Smith realizes the window's closing

Mike Prisuta talked to one of the Steelers' great leaders, who understands the aging process and what's at stake this season.

Tick, tick, tick.

Another season is fast approaching.

Tick, tick, tick.

Among the 30-something Steelers, perhaps the final season.

"For me you approach it with a lot of urgency," Aaron Smith acknowledged. "This will be my 12th year. I don't know how many more I have and how many more chances I'll have to win another Super Bowl.

"The clock's ticking. I'm not going to play forever."

Smith is far from alone among Steelers who will suit up against Atlanta defined in part by such parameters.

They know, just as he does, that there's no time to waste, that it might be now or never again.

"I'm sure they do," Smith said. "I think when you get to a certain point and you're still playing, that's the only reason you're playing. When you're over 10 years (in the NFL) you're not just playing for the money. You're playing to win Super Bowls. That's what you're playing for."

Smith has won two of those already, but he wants more, as many as he can get.

In that respect, too, he is far from alone.

"The people in this locker room are competitive," he said. "They want to win and they want to be the best. They're always competing, making games out of something.

"And being the best in the world, you can't beat that."

As Smith spoke a game of pool was being played across the locker room. And beyond that it was ping-pong.

Adjacent to the locker stall Smith occupied a three-second lane had been outlined in tape on the carpet for trash-can basketball. Such seemingly innocent competitions serve as a constant reminder as to why the Steelers are here. It's all about the winning.

Only those who have been around for awhile understand the opportunity to do so is limited.

"A lot of my friends have come and gone," Smith said. "Guys that came in with me have left. It affects you more.

"When you're young you think it's easy to get there, that you'll be a good team every year. And then you go through some 6-10 seasons and you realize how much better winning is and how important it is to you."

Younger players, Smith maintained, aren't as driven by winning. They first want to carve out a niche for themselves on the team, prove they belong in the league, establish that they can perform with the best and are deserving of the commensurate respect, recognition and compensation. Their motivation, Smith contended, isn't necessarily to win the Super Bowl.

"Then once you get the taste, you're hooked," he said. "It's like an addict: You want it, you want it, you want it."

These Steelers have more than their share of players who have been hooked in such a fashion, particularly on defense. Enough that they might also have an intangible edge provided by the very preponderance of 30-something veterans that was once perceived as a potential liability.

"We may," Smith said. "We'll find out."

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