Big Lead Sports Bar


The Life of a Steeler Fan: A No-Win Situation

As the author of this site, owner of a sports-related business, and major fan, I am closely in touch with the pulse of the sporting world. I have to be. I constantly read sports websites, blogs, magazines, and newspapers, listen to sports radio, and watch games on TV. I think I can get a grasp on where America (or at least Pittsburgh) stands on most issues.
That being said, I am totally lost as to the current state of the Steeler fan, especially as presented by local media members.
I keep hearing statements by talk show hosts, columnists, and the like, along the lines of, "Oh, those fair weather Steeler fans...where do they go when their team is down? They're just a bunch of front-runners. Down come the Steeler flags. Off come the Steeler bumper stickers. They have no loyalty."
I would assume comments like those would be in response to criticism about Cowher, Roethlisberger, Porter, the Offensive Line, the Defense, Dan Rooney, or the team as a whole for coming out of the gates with a 2-5 start.
In the next breath, I'll hear the same host, columnist, etc., say, "We just got an email saying that this guy thinks the Steelers will make the playoffs. Can you believe these delusional Steeler fans? Sure, your team can turn it on and off like that. We'll see. Just another fan who sees the world through Black and Gold goggles."
I know there are media members who read this site on a daily basis. To those folks, I ask, HOW ARE STEELER FANS SUPPOSED TO FEEL?
This is the classic "damned if you do, damned if you don't" syndrome. Think they have a chance, and you're an unrealistic homer. Think they are eliminated, and you're a fair-weather front-runner. There is no in-between.
Personally, although I believe they're going to win on Sunday, I think they are shot as far as the playoffs go. They've dug too far of a hole to get out of this season. They just haven't had the bounces go their way this year. There's been injuries, accidents, arrests, and distractions. I think this is the throw-away year, and then they get a fairly high draft pick, possibly a new coach, and come back guns-a-blazin' in 2007, healthy and hungry.
Does that make me a bad Steeler fan, because I don't think they're going to win the Super Bowl this year? I don't think so. I think I'm realistic more than anything. I see a team built around Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Willie Parker, Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Casey Hampton, Heath Miller, etc., and I see a contender next year, regardless of who the coach is.
This season seemed doomed from the start. Honestly, look at all the crap this team has been through since the Super fact, STARTING with the Super Bowl! We're talking about a team winning the championship and having their win "discredited" by pundits and fans from coast to coast as soon as the final whistle blew.
Fans are STILL talking about how the Steelers stole the Super Bowl, like this guy who Deadspin linked to on Wednesday. The article was "Worst Champs in the Last 30 Years", and the '06 Steelers are #2. I loved this quote: "Add in the facts that along their run last year Carson Palmer got injured in his first pass, Nick Harper inexplicably cut towards the middle of the field, and the refs may have played a role against the Seahawks, and this 11-5 #6 seed seems to be the worst Super Bowl champ of all time." Of the many flaws in this anti-Steeler rant, I love how he casually omitted the Denver game from his played-out argument.
So we move from a controversial Super Bowl win to the offseason. Bettis thankfully retired before he left Detroit, so we didn't have the Favre/Clemens "will he/won't he" nonsense to deal with in the offseason. No, all we got was Bill Cowher buying a multi-million dollar house in North Carolina, where his wife and daughter will live. And did I mention his contract is almost up? No, no distraction there.
The Redskins scooped up Antwaan Randle El, albeit at a totally ridiculous price. Ponder this, though: with Randle El on this team, we probably gain at least 2 victories that were lost as a result of Santonioclough's botched punt returns.
So the draft comes along, and the Steelers pass on Florida WR Chad Jackson. Instead, Bill Cowher chooses a guy who he immediately refers to as "San Antonio". San Antonio starts his Steeler career by getting arrested twice before the season starts. An ominous beginning to an NFL career, to say the least.
We had The Great Evel Knievel Motorcycle Jump in June, when the city did not even know if their newly-minted hero would walk again, yet alone play football in September. We had the ridiculous Joey Porter White House controversy. We had Korean Ambassador Hines Ward hurting his hamstring in training camp. We had The Appendectomy Heard Round the World on the eve of the first game. I know there are things I'm leaving out. The point is that there were numerous signs that this would not be a smooth season.
I think Sunday was rock-bottom for the 2006 Steelers. You can't go any lower than losing to Oakland. A loss to Denver officially ends any hope of the playoffs, but it still wouldn't match the embarrassment of the preceding game. A win saves a bit of face, considering Denver's current standing as a league power this year. The Steelers have to enter this matchup with the "nothing to lose" mentality.
As for the fans, I don't know what to tell you. Just be yourself. You have every right to be disappointed, and who wouldn't? You also have every right to hold out a glimmer of hope. If you weren't fans, you wouldn't care at all. Anyone care about the Pittsburgh XPlosion? My point exactly.


Jonny Van Mundegaarde said...

Right on Brotha, just as everything lined up for us last year, the tide turned and everything is going against us. No matter what happens this season, I'll still bitch when they lose, but dammit if I'll forever be loyal to them boys. Ben isn't done by a longshot, and as much as I like Chaz Batch, I don't wanna see him play this season unless it's the fourth quarter and we're up by 30.

Adam said...

This is the bad rookie season Ben never had. We almost forget what it feels like to lose.
For us pre-25 years old fans, it's gonna be weird seeing someone other than Bill Cowher on the Steeler sideline. I still won't believe it til I see it.

E Buzz said...

Good post. The PGH media has it's head up it's ass.

We could all live in Jacksonville or Seattle or some other NFL wasteland.

Anonymous said...

How 'bout them Penguins?!

Seriously, as for the Steelers, we as fans tend to invest so much of ourselves emotionally into the entire experience of following this franchise -- everything from preparing for the draft to tracking personnel moves through analyzing on-field/off-field moves and coaching decisions ... and, of course, watching the games and yakking about them with our friends, talk show hosts, bloggers and other fans.

It’s all pretty innocuous, but being a Steelers fan is more than that. It's certainly a more emotional and participatory form of entertainment than, say, watching a movie or following a television series. This is the Steelers, damn it, and because we invest so much of ourselves, emotionally, into this evolving, ongoing participatory experience, we’ve earned the right to be as passionate or as analytical ... as critical or as enthusiastic ... as we like. It’s our prerogative. We’ve earned the right.

They’re 2-5, after all. We see the warts. Just because we talk about those blemishes and blunders openly and honestly doesn’t diminish our passion as fans. I, for one, will always be a fan. Just like the guy who was buried with his Steelers memorabilia.

Jules said...

I live in the wasteland that is Jacksonville and we got nothing on them as far as being bad/turncoat/apathetic fans go. Granted I am not inundated with Steelers talk all day long here so it's easier for me to build my own perspective on the season but all this anti-Ben stuff I have caught wind of is crap. Give the guy a freakin break!

Anonymous said...

great column.

always remember the most important thing about being a fan of any sports team: the sports media is full of "journalists" that couldn't make it covering "real news". Not all members of the sports media, but certainly most.

hell, The Super Genius couldn't even make it as a pro-wrasslin' announcer...

Russell Lucas said...

The root of the problem is that now, with the region whipped up into a frenzy after the XL win, there's way, way too much media blabbing about the Steelers. There's just far too much talking/writing going on, all searching for some irrelevant angle.

Sure, we've lampooned before the way the local TV news leads every newscast with the most trivial Steelers news-- complete with fancy graphics-- but even the "respected" media has gone over-the-top. The Post-Gazette, taking a break from pushing the most inane of Steeler baubles, ran a FRONT-PAGE story on Monday dealing with how Steeler fans were reacting to the Raider game. Not the game itself, but fan reaction. It wasn't a loss in the Super Bowl or the playoffs, even, but just a crummy October road game.

Steeler fandom generally, and the ups and downs of the season as seen through the eyes of the faithful, has become the most absurd man-bites-dog story for the local media, who won't let go of it because the Steelers are the one thing that the largest percentage of people care about. Somehow that media cacophony wouldn't sound so grating if the team were 5-2, but when the team's 2-5 it just becomes a circle jerk. The media tells us how bad the team is, then reports on all of us feeling bad about the team.

Really, there's only one solution I consider to be rational, and it's the one I've been following for the last month: avoid all the "mainstream" media outlets and radio and TV shows. Embrace the alt media sites that look at this stuff with some self-reflection and irony. Watch DVDs from 2005 playoff run. Repeat.

Anonymous said...

At least we're not stuck with having to be fans of the BROWNS. That would really be awful.

Anonymous said...

I moved into a new apartment over the weekend and made sure to plan my moving schedule around the 3:15pm CT kickoff of the Steelers-Raiders game. Obviously, that afternoon ended in disappointment.

However, on Monday afternoon I was setting up my DVD player and surround sound and hit "PLAY" on the DVD that was already in my DVD player. On came the 2005 Steelers Super Bowl DVD - and suddenly things didn't seem so bad.

Remember, it was a mere 9 months ago that our guys were completing quite possibly the MOST IMPRESSIVE postseason run in NFL history, regardless of what some boob on Deadspin says.

My point is, if you're feeling down about the Steelers, throw in last season's DVD. It won't make this season any better, but it will do wonders for you psyche.

Anonymous said...

I'm a long-time Steelers fan and work with two more, even though we're in Texas. This year is disappointing, but not the end of the world. As you said, the core of the team is young enough to contend for quite a while, and even Holmes looks like he's starting to come around. Some size at corner would be nice, but there's nothing wrong with this team that can't be fixed. Bottom line is that I rooted for the Steelers through three Cowboy Super Bowls and I'll keep going.

craig said...

Great post. I don't see how facing facts makes one a bad fan. This team has sucked in so many ways this year, but i don't see Steelers fans suddenly rooting for the Colts or Bears.

Also, i think many fans have been forgiving of Ben's many errors. I hear more talk about Cowher rushing him back, than about Ben being a bad QB.

Anonymous said...

This season's been rough.

I think the best way to go as a fan is to still wear your Steeler gear and still watch the games, but to admit that well... we kind of suck.

That way, you're not a delusional homer, but you're not a total shameless bandwagoner either. So right there you've aquitted yourself on both counts!

I just had an experience that relates to this. I know a girl who all offseason was wearing her Super Bowl XL hat and bragging on the Steelers. Then just today I mention something about the Steelers and she says (And I paraphrase) "Fuck the Steelers. They're gross (yes she really called them gross). I've always liked hockey better... I've never been a Steeler fan. GO PENS!"

Now, I've got nothing against her (probably newfound) Pens fandom. But her blatant ship-jumping on the Steelers pissed me off a little. Could it be that how a person treats their football team in bad times could be just a SLIGHT indicator of what type of person they might be in real life when push comes to shove? Maybe... maybe not.

You ever have a buddy that screwed up kind of bad and your just like "You've really fucked up this time and pissed me off man! But, you're my boy and we'll see it through." That's kind of how I feel about the Steelers right now. Sure they're screwing up bigtime right now and I'm furious at them, but they've also given me some good memories so it's worth sticking it out with them. Let all the bandwagon types leave. We'll watch them come crawling back whenever we get our shit together again.

As for other fans, I think if last year we didn't win the Super Bowl and had this type of year, we wouldn't catch this much shit. But NO ONE, outside of the team's own fans, likes seeing a team repeat.

And the worst world champion eh? Hmmm... I dunno, but it sounds like it beats the shit out of being the best team that came in second doesn't it?

mai wen said...

Totally agree with you. I think that winning the Super Bowl last year will tide me over for more than a couple of years. I've decided to approach this season to be excited for each game individually and not focus on the playoffs. Who knows what will happen? Could I have even guessed our playoff run last year? I'm not going to worry about it and will continue to be proud to be a Steelers fan, especially since I live in Cincinnati!!!

Anonymous said...

Hilarious! Good stuff. I really liked the "Appendectomy Heard Round the World" reference.

I just hope the Steelers finish above .500. I hope they rip the Denver Donkeys.

When do pitchers and catchers report for spring training?

Anonymous said...

Where am I? Nobody knows.

Bic said...

The worst part is just the fact that if you look at the talent we have on paper we look like a playoff lock...

Anonymous said...

There is a middle ground:

I still love the Steelers, I still have all my Steelers bumper stickers, i still wear my Steelers jersey every Sunday, I still love Big Ben, and i still talk Steelers all week, however i do not think this team will make the playoffs. They have had so many things go wrong this season and during the offseason that they simply havent been able to overcome.

I think this is how most rational Steelers fans feel.


Anyone calling for Ben to be benched is just stupid. The guy lost one game as a rookie, and then became the youngest QB to win a Super Bowl, he is allowed to play bad for half a season.

Anonymous said...

You're calling Sterling Sharpe stupid?

Megatron said...

Great peice. How bout dem Stillers!? I have to publicly appologize for my rant about the Oakland loss. I am sorry I said I would never watch them again, obviously a lie to raise some contraversy. I am sitting here in one of my many Steelers shirts, and I agree with Monde, they will rival over Denver on Sunday. They are our Steelers, and we will stand by them for all their STUPID, IDIOTIC MISTAKES, AND THEIR BLUNDERING PENALTIES, AND RIDICULOUS LACK OF ENERGY AND ENTHUSIASM THIS YEAR! The Croc Hunter would be ashamed of this season, and that is saying somEthing. But with all said and done can I get a 'Here we go! Stillers are going to the Super Bowl next year!' Peace, I love you Lers! The Apendectomy heard around the world, brilliant!

Anonymous said...

As I stated earlier, I pretty much stand where polevaultking does as far as being a Steeler fan.

I still fully support the team, but at the same time I realize that they're probably not going anywhere this year.

Oh well, it happens. Just think, it could be worse. I could be the mid-late 80s! The Pirates, Steelers, Penguins, AND Pitt all sucked then!

vinnie said...

Wow, this is the most commented post I've seen! Let's keep it up!!

All I have to say about the Pittsburgh sports media is that we have to remember they are just another form of entertainment. With the possible exception of a few newspaper guys, their main goal is the generate as much controversy as they can in hopes it translates into ratings. Steeler fans are among the most loyal, knowledgeable fans in the NFL.