The Pittsburgh Steelers are no longer Champions. Not after two pathetic efforts in two must win games. No one can argue that these Pittsburgh Steelers have the right to call themselves Champions, in any true sense of the word.
This does not mean that they might not end up as winners come February...
In boxing, the Challenger vs. Champ was the thing that drove the sport. You had beloved Champions, such as Joe Louis, and polarizing Champions such as Mohammed Ali... but every fight, the question was: Can the young challenger upset the Champion. And, make no mistake, when the Challenger won, it was an upset. Because a Champion just isn't expected to lose.
There was a time when the NFL had champions.
And then... Parity struck.
Pete Rozell decided that it was better for football if every year ANY team could win. His desire was every team to go 8 and 8, and have the playoffs decided by tie-breakers. Hall of Fame Pete Rozell reasoned that no one would want to cheer for a team that never won. It would be better if every season, all across the country, every fan thought that this might be the year that his team could win the Super Bowl.
Despite the NFL's best efforts, though, sometimes Champions do arise. Sometimes there is a team who is just so supremely talented that they are simply better than everybody else. This team still will tower over the NFL like George Foreman towering over a fallen Joe Frazier.
The Cowboys of 93... the 49ers of 95... The Bucs of 2003... and, yes, the Steelers of 2009. Who was going to beat those teams? They stood above the crowd... for one brief shining moment...
But, fortunately for the NFL's slavish devotion to mediocrity, there is always free agency. Nothing, not even the draft, balances the power in the NFL like the ability for teams to buy proven talent, and weaken great teams. Buying talent rarely makes a champion... but at least it will wreck the old champion, so it accomplishes the same thing for the NFL. All hail the great musical chairs of mediocrity known as Free Agency.
So, even if a team rises up, it will not stay there. This is today's NFL.
And, in this world that celebrates average, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: the 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers.
This is not a champion. This is a "slightly better than most" team.
The good news is, from all indications, there is no other true champion this year, either.
Tell me, what team do you think is a definite lock to beat the Steelers? The Vikings? The Steelers already showed them to be mortal. The Patriots? Even Belichek is looking average these days. The Saints? The Colts? All of these teams have struggled at times to beat teams. So have the Steelers, yes. And yet, if the Steelers don't allow any runbacks for touchdowns, they could just as easily be undefeated right now. That is, actually, a very small margin of victory (or defeat).
These Steelers do not suck. They are just average, that's all. Just like everyone else.
The NFL grades on a curve, and everyone gets a "C".
I'm not saying the Steelers will win the Super Bowl this year, or even that they deserve to. I am only saying it wouldn't surprise me if they did. Frankly, they are probably just as likely at this point as any other slightly better than average team.
This is the Grand Design of the NFL.
They don't want a dominating team marching through the playoffs and ending up in the Super Bowl as the prohibitive favorite (like the Steelers did last year.)
They want a bunch of equally matched teams clawing it out to the very end.
And that's what they have.
In theory, it makes every game more exciting, because "On any given Sunday, any team can win..."
For fans who have cheered the true Champions of the past, these impostors wearing the hallowed Black and Gold make us sick.
But this is exactly what the NFL wants.
The Steelers are not out of this race.
But, to paraphrase Senator Benson:
"I knew the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. I cheered for, lived for, and woke up every Sunday waiting for the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers... and, believe me, these guys are no World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers."