"From the ashes, a fire shall be woken. A light from the shadow shall spring. Renewed shall be blade that was broken. The crownless again shall be king."
(Lady Arwen, Return of the King, Lord of the Rings)
After Chuck Noll's Steelers dispatched the Los Angeles Rams 31-19 on January 20, 1980, in the Rose Bowl, to win their fourth Super Bowl championship in a single decade, few people in Pittsburgh or elsewhere ever expected that we'd see this level of dominance again. But during the three-year span from February 2006 to February 2009, the Steelers once again tasted the rare wine of dynasty as they won two more Lombardy trophies out of three Super Bowl trips, narrowly missing #7 in Dallas just two years later. Steeler fans young and old now had cause to exalt heroes who would live forever in the annals of pro football history.
But in 2012 and 2013, the venerable walls of Rooney Castle began to crack and crumble, as autumn days formerly crisp and sunny suddenly turned dark and forbidding. The once contented denizens of Steeler Nation now must ponder dismal questions of who skunked the beer and who should pay the penalty for our abrupt fall from grace. Brandishing torches, hangman's ropes and guillotines, Steeler Nation now busies itself with compiling scapegoat lists for punishing the traitors perceived in our midst. Terrible Towels suddenly are on deep discount at local food markets in the Burgh and they're sometimes even spotted cleaning up the splattered Heinz Ketchup bottle in Aisle #10.
But as we suffer through what looks increasingly like an extended period of indignities suffered at the hands of teams like Tennessee, Oakland, Minnesota and, yes, Cincinnati, we must be quite wary of the counsel we keep. Like King Théoden of Rohan, we might easily slip under the spell of many a nasty Wormtongue and thus allow a dark pall to settle over our noble house.
Recalling victories past, our veteran soldiers lash out at their upstart comrades, casting them as mere pretenders to glory. Masters Tomlin and Colbert, once trusted and their praises widely sung, suddenly are suspected of letting barbarous hordes crash the castle gates. And Lord Benjamin, our bravest warrior of all, is besieged on all sides by orcs of the enemy defenses.
Truly, these are dark days in the kingdom, with many more yet to come. But as we hunker down in the face of the onslaught, our scant comfort stems from those truths we've always held to be self-evident. When our players walk through their front office shrine to six world championships, they understand that these gleaming trophies are more than mere symbols meant to gather dust. They face testaments to the excellence and sacrifices necessary for the Pittsburgh Steelers to become one of pro football's most successful and storied franchises. You'll never walk through that room without feeling the presence of all those who have worn these same colors while fighting the good fight.
It's just at this moment when everyone realizes that Steeler Nation is far greater than fleeting failures and tough breaks. We understand the timeless value that the Steeler standard truly represents. Though players and coaches may come and go, our commitment to pursuing the prize endures. While our journey must inevitably be unexpected and long, and though we face terrible trials along our path, we live for the day when all of Steeler Nation will gather once again to proclaim, "Now come the days of the king."