I remember the day quite well. It was in 2008, the Monday after the Steelers had just left Cincinnati with a very impressive 38-10 victory. The Bengals were certainly not a great team, and Pittsburgh did exactly what a future Super Bowl Champion was supposed to do.
I was discussing the game with my boss, and instead of being satisfied about the outcome, all he did was complain about the things that the Steelers did wrong in the game, like their inefficiency in the red zone, for example. I couldn't believe my ears. I didn't even bother arguing with the guy because it was just pointless. I mean, who wouldn't enjoy a four-touchdown victory?
My mom is another one. She's obviously old enough to have seen a lot of great Steelers football, but she only became a die-hard fan in 2004. For whatever reason, she can't seem to comprehend that the other team is actually trying to win, too. Before a big playoff game, for example, she'll often ask me, "is (insert playoff team here) any good?" And when I try to explain to her that most playoff teams are, in fact, very good, she gives me this puzzled look and is often taken aback when I suggest that the Steelers might actually lose the game.
I catch myself doing this kind of stuff, too, from time-to-time (okay, all the time). For instance, in the week two game against the Seahawks, Seattle stuffed the Steelers on 4th and goal when Seahawks' safety Earl Thomas stopped Rashard Mendenhall at the goal line. The first thing I did was complain about the missed block on the play. But, when thinking about it rationally, I had to concede that Thomas, a pretty good young safety, simply made a great play.
Had Steelers safety Troy Polamalu made a similar play (and he has countless times throughout his career), I would have been praising his name and arguing with Ravens fans about how he was ten times better than Ed Reed. And I certainly wouldn't have even considered the poor blocking by the opposing team.
The old cliche of "the other team gets paid, too" is often used in these kinds of discussions, but if we all realize that there is another team out there on the field, why do we get so upset with games like the Steelers 13-9 victory against the Chiefs Sunday night? Yes, it was ugly, and yes, the Steelers should have won by at least two scores, but they won, and that should really be all that matters, right?
I guess she's right. I mean, this kind of thing has been going on for decades. Pittsburgh sports personality Guy Junker has said that the post-game shows following the team's Super Bowl XIII and XIV victories were filled with callers complaining about the mistakes that were made during those games.
During the Mike Tomlin era, the team has come under a bit of scrutiny for playing way too many close games and never being able to step on the throat of the opposition when they have them down and ripe for a blow-out.
During the 2009 campaign, Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette was discussing all the close games that Pittsburgh was involved in and, to paraphrase, said "hey, those Steelers teams from the 70's didn't always blow out their opponents. They had their share of close, ugly victories, too."
For a couple of years, I've had that little quote in the back of my mind and always wanted to research those 70's squads just to see what the margin of victory really was. Therefore, I decided to compile some data and compare that era with some other Steelers playoff years.
I'll be honest, I fully expected to find that the Super Steelers of the 70's had to pull a lot of close games out and that their margin of victory was similar to that of other Steelers playoff eras, but I was quite impressed to discover just how dominant those teams were. During the Steelers playoff years of the 70's (1972-1979), their regular season average margin of victory (amv) was 16.21. And in six of those eight seasons, their amv was no lower than 15.3. The 1975 and 1976 teams were especially impressive, as their amv over the course of those two seasons was 20.3.
To give you a comparison, the Steelers have had 13 playoff teams since 1992 and have only achieved an amv of at least 15 points three times--1996 (15), 2005 (15.36) and 2007 (17.1).
A lot of Steelers fans, who are critical of the way the Steelers achieve their victories these days (Bruce Arians sucks, lack of a running game, etc.), will often point to Bill Cowhers teams, and how they "imposed their will" on their opponents at the end of games. Well, maybe they did impose their will in the time of possession and in rushing yards, but the amv for Cowher's playoff teams from the 90's was 12.43, and the amv of his playoff teams from the 00's was 11.7.
The amv in Tomlin's playoff years has been a not too shabby 14.79.
Then, I decided to examine the close victories over the years--seven points or less--and the people that have been critical of Mike Tomlin's teams for having to pull out so many close games (if you can really criticize a team for finding a way to win a lot of tight games), well, they certainly have their ammo.
The Steelers advanced to the Super Bowl six times before the Mike Tomlin era, and only the 1978 team had as many as five close victories during its campaign.
Mike Tomlin has taken the Steelers to two Super Bowls in his career, and the 2008 World Champion Steelers won a whopping six games by seven points or less, and the 2010 AFC Champion Steelers won five games by seven points or less. The Steelers won 24 regular season games combined during those two years, so that means that nearly half of their victories were of the close variety.
That might prove people right when they say that Mike Tomlin's teams always let the opposition hang around, but like the saying goes, "There's more than one way to skin a cat."
For as dominant as Chuck Noll's 1976 Steelers were (22.3 amv and only one win of seven points or less), his team didn't advance to the Super Bowl like Mike Tomlin's heart-burn inducing 2008 and 2010 squads did.
We might get frustrated with how the current Pittsburgh Steelers get the job done, but trophies are trophies no matter how much a team has to struggle to win them.
Finally, now that I've studied those 70's Steelers teams, I understand, not only my mentality, but the mentality that has been passed down from generation to generation in Steeler Nation. Now I know why we often think that the opposition is the Washington Generals to our team's Harlem Globetrotters.
Now I understand why my boss gets annoyed even after a blow-out and why my mother couldn't understand it when the Steelers headed into Super Bowl XLV as the underdog.
Nine Hall of Famers, four Lombardi trophies and a 16.21 amv will do that to a Nation.
Once a region witnesses that type of domination, it's kind of hard to accept anything less.