The Season of Hope: April Brings With It Excitement for the Future

April.

If you are a generic baseball fan this is the best time of the year. While you are reading this the games have begun. And even a Pirates fan can dream that someway, somehow things will be different this year; a competitive year, even a playoff run. Those dreams may likely be dead by June, maybe as early as May and almost certainly by August. But in April there is hope. The Pens begin their playoff run soon. Could Sidney and the boys hoist another Stanley Cup in a couple of months?

In April you can hope.

At least with baseball, basketball and hockey you don't have to wait too long in the suspended animation of hope; football is another matter.

This is the time of the year when a football fan is sustained by vapors, fumes. Hope is sustenance, the only available currency at a time when we are so far removed from the reality and rhythms of the game that we can barely recall what it is really like. The leaves are the fresh light green of renewal, not the blazing orange, yellows and red of decline. The airwaves are full of talk concerning the Masters, season openers, the Cup, the Frozen Four, the NBA playoffs, London and other spring rituals. These, along with the just completed March Madness provide a smorgasbord for the devotees of other sports. In the meantime we munch on stale crackers; celebrating the small, the fantasy, the insignificant as a substitute for the real.

As I write this the league and the Steelers have released their preseason schedules for the 2012. So, I am reduced to poring over a list of glorified scrimmages, most of which will be forgotten long before Columbus Day unless there is some disaster like a major injury. The preseason opener is Pittsburgh at Philadelphia. If you are forgetful enough you may find yourself fantasizing about Ben vs. Michael Vick before you are reminded that for a first preseason game it will be, at most, one or two series for the top tier guys before they yield to the wannabes.

Not that there isn't a certain amount of intrigue in the wannabes. But in the end we're just talking about a better quality of cracker. Then again there may be also some interest in watching the new Haley offense, but how much do you show to a team that you will be meeting in the regular season? Yet I am certain that I will be scouring the NFL Network schedule for a viewing time which is likely to be three in the morning in order to absorb every detail of this and the other two preseason games that are only televised locally in Pittsburgh. The one nationally televised game is against the Colts. Why? To hear them boo Bruce Arians at Heinz? Or, that will be the coming out event for Oliver Luck (or RG3?).

Yesterday it was the new uniforms by Nike. Would we be mistaking the Steelers for the Oregon Ducks? Thankfully, no. Now we can wait for the unveiling of the new throwbacks in celebration of the 80th Anniversary. Another cracker.

So how do we keep hope alive over the intervening days and weeks? Many will continue to immerse themselves in mock drafts. Who will be the next Maurkice, or Limas? Some ambitious types will speculate who we should pluck from the available pool of free agents. And you can always peruse the list of prospects invited to the Southside for interviews and then research them mercilessly.

In two weeks things open up a bit. Players are allowed to begin workout programs on the 16th. Four days later the free agent signing period ends and with it the Wallace Watch. A week later tea leaves give way to reality as they conduct the real draft. Right after that the signing of UDFAs.

In May the bird food diet of hope can give way to some major league dreaming. The roster of prospects will be largely set. Unless the team is really unlucky, the hope will not be dampened by injuries, subpar performances, and there are no games to lose or other disappointments. We can dine on the OTAs and try to read between the lines as Tomlin and other team representatives creatively say nothing. We will still be three months from any real football, but we will have something to talk about. And for all but the chronically pessimistic it will be mostly positive.

But for now, pass the crackers.

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