DEAR STEELER FANS:
As Bill Clinton might say, I feel your pain. At least last year you got to celebrate a meaningless Week 7 triumph and carry yourselves like big bananas for three whole months until the Patriots rudely disabused you of your silly fantasies in the game that really mattered. You should be grateful the Patriots were so humane, removing all suspense from the proceedings before the first quarter was complete.
This year, comparatively speaking, you’ve got nothing. Oh sure, the Steelers will probably make the playoffs. Hell, they may even make the conference championship again if they get a favorable draw like they did last season. And if they do, Bill Cowher will be able to run his record in conference championship games, to, what is it now, something like 1-19? Does any Steeler fan relish the prospect of a rematch with the Patriots?
I ought to come clean: In case it’s not clear, I really don’t care for the Steelers. But, in my defense, there are a bunch of good reasons for that.
When I was growing up in the 1970’s, the Steelers were legitimately great. They had wonderful players, and players of great character. They won four Super Bowls in six years and are justly regarded as the greatest post-Packers dynasty in the annals of the NFL.
But the guys who won those Super Bowls got old and the titles stopped coming. And yet every time Pittsburgh introduces a new putative stud onto the scene, the national media can’t help itself from gushing like a smitten schoolgirl.
This has happened repeatedly over the past 20+ years. Hopeless mediocrities, by virtue of the fact that they play in a Pittsburgh Steeler jersey, become celebrated as great talents.
Indeed, sometimes they are hailed as revolutionary talents. Kordell Stewart could not accurately throw the ball. For the typical NFL quarterback, this would be considered something of a liability. But because he was playing for the Steelers, he was deemed a compelling new force who would change the way game was played.
Of course, Stewart was only one of a long line of Pittsburgh Steeler quarterbacks who was anointed as the next big thing even when they were total and transparent mediocrities (or worse). Those of you with long memories might remember Stiff Stoudt being briefly compared to Terry Bradshaw. Those of you with shorter memories might recall Tommy Maddox being heralded as a championship caliber quarterback right up until the moment he was benched.
Now comes Ben Roethlisberger. Lots of you thought I was too harsh on Big Ben and wrote in to say that he did win 15 straight games. Roethlisberger didn’t win 15 straight games – the Steelers did. Saying he won 15 straight games is like saying Kerry Collins won a Super Bowl or whoever was quarterbacking the Tampa Bay Buccaneers two years ago won a Super Bowl. Their teams won the Super Bowls, and the quarterbacks were about as valuable as the parking lot attendants.
I’m not saying that Roethlisberger is in the same class as Kerry Collins or Whatshisname of Tampa. But I am saying he hasn’t done anything of substance to merit the incredible hype. In both of his playoff games last year, he played poorly. In Sunday’s game which was probably the biggest of his regular season forays, he was dreadful.
As far as Roethlisberger is concerned, the jury is still out. One reader wrote in to tell me he “moves like a fox.” Another told me he has an “arm like a cannon.” All I’m saying is at this point his C.V. is incomplete. Let him do something, then let’s celebrate him.
But I guess that’s not the way it is with Pittsburgh Steeler quarterbacks. What we do is celebrate them and then await commensurate accomplishments that never seem to come.
But such is life where the Pittsburgh Steelers are concerned. Much like the Oakland Raiders, they have a hold on the imagination of some football fans because of the things the franchises accomplished a generation ago. So every time either team does anything of note, it’s heralded as HUGE NEWS. Really, can you name any player comparably crappy to Kordell Stewart who received 1/100th of the media adulation that Flash did?
The particular problem with the Steelers and their fans is they believe their press-clippings, and thus don’t feel the need to actually assemble a team capable of winning a championship. Bill Cowher’s got a good thing going in Pittsburgh. The problem is, the media tell him he’s got a great thing going. And that’s simply not the case.
Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org