Steelers disappoint some of their fans and will not die

Gregory Shamus

I went on a rant in Checkdown about some of the faithlessness and over the top negativity of some in Steelers Nation. I'm not done yet.

Heinz Field began emptying out at the half. Twitter lit up with calls to fire Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert, Todd Haley, and/or Dick LeBeau and perhaps Art Rooney II. After seeing so many Steeler self-destructions, it’s not a surprise that Steelers Nation was giving up.

Hombre de Acero wrote this in reviewing the game on his site Steel Curtain Rising. I think we can agree that there is nothing surprising about this. There seems to be an agreement as to how to handle it all. Much like when you are in the presence of someone else's ignorant, misbehaving child, you sigh, keep your thoughts to yourself and hope they'll go away soon.

Well, call me cranky, but I've had enough. What is amazing is that as bad as the Steelers have been performing, and don't get me wrong, this is a struggling team, they are, nonetheless, giving some in Steelers Nation much better than they deserve. When I made my observations about spoiled fans who weren't knowledgeable I had some specific examples in mind. During the best of times this, um, gentleman is as prolific with negative commentary as Neal Coolong is with generating content. (Bill asked me yesterday how Neal does this. The hell if I know). You can imagine what the second quarter was like.

Arla, who is unfailingly polite and diplomatic, (and acknowledged to giggling when she read Checkdown, knowing exactly who I was referring to) is watching me struggle as what is left of my filter is breaking down. Every offensive play that didn't go for a first down or touchdown is questioned (actually some of the first downs were criticized as well). Why are they doing this, why aren't they doing that, why, why why, why, why. He's like some two year old with a neurological disorder. He and two sycophants are handing out pink slips on every play; fire this player, this coach. You want to be astonished? William Gay's name didn't come up. I guess they were drunk. Here's the crazy part. When the Steelers score he then strolls through the room, his chest out and high fives everyone. WTF! Are you kidding me? This is rank hypocrisy to me. He walks past me and we high five, but I feel dirty. He finally fell silent after Ziggy Hood sacked Stafford with less than two minutes left to play. This was pretty amazing given the fact that they had fired Hood back in the first quarter. Bill, Dennis and others gently, but sarcastically reminded him that he insisted that we should trade Ben for a McRib sandwich. I kept my mouth shut because I knew whatever I said to him would either begin or end with 'f**king idiot'.

So, some will say, isn't this man entitled to his opinion? Of course. Human beings have been blessed with free will and Americans with free speech. And I will use my free speech rights to declare that 1) some should heed the old saying that 'better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt', and 2) the philosopher Voltaire once said that freedom was the opportunity for self discipline. I always interpreted that as to mean that through the irresponsible or promiscuous exercise of certain freedoms, they could be lost. One of the reasons that certain fan behaviors drive me nuts is because they remind me of the behavior of some parents when I used to coach youth sports. They were hyper critical of the officials, hyper critical of the coaches, their own and those of the opponent, and they were especially hyper critical of their own children. Some of these kids ended up basket cases because of their parents' inability to govern their negative emotions.

Its important to understand what's at play here. On the most superficial level this is about whether or not Pittsburgh can make it into the playoffs or even win the division, and then how far they could go from there. On a deeper level this is a war that involves everyone in Steelers Nation, players, fans, management, media. It is about following the dictates of our better angels or succumbing to our demons. It is a war for our souls. In this sense, what actually happens in the standings is somewhat irrelevant. That would be missing the point of what the higher purpose of sports is about.

For example, Neal reports today that the Steelers are still, if precariously, in the race for a the final wildcard spot. So how does that jibe with those who weeks ago suggested that the season was lost, that Pittsburgh lacked the talent and the leadership to be competitive and that our efforts would be best spent purging the organization and looking forward to some point in the future when the Steelers will magically become super again? I say 'magical' because its pretty clear that these people have no earthly idea how the Steelers created and sustained excellence, though they believe themselves to be the smartest person in the room. This is a challenge that is not unique to Pittsburgh, and how it is handled defines the difference between winning cultures and losing cultures. In New York some associated with the Giants were calling for the benching of Eli Manning, a two time Super Bowl MVP. New York has a strong culture. I suspect they will resist. One the other hand, Houston has thrown in the towel. What will the Ravens do?

This struggle is unique at this time only in degree. It goes on all the time, often enabled by the media. I've been reading Their Life's Work by Gary Pomerantz and couldn't help noticing the parallels between Chuck Noll's distrust for the media and what was on display at Mike Tomlin's post game news conference where he kept deflecting questions designed to stir or perpetuate controversy by stating that he would not "play ball". This is wise. While the team and the media need each other, that is not to say that their goals are identical or mutually beneficial. When I wrote for my college newspaper I interviewed Chuck Stone, an editor for the Philadelphia Daily News. He reminded me that the job of a journalist is to sell newspapers, not report truth, promote human uplift or anything of the sort. If that can be done and sell newspapers, great. But the low hanging fruit is to fuel speculation about Ben Roethlisberger's future with the team or fan the flames of controversy over who should be fired or released. As Noll alluded to, and I suspect Tomlin believes as well, these media members and their cousins on the talk radio and sports television circuit aren't any more knowledgeable of winning cultures than the other spoiled brats in Steelers Nation. They are parasites who, like the 'fan' who criticizes ceaselessly one moment then shamelessly jumps to the head of the victory parade the next, they are equally content to feast off of the harvest provided by the labors of the team, or if more convenient, scavenge its dead carcass.

So what we are literally dealing with here are losers. And please understand I am not just throwing around a pejorative term that we normally use as an insult. I am saying this is what it means to be a loser. Outcomes are not always the most important element in a struggle. Imagine if the Steelers did what many of their fans did yesterday. They could have quit at halftime as well. Winning the game was the least of it. They did not turn on each other and they did not quit. Some reading these words cannot claim being faithful to that last sentence, and if you have integrity you will recognize it for the personal failing that it is. Some of us speak of a team having to learn how to win; that its more than just mobilizing talent. It's thought patterns, habits, adjustments, fine tuning relationships, perseverance and unswerving respect for yourself, others, including your opponents and the demands of the task at hand. The opportunity is available for fans to learn how to win as well. The tie to that special culture is our advantage in being part of Steelers Nation.

If you can see it this is really a special season. Not merely a trial that must be endured, but an opportunity to take the steps necessary to recapture greatness. And for those who can't recognize or respect this, do us all a favor. Next time you leave the stadium, don't come back.

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