LATROBE, PA - JULY 29: A fan holds up a sign during the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp on July 29, 2011 at St Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
I struggle to relate to people without passion. It makes no difference to me if they're passionate about running (something I hate doing) or cooking (something I'm essentially unable to do), passion has its own language. When you put that much of yourself into something, people notice.
Like myself, they're passionate about the Pittsburgh Steelers.
I started writing this in my head early this morning, wondering to myself whether it was ironic that Kordell Stewart, long lambasted in Steelers circles for not being a strong leader, essentially was the man who started the "Retire a Steeler" trend for the players who didn't get the retirement press conference reserved only for the elite of the elite players.
Foolishly, I poked fun at Kordell's situation,making easy jokes about the fact he hadn't been in the league for several years, and no one alive had assumed anything other than his retirement a long time ago.
I didn't get it. I ignored the passion Kordell clearly has about that time of his life, and the team for which he played sometimes brilliantly for seven seasons.
That passion deserves and demands respect. A man long since separated from the team and a fan base that hated him like no other for a while wants to close one chapter of his life and move on to other one by opening himself up to cheap criticism from hacks like myself is a way of showing, despite all the negativity, he's rising above it.
Perhaps it wasn't that move in and of itself that inspired Porter's announcement that he would retire a Steeler. Porter was always a far more powerful leader than Kordell. But he was still the first in line in the Steelers' Summer of Retirement. Add him to the four who ceremoniously retired Friday night at Latrobe Stadium, you've got five huge components of one of the best Steelers teams to not win a Super Bowl, the 2001 group.
It's not a coincidence three of those five - Aaron Smith, Porter and Marvel Smith - were key players on another great non-championship team, the 2004 group.
Those passionate about the Steelers understand the honor in that statement. Those who don't get it maybe never will.
Passionate players equals successful teams. None of them were just given anything, either. Marvel Smith and Kordell were second round draft picks. Porter, a third and Aaron Smith, a fourth. Parker wasn't even drafted.
Today, they symbolize an outstanding era of Steelers football. One in which the team paid homage to the dominant defensive and rushing teams that came before it, as well as continued to carry the torch of outstanding front office prowess.
The ceremonial retirement may not have made Sportscenter, but we all have the highlights of these players permanently burned in our memories. Porter's complete destruction of the Colts' offensive line and QB Peyton Manning in the 2005 Divisional playoffs. Parker's 75-yard run in the Super Bowl as well as his franchise-record 223 yards against Cleveland in 2007. Marvel's lockdown of any pass rusher in 2004, enabling a rookie quarterback the time to lead the team to 14 straight wins. Aaron Smith's ownership of the line of scrimmage throughout the 2004 season - a year in which NT Casey Hampton only played six games.
All phenomenal individual players, but ones whom the passionate fans will remember as guys who made everyone better. You cannot speak of championships won in the Steelers' franchise history without mentioning them.
"Steelers for life" is an understatement, but it's the highest honor we can pay these men today. It's the best tribute passionate fans can give. I can relate to that.