 11 games but lost their final five games and finished in last place.

Haden not only is one of the Steelers' best defenders, but he's one of the most-respected teammates in the locker room. Players are ecstatic that he's going to get a chance to play on the big stage.

"That's my guy," said right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who won a national championship with Haden when they were teammates at the University of Florida. "He's a hell of a guy with a championship pedigree and championship mentality. He hasn't been able to make it to the playoffs or even come close, and I know that was kind of frustrating for him. But coming here, he kind of regained that mentality. He's probably the most excited guy in the locker room."

The playoffs are an old hat for most of the Steelers who are preparing to play the Jacksonville Jaguars in an AFC divisional-round game Sunday afternoon. Center Maurkice Pouncey, another teammate of Haden at Florida, was drafted 11 spots after Haden in the 2010 draft. He started his first playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens as a 21-year old rookie and will be playing in his seventh Sunday.

"He's so freaking happy, man, you don't have to say anything to Joe," Pouncey said. …

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