Sunday’s upcoming game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers is absolutely, positively meaningless—except for one thing. The Steelers have lost all but one of their first five games, are starting a rookie QB and have injuries all over their roster. The Bucs come into town with Tom Brady looking, well, old, and a defense that’s not great. The matchup is so trash that Fox shifted its top broadcast crew to another game.
So what’s the one important thing about this ridiculously trash matchup? It’s likely the only time this season where two Black NFL head coaches will square off against each other. The Steelers’ Mike Tomlin—the league’s longest tenured Black head coach and the second-longest serving coach overall—and the Bucs’ Todd Bowles, are about to face each other for the first time. Bowles downplayed that storyline yesterday and Tomlin didn’t bring it up—and wasn’t asked—during his Tuesday press conference.
“We don’t look at what color we are when we coach against each other, we just know each other,” ESPN quoted Bowles as saying. “I have a lot of very good white friends that coach in this league as well, and I don’t think it’s a big deal as far as us coaching against each other, I think it’s normal. Wilks got an opportunity to do a good job, hopefully he does it. And we coach ball, we don’t look at color.”
He’s right—at least it should be normal. But in today’s NFL, where almost three-quarters of the players are Black, there are only four Black head coaches. Two of them will be playing against each other on Sunday. A third, the aforementioned Steve Wilks, only got his job this week, a promotion that resulted from the Carolina Panthers’ firing of Matt Rhule. Wilks is still part of a class-action lawsuit accusing the NFL of racial bias specifically for making it difficult for Black people to become head coaches. That lawsuit was originally filed by Brian Flores, who used to be head coach of the Miami Dolphins but was fired and is now on Tomlin’s staff.
In other words, yeah, this is a big deal. Out of 272 regular-season games this year, this will happen exactly once, three days from now. It’s the Black coaching equivalent of a total solar eclipse, or lightning striking twice in the same place or the McDonald’s ice cream machine working at the exact time you happen to have a craving for an Oreo McFlurry.
So, come Sunday, I’ll be in attendance. I won’t be witnessing history, per se, and it’ll likely be a sloppy game, especially if the weather is bad. I’ll be there as a spectator, not reporting, but I’ll probably find something to write nonetheless. After all, who knows when the next time is we’ll get to see such a thing.