Change is the only constant in life. Whether the eventual outcome of change is positive or negative depends upon not only the cards we have been dealt, but also how we choose to play the hand. If you have been paying attention to the goings on in the larger culture you may have noticed that the United States is going through a period of transition. After about seventy years or so of being dominant in just about everything we now find ourselves behind, in some cases way behind, in areas such as education, infant mortality, economic mobility, quality of infrastructure, etc. The facts aren't in dispute, it is what it is. The danger is in how we as nation decide to react, how we play the hand. If we go into denial (We're #1!, Actually, no we're not) or if we become more interested in pointing fingers and turning on each other (panic) instead of addressing the problem then, and only then will we be a nation in decline.
Similarly, the Steelers and those of us who follow them are in a period of transition. Some players have gotten older, others too old. Some have been hurt. Rules have changed, opponents have adapted. It is what it is. So how do we play the hand? Some are in denial. This plays out as a sense of entitlement. In their minds being Number One is a birthright. We're the Globetrotters, 31 other teams are the Washington Generals. We don't just win, we're supposed to win; every season, every game, all the time. It is expressed as a perversion of the term "the standard is the standard".
The standard is the standard, Tomlin's aspirational mantra is further perverted by those looking for a handle and rational to turn on players, coaches and anyone else in the Nation that they can blame for their panic and disappointment. So, are we in decline? Let's see. With a quarter of our schedule played the team is one game below .500, There was one twelve point loss, and two where the combined margin of defeat was six points. No divisional games have been played yet. Yeah, its over (where is that sarcasm font?).
Actually its too early to say for certain. Bad? Mediocre? They certainly aren't playing well at the moment. But honestly, what were we expecting? The feature running back and top two defenders are injured, key leaders retired, new offense. Aw heck, we'll dominate anyway! The team certainly has its challenges; a pretty dicey hand, but what remains to be seen is how the hand is played from this point forward.
And what about us, by us I mean the rest of the Nation. How do we play the hand we've been dealt? Panic? Surrender? Denial? We're in transition as well, and I for one welcome the challenge. We like to preen and pose that we're the best fan base anywhere, anytime. Really? Its easy to be a great fan when you're winning. What would the reaction be if the losses had been blowouts? Would you change allegiances, quit football, kill yourself? (we can hope. I'm kidding!)
I think we have forgotten both the purpose and value of sports. It is precisely these kinds of challenges that gives the exercise its value as a source of inspiration and entertainment. As the saying goes; if you want to experience the thrill of victory you have to risk the agony of defeat. If that's too big a price to pay then perhaps its time to take up something a bit less challenging.
Years ago I had the honor of coaching a championship girls basketball team. Later that same year we were playing a in a summer league as a way of staying in shape and maintaining contact with the game. We lost a game and afterwards one of the players was absolutely despondent. Many of her teammates were puzzled. What was the big deal? The player had started playing basketball and joined the team at the beginning of our championship run. Even though the group had been playing together for nearly ten months it had been their first loss. It was the first time that this girl had lost a basketball game.
If you have been relatively new to following the Steelers then maybe I can understand that this is a bit of a shock. Four things you need to know. If the current circumstance constitutes things being bad, I'll take it. Second, fans who have experienced the 1980's (or the '60's) can't relate to your angst. They just think you're silly. Third, yes you are spoiled. Fourth, experiencing some failure is probably a good thing it will help you develop a mature appreciation for the good times whenever they return.
Do you believe that being negative is a sign that you are a serious, no nonsense, passionate fan? Possibly. It could also mean that you're just being a negative jerk. How can we tell the difference? Are you fair? Okay, let's compare the performances thus far of Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. Both have dropped catchable balls, not a small thing considering the razor thin margin of error during these first five games. Wallace has caught four touchdown passes in five games. Brown none. Brown had a fumble, arguably an unforced error that as much as anything could be cited as the cause of the loss to Oakland. Now which one of these guys just inked a big contract? So we're all over Brown right? No? Brown is one of the 'fair haired boys' at least for now. Wallace, on the other hand, is on the Hate List. Every time he does anything there is someone going 'yes, but, yes, but, yes but'. The anticipated rebuttal will be 'I just don't like Wallace'. Fine. But that disqualifies you from being either serious or knowledgeable. You're just prejudiced. Do you have integrity? The analogy of 'roaches' has been used to describe the opportunistic (and nauseatingly predictable) tendency to come out and make bold assertions only when the team is down. Do you have a sense of perspective? One of the funnier laments has been how the team could allow for such a dearth of young defensive talent. Woe is us. These are some of the same people who were lobbying for the team to draft even more offensive linemen even after the selection of DeCastro and Adams. And, of course, coming to broad conclusions after all of five games is another example of a well developed sense of perspective.
Speaking of perspective, if the Steelers are bad or mediocre who's good? San Francisco? New England? Minnesota? Arizona? Houston?
It would be nice if, as a homage to the franchise that we claim to hold in such high esteem, that we attempt to model some of the team's virtues; patience, perseverance, self respect and respect for others, maybe a bit of class. How are we going to play our hand?