Picture this if you have not witnessed it in person:
Dusk is falling over the city of Pittsburgh. It's an October Sunday and the lights come on at Heinz Field for the late afternoon game. You're sitting in the upper level deck at the closed end of the field looking over the top of the scoreboard towards the leaden-hued waters of the notable three rivers, the remaining sunlight sparkling off of the quieting wake of a barge in transit.
The autumn colors of the hills of the Southside which form a backdrop to your vista have faded with the light, the floating cars of the Duquesne Incline piercing the rising darkness. The sound of a restless and distracted crowd fills the cold crisp air and envelops you in its cacophony.
It's mid-fourth quarter and the Steelers' defense takes the field. The game is close and the opponent's offense has begun to find its rhythm.
As your eyes return to the field, quietly climbing into your awareness is the unadorned lament of a young man as he cries out in realization that his life of unfettered freedom is about to end:
Oh mama, I'm in fear for my life from the long arm of the law
Lawman has put an end to my running and I'm so far from my home
Sharp as a scorned lover's slap across your face, you feel the crowd's attention focus; all eyes turn to the giant scoreboard as the sound of the young man's fearful heartbeat keeps time with his words of concern and remorse addressed to his mother:
Oh mama, I can hear your crying you're so scared and all alone
Hangman is coming down from the gallows and I don't have very long
The Steeler defenders break their huddle in the middle of the field as the crowd leaps to its feet as one; no longer distracted, no longer restless but unified in their shouts of defiance with thousands of Terrible Towels waving in accompaniment to the sounds of drum and guitars exploding forth throughout the stadium. Woodley, Timmons, Clark or Hood raise their arms as if summoning the power of Steeler Nation to rise up as the twelfth man and drive back the impertinent invaders led by the quarterback playing the wanted man who thought he had it made.
The jig is up the news is out they've finally found me
The renegade who had it made retrieved for a bounty
Never more to go astray
This will be the end today of the wanted man
You are on your feet, arms raised and hands fisted in defiance as the ball is snapped, the quarterback drops back; play action bait not taken as Keisel, McLendon and Hood seal the middle. Out of a mass of black uniforms Timmons spears through a gap slimmer than Cleveland's playoff hopes and while throwing aside a presumptive blocker reaches the doomed quarterback and drives him into the ground, jarring the ball loose and into the hands of LaMarr Woodley.
As the Steelers' defense jogs off the field, the quarterback rises slowly to his feet, his uniform muddied and stained by the Steelers' home turf, and with head down and shoulders slumped makes his way back to his sideline to lament his failure to evade his pursuers.
The beginning of the tradition that is "Renegade", according to Steelers lore, was the 2002 season's playoff game against Cleveland Browns. Down 24-7 in the third quarter, the Steelers were forced to punt once again, and then the game halted for a commercial break. To fill the void of inactivity the JumboTron operators for whatever reason chose to play the popular Styx song.
Maybe the collective misery of the crowd watching their beloved Steelers losing a playoff game against the hated Browns was subliminally palpable within the two year old confines of Heinz Field and influenced someone's decision. Certainly the opening of the song, filled with the emotional pain of a young man realizing his doom and the pain it was causing his beloved mother matched the mood in the stadium. Maybe it was fate; no one knows.
What is clear is that by the time the vocalists scream "yea" at the end of the opening stanza and the fast paced music began, the crowd's demeanor had changed; it regained its excitement and fed it to the Steelers, who went on to defeat the Browns 36-33.
In the memorable 2008 Super Bowl season, again according to Steelers lore, nine times out 10 when "Renegade" was played, the Steelers defense kept the opposing team from scoring, forced them to punt, or had a turnover after the song was played.
Over the years of the video portion of the anthem's existence, various defensive players have been featured. The only offensive player ever to be included is Hines Ward; his inclusion should require no explanation.
So the question remains, isn't it time the offense gets an anthem? The Steelers have a dominant quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, a (potentially) Ward-like receiver in Antonio Brown, a beast of a center in Maurkice Pouncey, a potential road-grading guard in David DeCastro and promising wide receivers and running backs. So what's missing? Must these men wait until they're proven as a unit to warrant similar acknowledgement as the defense? Or could an anthem become the rallying cry for these young men, creating a synergy between the massed fervor of Steeler Nation and the athletic potential of this burgeoning offensive unit that game by game transforms it into a devastating force of its own?
I will not be so presumptuous as to try to suggest a song for the offense. There is no way that the synergy created by combining the Steelers' defense and the song "Renegade" can be purposely duplicated; it just has to happen. All I'm asking of the Muses is to provide some inspiration to those same JumboTron operators at some point in a game when the Steelers' offense seems bogged down; let Fate guide the hand of the person in charge of the music (the video can come later) as they reach deep into the archives and blindly select a song that in some inscrutable way melds the crowd and the Steelers offense into a singular force, infusing it with the same limitless energy that Renegade inspires.
Can you picture this?
It's the start of the second half. A steady rain falls, as it has done since the beginning of the game; it is cold and the Steelers are struggling. The rain drapes a grey shroud over the stadium and the soggy home turf seemingly mires the Steelers' offense in futility. Despite defensive points put on the board early in the game as a result of an interception returned for a touchdown, the Steelers find themselves losing by a field goal as the offense spent most of the first half performing numerous three-and-outs.
The Steelers have returned the second half kickoff to their own 25 yard line; the offensive line seems lethargic and the opponent's defense is on the verge of taking control of the line of scrimmage. The crowd is listless and inattentive.
Ben Roethlisberger lags behind the other offensive players jogging onto the field to confer with offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Their heads nearly touching as they review Haley's play sheet, Roethlisberger looks at Haley and nods as Haley claps him on the shoulder.
As Roethlisberger enters the huddle, the opening bars of ___________ fills the stands. Suddenly, the crowd noise transforms from a low, discordant background murmur to a unified rising crescendo of animalistic fervor keeping time with the music, Terrible Towels swirling through the misting rain.
Roethlisberger, breaking the huddle and approaching the line looks up and into the stands; a hint of a smile and a bright glimmer in his eye is the only sign that he hears the crowd and feels its energy, but he does. With a brief wave of his arms, he signals the crowd to settle as he begins his snap count.
Roethlisberger drops back, faking a handoff to rookie LeVeon Bell who positions himself on the right side and delivers a devastating block into a blitzing backer, driving him into the mud. Antonio Brown slices across the middle 15 yards deep, splitting the corners. Rookie WR Markus Wheaton streaks down the left sidelines and gets behind the safeties. The offensive line holds the defenders at bay sealing the pocket; Roethlisberger steps into the pocket as he goes through his progressions then lets the ball fly....
...walking off the field, an obviously pleased Roethlisberger points up to the stands and smiles.