On December 19th, 1944, the 101st Airborne division of the US Army advanced into Bastogne, Belgium. The last great German offensive of the Second World War had kicked the Americans where it hurt two days previously and the rest of the Army was retreating. The paratroopers lacked winter clothing and were short on ammunition. They immediately began supporting elements of the 10th Armored division before withdrawing into the perimeter of the city. By December 21st, they were surrounded, along with an all-black field artillery battalion (the 969th) and collected stragglers from other US units (organized into "team SNAFU").
The total force, just over a division and a half under the leadership of Brigadier General McAuliffe of the 101st, repulsed another 6 days of furious attacks from a two division Panzer corps, an infantry division and elements of a Panzergrenadier division. After Gen. McAuliffe replied to a German surrender demand on the 22nd with "Nuts!", Col. Joseph H. Harper of the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment added, "Go to hell." Elements of the 4th Armored division from Patton's 3rd US Army broke through and lifted the siege on the 27th. To this day, none of the members of the 101st have agreed they needed to be rescued. They simply needed to clear out their wounded and get more ammunition. The 101st had the Germans right were they wanted them.
How does this history relate to Steeler football? Over the jump.Now calm down. I'm not equating what happens in a game with one of the finest, desperate stands in US military history. One is far more important than the other, on many orders of magnitude. I bring up this story because I want to talk about the similarities in mindset between two very different organizations. This article I ran across today inspired me:
Already, the Steelers are bracing for the swarm of attention that will follow Roethlisberger's return Monday. Linebacker James Harrison has already growled he doesn't want Roethlisberger seen as some one-man team who will save them.
Elite formations and organizations get the toughest, nastiest assignments. Complicated, bloody assaults or rushing to save a situation that seems impossible to rescue fall to the "tough guys". The mindset of the Steeler defense is very similar to the 101st in 1944. Someone else dropped the ball, needs our help, left us holding the bag and ain't around right now. Forget just holding the bag and "surviving", we're going to take it and kick some ass with it. And if that other guy shows back up, that's great, he can lend a hand, but we're doing just fine, thanks. Pass some more ammo, mac.
This is beyond some contrived "nobody believed in us/us against the world" football mumbo jumbo. What we're seeing out of the Steelers is self recognition; the Steelers know, like the 101st, that they are the best at what they do. Like the men of the Airborne who worked harder, took impossible missions and proved time and again they were the best, the men wearing black and gold know they are elite, trust the man next to them is elite and simply are wondering why it took the rest of us so long to figure this out. Win or lose on Sunday (and I believe they're going to win, they've got the Ravens right where they want them), I believe we are seeing a special Steeler team that doesn't need some guy to ride in on a tank to the rescue. They just need a guy to clear the wounded, pass some ammo and lend a hand.
After they were "rescued," the 101st went over to the attack, kicking ass for another three weeks before being pulled off the line. Eisenhower was concerned they might try and win the whole war on their own.