Navigating the Wasteland: Coping Until Camp

June 12, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers assistant head coach John Mitchell instructs during minicamp at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Years ago a close friend of mine labeled this time of the year the "wasteland" from the perspective of being a sports fan. While we are obviously primarily about football here, even if you are a more general sports fan this is a time of slim pickings. Most college and professional sports are done until the fall. Even if you're into Major League Baseball, besides the, to me, fascinating spectacle of interleague play, this is far from the most compelling time of the season which usually occurs after the All Star break at the earliest.

Now, clearly we're all Steelers football all the time here at BTSC. Neal does a great job functioning as a one man headline machine, providing fodder for discussion several times a day almost every day. But, generally speaking, we are in a period of relatively diminishing returns. Peter King of Sports Illustrated signed off yesterday and won't be back for a month. Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette has been gone well over a week already. When the people who cover the game for a living feel comfortable with checking out for periods of weeks then you can be pretty certain that there isn't going to much of a newsworthy nature going on.

When you read this Ben Roethlisberger is going to be in either Ireland or Scotland playing golf and having lunch with Dan Rooney. At Baltimore Beatdown some of the most recent fan posts are from May. Even the fans are losing steam. So, the question I want to explore here is how do we cope until the last weekend in July when the Steelers step on to the practice field at Saint Vincent? I'm really interested in your input in this regard, but I'd like to start with a few observations of my own.

One big thing we have going for us this summer are the Olympics. The games themselves don't commence until the 27th of July, but the trials in many of the sports, including track and field and swimming have begun this week. One of the great ongoing disappointments of my life as a sports fan is to witness the Olympic Games being reduced from the majestic spectacle that dominated the sports and general news landscape to something akin to soccer's World Cup (from the American perspective); a quadrennial oddity with little in the way of anticipation or build up.

I would of thought that in an era of 24/7 sports coverage that the Olympics would be considered the mother lode. One problem is obvious; in this ESPN-centric reality, the fact that the World Leader isn't covering the Games gives them all the commercial disincentive necessary to not do much to attract any attention to them. But there is also the infuriating realization that the value system of the sports entertainment universe is such that they would rather have a Mel Kiper sit around and speculate ad nauseum on who the Carolina Panthers will take in the first round of the draft than to cover the Penn Relays or wrestling or a weightlifting competition that would help promote fan appreciation of these ‘lesser' sports. Contrast that with HBO's Real Sports who this month profiled two Olympic hopefuls including the sister of Jets All Pro center Nick Mangold who will be competing in weight lifting.

I admit that I couldn't name more than a half dozen of the key American competitors, and, obviously, even fewer of the other athletes. That's a shame. So there is an opportunity over the next several weeks to get up to speed on who's who and what's what with the Olympics. And then we can enjoy them as a companion entertainment to training camp and the preseason.

We can also combine our affection for all things Steelers with another summer tradition; the summer reading list. Do a search on Amazon and you will quite literally find dozens of Steelers titles. It should be mentioned that one of our own here at BTSC has a title on that list; Maryrose (Tim Gleason's) From Black to Gold, The Pittsburgh Steelers. These books cover a wide range of topics; team history, specific teams and seasons, personalities such as Art Rooney Sr., Myron Cope and Dan Rooney, Steeler Nation and trivia. My all-time favorite continues to be Roy Blount Jr.'s About Three Bricks Shy of a Load, which chronicled the Steelers 1973 season. I don't know how it would play today with younger fans, but if you have any memory at all or appreciation of the 1970s teams this is a must read.

This would be a great time to sit on the patio or lie on a beach and (re) acquaint ourselves with the events and personalities that have formed the foundation of one of the most successful sports franchises. And while you are doing that, you might want to also meditate upon the fact that we are in the middle of what, at the very least, has been the second greatest championship run in team history. And I think we can agree that it's not quite over yet. When it's all said and done, this period may overshadow the 70s in Steelers lore. I'm sure that some of us could benefit from taking a page out of Mike Tomlin's philosophy and dedicate ourselves with learning how to appreciate the journey. It would be a shame if you woke up ten years from now and realized that you had missed out on a great ride because you were caught up obsessing over the details of trip instead of the trip itself.

There is another rather unique way that the Steelers can be supported and celebrated this summer. You can go to the movies. On July 20th the new Batman movie will be released. You may recall that the producer of The Dark Knight Rises is also part of Steelers ownership; and that the city and players from the Steelers including Hines Ward and Ben Roethlisberger are part of the film. It's not that much of an exaggeration to say that to support the movie is an indirect way of supporting the Steelers.

Now, of course, there will still be news, just less of it. We will be anticipating three contract signings; the rookie contract for 1st round draft pick David DeCastro, possibly a short, but preferably a long term contract for Mike Wallace, and hopefully, a contract of any kind for Mike Tomlin. The recent signing of Mewelde Moore with the Colts serves as a reminder that there are a lot of players still on the street. Will Dennis Dixon and Chris Kemoeatu find new homes? Are the Steelers finished with dabbling in the market themselves? Bountygate and player safety issues and the attendant lawsuits are not likely to completely disappear. And there is the labor dispute with the game officials. Finally there are issues with other teams that will have an impact on their ability for them to compete with Pittsburgh. Questions are being raised about the offensive line in Baltimore and the unsettled situation at quarterback in Cleveland are just two of the issues that may deserve our attention as we approach camp.

So what do you think? What are some of your strategies and suggestions for getting through these next several weeks?

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