I was afraid that I would be exposed as a hypocrite.
I had written a week ago that it didn't matter what the outcome of the final game, the Steelers season was a success. Now I'm sitting in the Fast Eddies Steelers bar. It's the second quarter and things do not look good for our guys. It's 21-3 and if things continue the way they are I have no idea if I'll be capable of exhibiting one iota of graciousness in defeat. I'm also pissed because even if we do go on to win it will involve more drama than I, and my poor heart care to experience. I am saddened by our circumstances, but frankly not surprised. In the week running up to the game I felt strangely flat; no optimism, nervousness or fear. And while the second half had more than enough stress attached to it, it was also a thrilling, rousing conclusion to a thrilling and rousing season. When it was over I grieved for maybe ten minutes, but after that I felt no worse than I do whenever the Steelers don't prevail. My main concern was for others; my friend Sarah and the other companions, many on the verge of tears, at Fast Eddies, for the team, particularly those who did not already own a ring, and for Steeler Nation in general. So where does that leave us?
I know. We all know by now. The standard is the standard. It's a wonderfully ambitious goal for coaches and players because through experience they know how hard it is to meet that standard on a consistent basis. Ambition should exceed ability, reach should extend beyond grasp, limits are the point where struggle begins, not where it ends. I love the very idea of it, I condone it, we would be well off if we plastered the message on the walls of all of our schools. But as fans we need to take this with a grain of salt. Because, face it, if you aspire to win you better to be prepared to lose. While you cannot give in to failure, if you ever hope to overcome it you must make your peace with it. And c'mon, while the goal is the Lombardi, let's not beguile ourselves into thinking that the Hunt Trophy (AFC Conference Championship Trophy) is only good for a door stop or an ashtray.
We have a finished product now so we can begin to evaluate the season though there is some risk in doing so since the wounds and the grieving are still relatively fresh. Things will look a lot better for most of us a few weeks from now after the weather breaks. But for now there are some useful observations we can make about this magnificent failure. Yeah, they close the gates on us for Seventh Heaven, but it's still one helluva view from where I sit.
Scapegoats. Momma, maryrose and others have covered this ground in their recent posts and comments, and have done it well. However, if there were ever a time where piling on is appropriate its now. It is an unfortunate human characteristic that when things go wrong we immediately seek a scapegoat that we can lynch to sate our anger and powerlessness. Within moments of the final whistle on Sunday it was ‘Arians!' ‘Off with his head!'. I'm trying to be level headed about this, I really am, but this has crossed the line from being merely misguided to hysterical and stupid. BA must know what the Salem Witches were going through by now. The problem with Pittsburgh's offense was turnovers, not play calling. When you consider that this offense generated 28 points and did it , unlike Green Bay without the benefit of turnovers or shortened fields, with the most impressive running performance probably since Terrell Davis in partnership with an aging John Elway in the late ‘90s, with one quarterback sack the entire game. As maryrose has pointed out, you could make a better case for throwing LeBeau under the bus, if that's what you want to do (Shouldn't have said that, gave someone an idea). Now, I'm sure there must be better OCs out there (though none of the haters have produced any names. Who would you rather have? Cam Cameron? Mike Martz? Belichick?)
I have to confess that I am not immune from the urge to scapegoat. But I have smaller fish to fry. Some of you may remember that I identified three ‘hotheads' who might hurt us in the playoffs because of their undisciplined behavior. Two of these guys came through big time. First there is Keyaron Fox. Mr. Fox got us backed up half the distance to the goal on the kickoff after the Packer's field goal with just over two minutes to play. It wasn't a hustle penalty, it was a ‘macho' penalty; a completely unnecessary push on a player well away from the play. And just so you don't forget, Keyaron is CAPTAIN of special teams. Not far behind is offensive lineman Chris Kemoeatu for reasons that I would think are pretty obvious. Yet, in neither case do I believe that the players involved need to be separated from the team. Twenty lashes maybe. The larger point is that we tend to forget that they pay the guys on the other sideline as well (and a pretty penny too) to thwart the ambitions and designs of our guys. Sometimes, this time, they succeed. Sometimes, the last SB we participated in against the Cardinals, we succeed. What is interesting is that each game was not decided until the last minute of play. The ability to make or not make just one play in those two games is the difference between Pittsburgh having five, six or seven Lombardi's.
One of the good things that has come out of this game is that Coach Tomlin showed the world how to lose with class and confidence. What stood out in his remarks and behavior is that he understands, and we need to learn as fans to follow his lead, that if you make it this far often enough, defeat will be inevitable. If you believe that you'll be back, that this isn't some sort of fluke, then you will find within you the grace to sincerely congratulate your opponent for a job well done, thank your own people for the efforts (without pointing fingers and negativity) and then use the experience as fuel for the next climb up the mountain.
More observations later.