Steelers’ Alejandro Villanueva Now Says he Never Intended to Be On the Field Alone During National Anthem

CHICAGO, IL – SEPTEMBER 24: Alejandro Villanueva #78 of the Pittsburgh Steelers stands by himself in the team’s tunnel during the national anthem prior to a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on September 24, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who served terms in Afghanistan, was the lone Steeler to appear during the anthem. The Bears won 23-17 in overtime. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva blames himself for the image of him standing apart from teammates during Sunday’s national anthem, saying he unintentionally separated himself in the moments leading up to the anthem.

The Steelers decided to stay in the Soldier Field tunnel during the anthem before Sunday’s loss against the Chicago Bears in response to comments made by President Donald Trump about anthem protests by NFL players.

Feeling the need to see the flag during the anthem, Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who toured several times in Afghanistan, asked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger if he could stand in front of the tunnel to get a vantage point. Roethlisberger agreed, and Villanueva ventured out while trying to gauge where the flag was. He contemplated turning back, but the anthem had already started at that point. Only the team captains — Roethlisberger and defensive end Cam Heyward — knew about this last-second arrangement.

“When everybody sees the image of me by myself, everybody thinks the team, the Steelers, are not behind me, and that’s absolutely wrong,” Villanueva said. “I made Coach [Mike] Tomlin look bad, and that is my fault and my fault only. I made my teammates look bad, and that is my fault and my fault only.”

Villanueva got positioned for the anthem’s start at 12:57 p.m. ET, and then turned around to “signal everybody else to come in so they wouldn’t leave me alone,” he said. But Villanueva said someone carrying a flag from a previous celebration was passing by the tunnel, and the players were unable to exit. Walking back to his teammates “would have looked extremely bad,” Villanueva said.

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SOURCE: Jeremy Fowler