Steelers vs. Bengals: Tough loss will empty the bandwagon, clearing room for fans that want to see the Steelers win

Jared Wickerham

Excuse the real fans for not being overly excited about the difference of a draft pick a spot or two lower than where it would be. We want to see the Steelers beat Cleveland, so if you're leaving, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

I spoke at length with Cincy Jungle editor Josh Kirkendall this week, leading into the game. It wasn't a planned conversation, nor was the original intention to post the chat in place of our 5 Questions features.

In that conversation, we somehow meandered over to the topic of the Steelers' overtime win over the Bengals in Week 17 of the meaningless 2006 season.

I mentioned it's one of my favorite all time sports memories, really just for my own reasons. There was so much negativity at that point in the brutally underwhelming and unsatisfying year, I had actually gotten sick of being around Steelers fans. Fortunately for me and SteelerBro, there was literally 12 people at the Steelers bar where we usually watched games.

Granted, at least some of that was due to the massive ice blizzard that was going through the area that New Year's Eve. But the fact only the diehard fans of that group were there made it feel much more real. There was nothing left to play for that year. One or two positions in the draft are traded for very little every year anyway. This was the Bengals, the team still whining over the previous year. They still had a shot at the playoffs, the Steelers didn't. But we can end their season for the second straight year.

That's something, at least.

We saw Santonio Holmes cap off an up-and-down rookie year with a magnificent catch-and-run in overtime to end it. And we celebrated. Not because we won anything of value, or really that we hated Cincinnati. It was more because we got to share in one last victory before officially shedding the Defending Champions label we wore proudly all season.

That's what I think of heading into a meaningless Week 17 game against Cleveland. An empty bandwagon, negativity and the empty feeling I've grown used to at the end of every football season - except those that end with a championship, obviously. Even then, though, there's a strong feeling of transition that takes over.

I don't care if the game means nothing except that one or two spot difference in the draft. If the Steelers have to lose, I'm fine with shedding the bandwagon for one last game.

Plus, as I said last year, it's Week 17, therefore, it's Hines Ward Week. His jersey will be worn in honor of his 1,000th career catch, which came in Week 17 (incidentally against Cleveland).

It's a painful and bitter year, but there will be another one. Until then, I'm going to enjoy what we just saw - an incredible defensive performance from two great defensive teams. Even if that means we're on the losing end this year, the defense that was bagged on for much of this year put together its best performance with the season on the line. Maybe the offense made the big play in 2006, but failed this time, and the Steelers ended up losing, but it was still an outstanding defensive performance.

So if you're jumping off the bandwagon now, letting the bitterness consume you, I'd like to say thanks. The real fans wouldn't mind stretching our feet out and enjoying a victory next week, because we care more about winning seasons (or non-losing seasons) and division victories than the difference between the 14th and 17th pick.


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