I haven't been on the site for several days and was excited to see some really good topics put out there by Maryrose (In (Blank) We Trust), Anthony (Why doesn't Heinz Field...), and John Stephens (Pittsburgh Steelers 2011 Schedule Released). Great! I wanted to add my two cents to these discussions, but the threads seemed to have been dead already. Everyone apparently had moved on to see who would be picked in Round Seven in the Mock Draft (Pray for a collective bargaining agreement everyone). So I decided to front page my comments and see if we could squeeze another hour or so of discussion out three fascinating topics as we move into the final week of the dog days of April.
Heinz vs. TRS. The arguments involving the difference in the physical structure of the two stadiums is compelling. The closed and close in design of concrete bowls of that era (I'm thinking in particular Veterans Stadium in Philly and RFK in Washington DC) made them loud and intimidating when the crowd was really riled up and the stakes high. And regardless what NFL Films say (ranking the Vet as more intimidating than TRS) I believe that TRS was the pick of the litter in that regard. However, I don't think that these physical characteristics, while helpful were not the key ingredient in Pittsburgh's home field advantage.
Steeler Nation was different back then. As they say, you can only be in love for the first time once. I remember attending a game against the Vikings in '72, Franco's rookie year. At the time the Vikings were considered among the NFL's elite. The fact that the Steelers were still in the game going into the fourth quarter was enough to drive the crowd into a frenzy. The game was decided when Harris took a handoff on or near the Steelers 40 yard line, ran into the center of the line then bounced out to the visitor's sideline and raced 60 yards for a touchdown. Today it would be considered just another win. Back then the celebration went on for hours. The Steelers were, finally, for the first time in the lives of all present, one of the big boys. They said in those days that you had to play the team and the city. And in those days the city was going all out from opening whistle to final gun. Third string tight ends had fan clubs with banners cheering them on (Presumably on special teams). They understood what that it was an honor simply to be a part of the spectacle of the post season. Today, while current crowds can reach the heights, quite frankly, they tend to pick their spots. And a few good plays by the opposition can create silence, intimidated by inner demons and fears of past disappointments, Steelers crowds can easily become restless and sullen, and that serves to boost the morale of the opposition. It is no longer enough just to be there.
The Schedule. This bears repeating every year at this time; if we played this schedule last year it would be an easy schedule. There is no telling, really, how difficult it will be this year until the season is upon us. Will the Colts reassert themselves this year or fall back into mediocrity? Will the Ravens a better team in September (when we have to play them) or December (when we don't). Will the Browns and the Bengals be as weak at the end of the season, or will they form a formidable gauntlet that will have to be endured? Will Seattle be better in Carroll's second year? Are the Rams ready to break out? Will the Steelers be so good or so bad that none of this matters?
Why schedule Steelers vs. Ravens so early? First, it is a guarantee of off the charts ratings to start the season regardless of how good each of the respective teams are this year. If the labor troubles run relatively late the league will want a matchup that will divert viewers from the troubles of the previous months. There is no telling how well each team will do this year given the collective age of some of their biggest stars. Best to book them before they lose their luster. And if they both have good years chances are good that they will meet again in January.
In Blank We Trust. I totally agree with Rose on his main point and I believe many of the smaller ones. Fans are entitled to their opinions and questions. And though coaches and front office personnel will usually have better information to work with, that does not necessarily mean that they will reach better conclusions. One of the best examples of that was Mike Tomlin's treatment of Charlie Batch. Like the majority of fans he took Batch's age and injuries, added them up and came to a conclusion that appeared rational, but was in the final analysis dead wrong.
There are ways that we can be, if not more accurate, more circumspect with some of our opinions as fans and avoid repeating certain mistakes. A few examples.
Age. Lots of folks at BTSC want to jump to unwarranted conclusions of players that are based on age. Batch was too old and he's breaking into pieces before our very eyes. Many were saying the same thing about James Farrior. And the next player to be ‘Batched' appears to be Aaron Smith; washed up. Perhaps their right, this time. But let me go out on a limb and say that I put my money on Smith being around for a couple of more years and still performing at peak levels.\
Panic and Scapegoating. I don't want to downplay the fact that the Steelers came up short in terms of winning the Super Bowl. And while there are definitely areas that are in need of improvement, you would think that this is a team that was broken and needs to be fixed. Well...we lost the Super Bowl, but we weren't blown out. The degree of difficulty in getting there was truly extraordinary and will probably not be fully appreciated until many years from now. Suffice to say that no one on this site or anywhere else was predicting a Lombardi this time last year. And if they had they would have been dismissed as being unrealistic, if not pollyannish.
If half of your starting defensive secondary is hurt going into a game (and they play anyway) and your secondary play sucks as a result, does that mean that you press the panic button and overhaul the secondary? Don't get me wrong, defensive backs are a ‘need', just like we ‘need' offensive linemen. But let's be straight about one thing; this team came within a few plays of being world champions. They did so in the face of devastating injuries, massive distractions and very little respect outside of their own locker room. This team doesn't need much of anything to be considered a favorite for a championship next year. Any improvement that can be made in the process is welcome of course.