I just turned 40 recently (brief self-serving pause for "Happy Birthday" wishes), and it's a weird feeling. To paraphrase comedian Louis C.K., you're older, but you're not really old. And you're still youthful, but you're not really young anymore.
Turning 80 is an even bigger milestone, and 2012 just so happens to be the 80th year anniversary season of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that was founded in 1933 by the late Arthur J. Rooney.
The good thing about being a 40 year old Steelers fan is that I wasn't around for a lot of the tough times that the franchise experienced in its first four decades of existence. I came on board just when the team started to turn the corner and become what it is today.
I wasn't around from 1933-1971 when the Steelers had only seven winning seasons and no playoff victories to speak of. But starting in 1972--the year I was born-- the Steelers have made the playoffs 26 times, won their division 20 times, won their conference eight times, and won the Super Bowl six times.
The Steelers only made one playoff appearance during their first 40 years, a game that they lost 21-0 to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1947. I wasn't around for those 40 years. However, I came along just in time to see Franco Harris bring the Steelers their first playoff victory when he snatched a deflected Terry Bradshaw pass out of mid-air and scampered 60 yards for a miraculous touchdown to defeat the Oakland Raiders in December of 1972. The play was later dubbed the "Immaculate Reception." Talk about your perfect year to be born. Thanks, Mom!
I wasn't around in 1943 when the Steelers and Eagles agreed to merge into the Steagles after the outbreak of WWII forced many key players into active military duty. However, I was alive in 2004 to see the Steelers manhandle the undefeated Eagles, 27-3, at Heinz Field.
I wasn't around in 1944 for Card-Pitt. Again, because of the war, the Steelers were forced to merge with the Chicago Cardinals, and things worked out so poorly, the team became known as the "Car-Pitts" (carpets) after finishing 0-10. However, I was around for Super Bowl XLIII when the Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals on an exciting championship-clinching touchdown pass better known as "Ben to Ten."
I wasn't around for their franchise worst 1-13 record in 1969. But I was alive in 2004 to see the Steelers become the first AFC team to go 15-1.
I wasn't around for the team's first 13 coaches, including Johnny "Blood" McNally, a player-coach for the Steelers in the 1930's who didn't even care enough to show up to some of the games; and Aldo Donelli, a guy who was hired to coach the Steelers in 1941 even though he was already the head coach at Duquesne University. After five games of trying to coach both teams, Donelli was forced to choose between the two, and he went with the college squad. Thankfully, I came along just in time to see Chuck Noll create one of the greatest sports dynasties of all time by drafting nine future Hall of Famers on the way to winning four Super Bowls in the 1970's. In my late teens, I had the pleasure of witnessing a young Pittsburgh native named Bill Cowher take over the reins from the Emporer in 1992, quickly revitalize Steeler Nation, and eventually bring the team its "One for the Thumb" in 2005. And in my mid-30's, I got to see a young coach named Mike Tomlin pick up where Cowher left off and continue the success by bringing home the team's record sixth Lombardi in just his second season at the helm.
I wasn't alive in 1955 to see the Steelers cut ninth round draft choice and future Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas. But I was around in the 2000's to see undrafted free agent linebacker James Harrison eventually catch on in Pittsburgh and become one of the most dominant and feared defenders in the game. And, because of that, I got to see the "Harrison Hundred."
I wasn't around in the 30's when the team was originally called the Pirates and had to wear these uniforms. I also wasn't alive in the late 60's when the Steelers tried to pattern their uniforms after Pittsburgh's confluence of rivers, better known as the Golden Triangle. Fortunately, I have been around to see the Steelers understated and simple uniform design of the past four decades become an iconic symbol for excellence and one of the most popular in all of team sports.
I wasn't alive for the days when the Steelers played second-fiddle to the Pittsburgh Pirates on KDKA radio. But I was born around the time of their move to WTAE which spawned the birth of a Pittsburgh radio icon named Myron Cope. That also meant that I was around to wave my Terrible Towel--speaking of an iconic symbol of excellence. Thanks, Myron!
I wasn't alive when every long-suffering Steelers fan knew exactly what Art Rooney meant when he said, "Same Old Steelers." However, I was lucky enough to be alive and know exactly what Jack Lambert meant when he said, "If I could start my life all over again, I would be a professional football player, and you damn well better believe I would be a Pittsburgh Steeler."
Yes, as a huge Steelers fan, I can't help but marvel at how lucky I've been to witness so many great moments in my lifetime. I've only been around to see half of the Steelers 80 years of existence, but thankfully, it's been the half that has made the franchise an institution and a source of pride for the City of Pittsburgh and Steelers fans everywhere.
Here's to 40 more glorious years. If not for me, certainly for the Pittsburgh Steelers.