An endorsement of the critical Steelers fan

Jared Wickerham

Following the 20-14 loss in Cleveland on Sunday, there have been many Steelers faithful called into question for their negative reactions to the defeat. However, I think it's perfectly within reason to call a team out when it performs poorly, and it doesn't make you any less of a fan.

During the Steelers' Sunday night loss to Baltimore two weeks ago, one of my Facebook friends posted on his wall, "I love how Steelers fans boo Byron (Leftwich). Steelers fans are the worst." Someone else chimed in on his post with this comment: "They are the reason I don't like to watch games out in public."

How dare those fans jeer such a bad performance? Didn't they realize the Steelers have given us so many great memories over the years? I'm sure had those fans at Heinz Field taken the time to reflect, they would have stopped their insensitive booing and stood up and saluted the Steelers for their 40 year body of work.

Later that evening, while lamenting the ugly loss in those ugly, throwback uniforms, I got into a "discussion" with someone else on Facebook about the Steelers defense and how I didn't think it was as dominant as it could be with more takeaways. The person took offense to this opinion--and my opinion that I didn't think the Steelers were a Super Bowl contender this year--and soon things escalated to the point where my Steelers fandom got called into question. "How dare you be critical of your team. I wear my Steelers colors all the way over here in California. Bottom line, if you can't stand behind your boys 100 percent, you're not a real fan."

Of course, never during our conversation did I suggest I would abandon my favorite football team. It was just my opinion that I didn't think the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers were as good as some previous incarnations.

Speaking of ugly losses, Pittsburgh's 20-14 loss to the Browns on Sunday has sparked some really interesting debate this week, not only on BTSC, but all throughout Steeler Nation. And believe it or not, the debate isn't only about the team's eight turnovers in Cleveland or about losing to the 2-8 Browns, it's about the fans and their negative reactions to the loss.

Ryan Clark called the Steelers fan base "entitled" and others have said we are a very, very spoiled bunch. This is true, of course, as it is with any fan base that is used to winning.

My brother is often fond of reminding me just how spoiled we are, and he did so again following the loss to the Titans back in October.

I get it. I know the Steelers have given their fans so many great memories, not only in recent years, but over the past four decades. I understand this. However, that doesn't mean it's unacceptable to be angry and critical of them when they have bad games or bad seasons.

Like I said to my brother that night many weeks ago, what are you supposed to do if you're a Steelers fans? Sit back and say, "It's OK, boys. I know you just lost to a pretty crappy Titans team on national television and are now 2-3, but you've given me so many great memories over the years, I'll let this one slide."

On a rational level, I understand that the Steelers have more Lombardi trophies than any other NFL franchise, but that doesn't mean I don't want to see them continue to win. Everytime Pittsburgh loses a football game, I have to be reminded that the sky isn't falling and that Steelers fans are just so spoiled. I get this. I know the deal. I know I have more to be grateful for than your average NFL fan.

But as Bill Cowher used to say, there's a time to reflect, and that time isn't during the NFL season. Reflection and appreciation are for April and May, not November and December.

Ryan Clark and the rest of the team are out there giving it their all each and every week. Clark has even acknowledged he might very well be compromising his future well-being by continuing to play professional football because of the multiple concussions he's endured, not just this season, but throughout his career.

It's obviously very important to him to go out there each week and perform well, as I'm sure it is for most of his teammates. There was a reason Mike Tomlin benched every running back with a pulse this past Sunday, and it was because their plethora of fumbles seriously jeopardized the team's chances of winning.

The Pittsburgh Steelers organization isn't resting on its laurels after the three Super Bowl appearances and two World titles since 2005, so why should the fans?

When did it become a bad thing to criticize your favorite team after a poor performance? When did that make you less of a fan? Much like I called out the one guy for criticizing the fans for booing Leftwich two games ago, Steelcityroller called me out in his post the other day for a negative comment I made on the game-day thread near the end of the loss to the Browns. I said I thought the Steelers sucked. And at that moment, after the three straight very sub-par performances to go along with early season losses against the Raiders and Tennessee, I truly believed it. Does that make me less of a fan?

Football is a passionate sport. And it's not just the players and coaches who display emotion, the fans do as well. It's why BTSC has a game-day thread. It's why radio stations have post-game call-in shows. "Use your mobile device to call into 92.9 The Score! and share your opinion or just vent about today's game."

Being critical of your favorite team doesn't make you less of a fan than someone who only sees the bright side of things and is extremely optimistic in the face of even the crappiest of performances.

Just because you make your portion of every Steelers discussion sound like a rally song--"If you aint a Steelers fan, you aint shit. Tomlin will have them guys fired up and ready to go next week!"--doesn't make you a bigger fan than me because I happen to display my hatred for eight turnovers.

I do acknowledge that there are very irrational fans out there, and I think it's kind of idiotic to suggest Tomlin should be fired after every loss, but that goes with the territory. I know this offends some people when fans make knee-jerk and totally off-base suggestions like that, but there are six million reasons why Coach simply must endure such talk.

There are 32 NFL teams, complete with 32 fan bases, and I guarantee you somewhere, someone is criticizing the head coach for something--yes, even in New England.

They criticized Noll. They criticized Cowher. They'll continued to criticize Tomlin and any future coach that occupies the sidelines at Heinz Field.

Now, when it comes to death-threats, insensitive Tweets and just distasteful name-calling, I have no use for you. However, if you want to voice a negative opinion about a bad Steelers' performance, I don't think that's unreasonable, and it doesn't make you a fair-weather fan. If you're angry about something, it means you care.

I agree that it's irrational to think it's your birth-right to have a Super Bowl each and every season. However, it's not unreasonable to want one, or at least a very successful season. Otherwise, what's the point of being a fan? There isn't a Steelers fan alive who sits around in August and says, "I'll be fine with a 6-10 season. I've had my fill of Super Bowls."

After the season is over, I sit back and reflect on the season just completed and if Pittsburgh falls short, I often acknowledge that it just wasn't the team's year: "The Steelers couldn't bring it home this year, but I sure am thankful we have such a great organization to cheer for." However, when the season is on-going, I don't want to hear about how thankful I should be. I want the Steelers to win, and if they don't, I'm not going to be very pleased, and I just might say something critical

And I don't want to hear that it's entertainment. You'll never in your life hear me say, "Oh well, Pittsburgh lost, but man was it an exciting game! Brady is a great quarterback, and that last-second game-winning drive was a work of art!" The sports industry is entertainment at its core, no doubt. But a sporting event that involves your favorite team isn't like a play or concert. The only thing you'll find entertaining is a positive outcome. If your team loses, I don't think you'll consider yourself very entertained.

Back to the Steelers/Browns game-day thread. I made a separate remark about the ridiculousness of those eight turnovers and someone said, "Hey, it's not like that happens all the time." No kidding. Neither do earthquakes, but they're still something to be upset about.

To quote John McKay, the late, great Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach, "You're not going to tell a player, 'You fumbled? Don't let it bother you, Charlie.'"

Players understand it's not in the best interest of winning to turn the football over, miss an assignment or commit a penalty. And as we saw on Sunday, the coach sometimes even benches them for it. Why aren't we, as fans, allowed to be angry about mistakes during or after a game? These aren't eight year olds playing Pop Warner football. These are professional athletes, and they know what they signed up for.

Another thing that irritates me about the people who are critical of a fan being critical is they act like a negative comment has some kind of mystical power that will make the team play even worse. Hey, if I had that kind of power, you'd never hear anything but the most positive responses and predictions coming out of my mouth.

Along those lines, everytime someone asks me to predict the score of an upcoming Steelers game, almost invariably, I predict a blowout for the Black and Gold. My percentages of being right are quite low so if I were you, I wouldn't worry about me booing Byron Leftwich. I'm pretty sure it won't change anything.

I'm as big a fan as anyone. I'm probably more optimistic and positive than your average Steelers supporter. I want to hear Ed Bouchette cite various reasons why Pittsburgh will win this week. I want to read about Neal Coolong's five reasons for a Steelers' victory against the Ravens on Sunday.

I look to my left, I see three Terrible Towels placed neatly on my table. I look to my right, I see two Steelers plaques hanging on my wall. I'm just as big a fan as you, but when the team stinks, I'm saying it stinks.

To quote Burt Young from the movie Back to School, "My one boy, I put through school. The other, I put through a wall."

Love often has many forms of expression, even "Booooooo!"

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