One of the things you notice over the years as a sports fan is the "group mentality" that people develop when it comes to certain athletes. For example, in Pittsburgh, Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco will never be nothing but a "Heave and Pray" unibrow-having average quarterback, no matter how many Super Bowls he wins or how much money he makes.
However, when it comes to some Steelers players, I often have a hard time listening to members of their very own fan base criticize them for something. We all have favorites, and I absolutely love Ben Roethlisberger. Is he a jerk off the field? I don't know. For all I know, Roethlisberger might be known as "the two percent tipping quarterback" in every bar and restaurant in the greater Pittsburgh area, but I enjoy his work on the field and get really excited when he plays well.
And when my fellow Steelers fans criticize him for, not only his off-the-field behavior, but for maybe not being as disciplined as other QBs, I defend his honor by calling talk shows and writing "green worthy" comments on BTSC. I secretly hope that maybe Big Ben will find out about this, come visit me and agree to be the quarterback of my flag football team (kinda like the time Bobby Brady pretended to be sick and tricked Joe Namath into visiting him).
Conversely, I've never been a fan of tackle/guard Willie Colon. In my opinion, he gets beat by inside stunts too much, and sure, he's good against the run, but this is 2013. Who cares about running? I think he's overrated, and the next time No. 74 gets four penalties in a football game will probably be the next one he plays in. That is, if he can stay healthy enough to ever play again--injury prone, much?
Some of you reading this might be shaking your fist at your computer screen (or perhaps a smaller part of your hand) because you love Colon and think he's a beast. You may even post the Youtube link of the time Colon slammed that Bengals player to the ground. So what?
One thing I've learned over the years is even the greatest athletes in Pittsburgh sports history have been booed and subjected to an irrational dose of "group think" by the local fan base.
Right now, Terry Bradshaw is the standard by which all Pittsburgh quarterbacks will be forever judged (even the ones in the WPIAL). But there was a time when Bradshaw was considered too dumb to tie his own shoes, and the fans actually cheered when he was injured. They even wanted Joe Gilliam or Terry Hanratty to start in No. 12's place.
I've never considered Rashard Mendenhall the second-coming of Eric Dickerson, but when you talk about Steelers running backs who have toted the rock in recent memory, I think No. 34 is the best of the bunch. However, even in the face of his rather decent production, fans have still called him a chronic fumbler and, of course, a dancer.
I have defended Mendenhall's play a lot in recent years and could never figure out why other fans wanted someone like Isaac Redman or Jonathan Dwyer to start in his place. However, that all changed for me when I sat down one day and watched this Youtube video of a game between the Steelers and Bengals, circa 1980.
During the game, Franco Harris, you know, Mr. Immaculate Reception, was booed by those in attendance at Three Rivers. The play-by-play man for NBC, Pittsburgh's very own Sam Nover, said the fans were frustrated because they thought Harris danced around too much instead of hitting the hole. Apparently, the flavor of the month in October of 1980, was running back Sidney Thornton, the team's second round pick in 1977. Maybe you remember him. He's the guy Chuck Noll once described as having "Problems, and they are many."
In 2013, Franco is royalty in Pittsburgh, and people often cry when they think of the greatness of the Immaculate Reception. But back in 1980, the fans wanted someone named Sidney Thornton to take his place.
Speaking of Harris and Noll, another famous quote from the Emperor was "Franco Who? " when he was asked about the Super Bowl legend who was holding out of camp in the Summer of '84. Harris was soon cut by the team and finished his career with the Seahawks.
Even perhaps the most celebrated athlete in Pittsburgh sports history had to endure several years of criticism during his career.
Today, no kid in Pittsburgh can pick up a baseball bat without someone saying, "That's not how Roberto would have done it." But there was a time, back in the 60's, when Pirates legend Roberto Clemente was "misunderstood" by fans, the media, and even his own teammates. Sure, toward the end of his career (and unfortunately, his life), he became a beloved man who was perhaps a bit quirky and eccentric, but before that, he was an "aloof jerk" who didn't like to play injured.
So, while it figures to be a long off-season in Steeler Nation, complete with more arguments about Roethlisberger's lack of dedication and Colon's lack of talent, we need to remember that even the greatest of the great weren't immune to criticism during their long and illustrious careers in Pittsburgh.