The 2011 Jersey Rules: The Best To Buy This Season

The Rules Discussion and Formation Committee was able to meet its Government-imposed meeting deadline of July 24 (National BTSC Jersey Day) and hammer out the top value jerseys to purchase for 2011, and the ones you're better off avoiding.

As usual, the Committee met over several beers at several Minnesota Twins games over the past few months. While the ritual used to be spending time along the Mall outside the Metrodome, the vast upgrade of Target Field has proved to be a less viable jersey-watching location. The reasons are unknown, but we found little variation this year in the rules that have formed the bedrock of our mission: To seek out trends and knowledge in an effort to establish the coolest and best jerseys to wear each season.

With that, the Committee is proud to give you the three best Steelers jerseys to purchase this season, in accordance with our rules. 

The Oversaturation Rule: "While allowable, it is discouraged to buy the jersey(s) of the most popular player(s)."

The Rules Discussion and Formation Committee often answers opponents to this rule. While it's without a doubt the most frequently debated rule with the jersey-wearing populace, it's the one we have the hardest time considering changing.

We have, however, decided to drop it from "rule" status, and approach it as a guideline. The market is prone to oversaturation due to the fact there are only so many jerseys from which to choose. Therefore, we must track year-to-year the members who qualify for this group. Plus, we were overwhelmed with the amount of fans who contacted us who own multiple jerseys. The choice of owning more than one was never factored in, and the inclusion of that concept cancels out Oversaturation. Because of that, it is no longer a rule, but simply a guideline. There are still some you shouldn't buy due to their overwhelming popularity, but points are no longer deducted because of it.

The Bandwagon Rule (Silverback Clause): "A breakout Steelers player will emerge every year. Find the breakout player before he breaks out. Conversely, be careful not to join the masses in buying his jersey a year too late."

The Committee identifies several players who fit into this category, part of the influx of highly athletic younger Steelers players. This is a pivotal year in terms of where this team is going, and it's a great opportunity to find the team's next breakout star, so you have the jersey when the rest of the league is hearing his name consistently.

The Commitment Rule (Dermontti Dawson Clause): "A player has to be assured of being on the team for at least another few years."

All of you who purchased No. 10 jerseys before last season are kicking yourselves, aren't you? The Committee went back and forth over establishing an exact time amount, but in the end decided to go with just a vague definition of "at least another few years." Without enough time or research on the league's new labor agreement, it's extremely difficult to hold anyone to a three-year rule.

However, we hold firm to the idea that a die-hard fan knows which players are the most likely to be around for an extended period of time, which includes their contract situation, their off-the-field proclivities and the team's financial status.

The Throwback Rule (The Steel Curtain Clause): "A former player reaches Throwback Status when he has been retired from the league for five years, or has been off the team for three years, played somewhere else and has just retired (aka the Rod Woodson Clause)." A corollary to this is Recyclization, which is continuing to wear the jersey of a player before the five-year mark, and claiming it's a Throwback.

Any authentic jersey from the Steel Curtain years is phenomenal. It's a great tribute, attention-grabbing and very cool. Keep in mind, though, you are in violation of Recyclization if you are currently wearing a Kordell Stewart or a Santonio Holmes jersey, to name a few.

The Wary Rookie Rule (Troy Edwards Clause): "Caveat Emptor (buyer beware) in purchasing a rookie's jersey - in particular, the first-round choice. While it does fit the Commitment Rule, and the Steelers are known for an excellent track record selecting in the first round, it does not guarantee future success, but rather, suggest less than adequate research was done. The player hasn't proved himself yet, fans should encourage him to be among the team before becoming a standout on the team.

Like every rule, there are exceptions. Perhaps you are an alumnus of The Ohio State University, it makes sense to have picked up Cameron Heyward's jersey this year.

It's named after Troy Edwards, because he's a sad reminder of what can happen when rookies flat-out don't make it. Too many people bought his jersey right away, and there hasn't been a bigger Steelers first-round flop in the last 20 years. Be wary! However, if you've got the guts, get a rookie's jersey from the second round, or even the second day of the draft. That's a sharp way to build street cred, assuming your prediction that player will be huge his rookie year is valid (the Committee called the purchase of a Mike Wallace jersey in 2009 "tempting").

The Pirates Rule (Dress the Part Clause): "The cheaper alternative is rarely the better alternative. Buy the real thing."

Yes, the Committee is aware of the Pirates surging (until recently) 2011 season, but we do not feel a re-name is necessary yet. The Pirates are still clearly the also-ran forgotten pro sports team in Pittsburgh, and this rule is to remind fans quality matters; do not buy cheap, knock-off jerseys because they're less expensive. If you follow the rules, you should be able to get a good solid ROI.

Based on those rules, we've broken the team down, and come up with the eight qualifiers for your 2011 purchase, and five to avoid. From those eight, we whittled it down to the top three, which we'll present in order.

The Qualifiers

Due to his summer of alleged sin, the value of Ben Roethlisberger's jersey understandably dropped in 2010. I ran into a Steelers fan outside my office the Friday before the 2010-11 season started, and she was wearing a Polamalu jersey because she no longer supported Ben. It's hard to argue with such empirical data.

We're placing a big Buyer Beware on the purchase of Ben's jersey, but another season of non-meathead-ish behavior is likely to shoot him back to the top.

Troy Polamalu still reigns supreme, but the surprising move the committee made this year is advising the purchase of his jersey despite playing into the final year of his contract. We're confident in the Steelers front office, and know he'll get either an extension, or at least be given the Franchise tag.

Polamalu now represents, as Terrence Mann says, "all that was once good, and could be good again." Troy's absence in 2009 exposed a defense that simply couldn't cover today's aerial assaulting offenses without a playmaker to even the field. His return not only saw him earn his long-expected Defensive Player of the Year award, but he brought the Steelers back to the Super Bowl. Maybe a healthy Troy would have been the difference-maker, but the Committee isn't here to hash up painful memories.

Showing his jersey in force this season is critical in reminding our opponents who the most influential defensive player in the league. The Committee wonders aloud, though, what his value would have been without those Head & Shoulders ads.

For those of you who know what Defense Adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) or Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) are, then you know third-year WR Mike Wallace led all NFL WRs in those stats. The short explanation, Mike Wallace kicks some serious ass.

It's really difficult to not like Heath Miller, either from a coach's, a fan's or a jersey appraiser's perspective. I for one became unglued during the Ravens game last year when Talentless Coward Linebacker gave him the cheap-shot of all cheap shots. His value increases just as his role in the offense will, again, increase this season.

Ziggy Hood was asked to do big things last year, replacing the venerable veteran Aaron Smith. He only helped contribute to the best Steelers run defense in the last 30 years. Definitely gets big value points for his rising star.

Conversely, what Hood did for the run defense was similar to what Maurkice Pouncey did for the run offense. The rookie brought a running swagger back to Pittsburgh, and his injury in the AFC Championship game brought thousands of fans to tears. It's worth mentioning at that point in the game the Steelers were completely destroying the vaunted Jets rush defense. Pouncey was smacking mouths all game.

Not surprising, though, 2009's No. 1 choice, LaMarr Woodley, is no longer our secret. His 25 sacks the last two seasons and well-covered calling out of Ravens QB Joe Flacco have put him high on everyone's notoriety radar. And then there's the six-year, $61 million contract he signed in August. With more contract security than any other Steeler, and a pass rush rivaled by few in the league, Woodley is as safe a bet as it comes.

With a huge post-season performance, Ryan Clark threw his proverbial hat in the ring. Delivering his best performance in a Steelers uniform against Baltimore in the divisional last year, Clark continued to build his name this off-season as the Steelers union rep. Taking a strong leadership stance got him in the headlines often this summer but it is his outspoken opposition to Commissioner Roger Goodell appointing himself judge, jury and executioner in terms of league discipline that makes Clark's brand unique.  His passion should count for something.

Avoid:

It's perhaps contradictory to recommend Polamalu in a contract year but not Lawrence Timmons. As soon as Timmons has done what Polamalu has throughout his career, the Committee will hear arguments against their decision.

The Committee's noted special opinion is that with a contract extension in place, Timmons is on the Qualifiers list. He is perhaps the quietest in terms of voice, not pad-thumps to running backs. Timmons was playing elite level football for the most part of last season, and the argument could have been made he was the most productive of the Four From Hell starting linebackers. He's quietly becoming a star, and he's only 25 years old. All he needs is a contract, and while the Committee is confident we'll be writing a completely different opinion next year, we must advise against purchasing his jersey now.

Aaron Smith has been on the Qualifiers list forever, but there's just too much uncertainty surrounding the 34-year-old Smith - the man SI's Peter King calls "the best 3-4 defensive end of his era." It's flat-out painful to think of him playing for the Jets or Patriots or any other franchise, really, but we must face facts. It's not likely Smith will in a Steelers uniform next year.

Rashard Mendenhall went into 2010 looking to be the focus of the offense. It was a big part of the reason his was the jersey to buy last season. One year ago was the perfect time to grab No. 34, and wear it proudly. Fumbles in the Super Bowl, and Tweets questioning the motives behind national tragedies do not sit well with the Committee, though. Much like Champion Apparel, the Committee is dropping Mendenhall this year. Hopefully, he doesn't sue us.

The Finalists

In terms of job security, ability and overall moxy, three Steelers stand out the most going into the 2011 season.

Coming in at No. 3, the Man With The Contract, LaMarr Woodley. With the removal of Oversaturation as a primary factor, Woodley's stock remains high. It's clear his jersey will be the one to have down the line

At No. 2, the youngest member of the qualifying group and the center we missed the most in the Super Bowl, Maurkice Pouncey. He quickly became a fan favorite, and one of the most hated Steelers by an unofficial vote of their opponents. Brash, productive and nowhere to go but up, Pouncey missed the big stage last year, and will bash heads to get back this season. He carries with him the added weight of being a Steelers center, meaning he had a lot to live up to from the start. It's difficult to say he hasn't lived up to those expectations in his young career.

When the Committee got together, it quickly deduced this contest was over nearly before it began. It was this man's position to lose from the very start, and with a second year that crushed his dominant rookie year, he's poised to bust into the elite of the NFL.

In his first Super Bowl appearance, he helped maintain the Steelers' recent list of outstanding performers at the wide receiver position. With Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes capturing MVP trophies in each of their first Super Bowl appearances, our No. 1 guy equaled Holmes' nine receptions, and came within shouting distance of Ward's 123 yards.

He was one of 10 wide receivers to catch 10 or more touchdown passes, and finished second in the NFL in yards per catch (21.0).

His 20.3 yards per catch over his career puts him over a yard and a half higher than official active career leader Devery Henderson's 18.6.

He's No. 17 in your playbook, but the No. 1 best jersey to buy for the 2011 season. He is Mike Wallace. 

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