Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is a huge supporter of other Pittsburgh sports. So it shouldn't have been a surprise Wednesday when he flashed the “Z” sign the morning after the Pirates clinched the team's first non-losing season since 1992.
Tomlin did it while making rounds in the Steelers locker room before practice. But he directed the sign that has become synonymous with the Pirates' success, if not the rebirth of professional baseball in Pittsburgh, at the Steelers' new punter.
That proved to be fitting, too, since Zoltan Mesko arrived in Pittsburgh with Zoltanmania running at a fever pitch.
For those Steelers fans who don't know about Zoltan and the "Z" sign, here is the abridged version: In 2012, Pirates players adopted the sign (press thumbs together with hands going in opposite directions) from the movie “Dude, Where's My Car?” and a character named Zoltan. Players flash it after getting a big hit, and fans have helped turn it into a local phenomenon.
Given his first name, it is not surprising that Mesko knew all about the power of "Z" by the time reporters crowded around his locker early Wednesday afternoon.
“I have heard about it and I welcome it,” said Mesko, who signed with the Steelers on Monday. “I'm not going to take it to the next level; that's the Pirates' thing. But I think it's pretty cool.”
Mesko is more interested in taking the Steelers' punting game to the next level – or at least stabilizing the position. The Steelers have used five punters since 2008, in large part because Daniel Sepulveda, a fourth-round draft pick in 2007, was often injured and never panned out.
Neither Drew Butler, the Steelers' punter in 2012, nor Brian Moorman impressed during training camp or the preseason. Mesko became available when New England kept undrafted rookie Ryan Allen, and the Steelers liked the fact that Mesko is left-footed, has a strong leg and is used to punting in bad weather.
They signed the former Michigan star and released Butler, one of several moves the Steelers have made since the final cut-down last Saturday.
“It's been a bit of a roller coaster, but I'm glad I landed on my feet and I'm glad I landed with such a great organization,” said Mesko, who averaged 44.2 yards per punt in three seasons with the Patriots. “I'm excited about the future.”
There was speculation that the Patriots released Mesko in part because the former fifth-round pick was due to make $1.3 million this season.
“It was a little bit of a curveball,” Mesko said of his release, “but I'm a strong believer in things happening for a reason. I did have a really good camp. I feel really fundamentally sound. What is in the past is in the past. I don't look back at it. I look forward. I'm really glad to be here.”
It is probably only a matter of time before the Pirates approach Mesko about some sort of promotion. Throwing out the first pitch before a game at PNC Park makes a lot of sense, no?
“First things first,” Mesko said with a smile. “I've got to take care of my job here.”