Among the tattoos that cover his body, this one stands out.
Guided by the principle inked on his body, Pouncey does everything to protect his teammates — sometimes to his own detriment.
That loyalty cost him two games and $36,096 after a fight in Cleveland in which he punched and kicked Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett after Garrett struck Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph with his own helmet. In the locker room after the fight, and in the week that followed, Rudolph’s teammates stood up for him as he was scrutinized for his role in the melee and accused, by Garrett, of using a racial slur.
Pouncey, who was not available for comment this week, was the one who set the protective tone for the rest of the Steelers when he charged at Garrett on the field.
That’s who Pouncey is and always has been. Throughout high school and college, Pouncey has been fiercely loyal to his friends and his teammates. He has defended teammates — sometimes ones who haven’t proved to be worthy of his protection — and is an unquestioned leader in Pittsburgh’s locker room.
Guard Ramon Foster once looked at Pouncey and told him he was like a brother.
Pouncey corrected him.
“He was like, ‘No, you are my brother,'” Foster said. “I know for sure he meant that, in the sense of, you never question me, you never doubt his intentions.”
From the minute he walked in the Steelers’ locker room as a first-round draft pick nine seasons ago, Pouncey endeared himself to teammates.
Foster, drafted a year before Pouncey, gravitated toward the new center right away.
“That’s just how it is,” Foster said. “You have a feel for people. You know if somebody’s not for you. His thing is, if you’re one of his teammates, he loves and respects the heck out of you.”
When tackle Alejandro Villanueva was in the middle during the anthem protests in 2017, Pouncey had his back. Villanueva, who earned a Bronze Star with Valor as an Army Ranger, was the only member of the Steelers to walk out of the tunnel for the anthem, before a game against the Chicago Bears.
In the week after the demonstration, Pouncey told reporters the team would stand for the national anthem on the sideline in Baltimore to show unity and respect for the military and the flag.
“The national anthem was not an easy time for me,” Villanueva said. “He was understanding. The negative perception and the chaos and he was the voice that came out and sort of had my back at a time where nobody knew where to look. That’s just what good leaders do. I don’t think he is loyal as he is fair with everybody.”
Like any family, Pouncey and his teammates pick at each other.
“There’s going to be family feuds probably here and there,” Foster said. “Do we scrap every once in a while? Yeah, that happens. But if that’s us versus somebody else, man, he’s the guy that’s always going to back you, no matter what. Almost to a fault.”
Foster’s right. That loyalty can get Pouncey and his twin brother, Los Angeles Chargers center Mike Pouncey, in trouble. It’s caused them to receive scrutiny for the company they keep and issue apologies.
At Florida, in 2010, former high school and now college teammate Chris Rainey was charged with felony stalking and sent an ex-girlfriend a text that said, “Time to die b—-.” He was suspended for four games. The Pounceys supported Rainey, who wound up in Pittsburgh with Maurkice Pouncey until he was cut following his rookie season for an arrest on charges of simple battery that stemmed from an argument with a girlfriend over his cell phone.
In 2013, the pair were photographed wearing “Free Hernandez” hats. The Pounceys played with Aaron Hernandez, who was in jail on murder charges, at the University of Florida.
Later that year, Mike Pouncey, then with the Miami Dolphins, vouched for troubled offensive lineman, and Dolphins teammate, Richie Incognito during his suspension for the bullying scandal involving Jonathan Martin.
And, of course, there’s the fight in Cleveland less than two weeks ago, proving once again he’ll stick up for his teammates no matter what. After the game, Pouncey said he went into “protection mode” as his loyalty to his teammates took over.
“Probably one of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” Rudolph said. “A guy that you want on your team. He has your back. He’s got everybody’s back on this team.”
Blair Castle wasn’t surprised to see Pouncey rush to Rudolph’s defense.
Pouncey did something similar for Castle when the two were seniors at Lakeland (Florida) High.
Castle was in the high school’s locker room when an argument broke out between him and a good friend. The only other people in the room were the Pouncey twins. When his friend kicked him, the Pounceys sprung into action.
“They sat him down really, really quick,” Castle said. “Just put a stop to the whole incident.”
The Pounceys didn’t just defend Castle in the locker room. They also stood up for their quarterback on the field.
“I wasn’t the best athlete on the team, by far,” Castle said. “And there were definitely times where my team, we had some very close games, and people on the team would be getting frustrated and they would aim that frustration at me. The Pounceys would definitely shut that down very quickly. I remember them having my back all the time.”
Castle’s not the only former teammate to experience that protectiveness from Pouncey.
Running back Kestahn Moore also felt it. Moore, a running back at Florida, characterizes Pouncey’s loyalty in simple terms.
“The Pounceys, it’s a culture,” Moore said. “It’s their family. It’s not just them in general, it’s a family. It’s what they were brought up on. It comes from just the culture that the family, the bloodline of where they come from. Family is the same way.”
At the Steelers’ practice facility, a day after Pouncey’s suspension was reduced, a black No. 53 jersey was draped on the corner between Vince Williams’ and Deon Cain’s locker in the Steelers’ locker room. As loyal as Pouncey is to his teammates, they’re fiercely loyal in return.
Two days after appealing his suspension to the NFL, Pouncey pulled up to Fairless Elementary School in Braddock, Pennsylvania, for his annual Thanksgiving meal distribution.
If @MaurkicePouncey jumps off a bridge I’m jumpin. I’ll find out why on the way down.
— Vince Williams (@VinnyVidiVici98) November 15, 2019
He’s done it every year for as long as the volunteers can remember. Even with drama from the fight swirling, Pouncey called Charlese McKinney, the Network Development Director for the Pittsburgh Food Bank, and reassured her the distribution would go on as planned.
“It shows his commitment to the community and where his heart really lies,” McKenney said. “He certainly made it a point to be here and we appreciate that.
“He kept his commitment with us. He said no worries, he was here. He was ready to go.”
But Pouncey didn’t show up alone. More than 10 of his teammates also came with him — including Rudolph.