As the anthem began in Soldier Field, several Steelers coaches were on the sideline, including head coach Mike Tomlin, while the players were not present. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley, offensive line coach Mike Munchak and running backs coach James Saxon also were spotted.
Players took the field within a few seconds of the anthem's end, just after fireworks launched, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger one of the first players out of the tunnel. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, an Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan, was seen on the CBS broadcast at the edge of the tunnel during the anthem, hand over heart.
"We're not going to play politics," Tomlin told CBS' Jamie Erdahl before the game. "We're football players, we're football coaches. We're not participating in the anthem today -- not to be disrespectful to the anthem, but to remove ourselves from the circumstance.
"People shouldn't have to choose. If a guy wants to go about his normal business and participate in the anthem, he shouldn't be forced to choose sides. If a guy feels the need to do something, he shouldn't be separated from his teammate who chooses not to."
The Steelers did not protest the anthem last year and had stayed relatively neutral on the national discussion, but President Donald Trump's verbal attack on NFL players who protest appears to have changed things.
Team president Art Rooney II released a statement regarding the pregame protest.
Several Steelers leaders, including defensive end? Cameron Heyward, linebacker James Harrison and others, were involved in the discussion about Sunday's protest, one team source said. Those discussions took hold Saturday as the team traveled to Chicago and got situated at the team hotel.
The decision was collaborative; the team wanted to show unity without being demonstrative. Players are expected to formally call the matter a "team decision" regarding who was behind the call and who might not agree, a team source said.
Players and team officials were not made available before the game.