My favorite Clint Eastwood movie of all time is "Unforgiven," the tale of William Munny, a notorious former gunslinger who married, started a family and settled down on the high prairie, mending his evil ways until his wife took ill and passed away. With his livestock wiped out from disease and two hungry children to feed, Munny reverts to his former, murderous self, all the while claiming, "I'm not like that anymore."
He joins forces with his old sidekick Ned Logan (played by Morgan Freeman) and a cocksure young man who calls himself the Schofield Kid (played by Jaimz Woolvett). Two scenes in the movie are most memorable. In the first scene, after their pal Ned Logan has been tortured to death by Little Bill Daggett, the brutal sheriff of Big Whiskey (played to perfection by Gene Hackman), the Schofield Kid admits to Munny that he has been lying about his exploits as a gunslinger. The kid looks at Munny in utter terror, realizing that his partner is quite plainly a cold-blooded killer. Fearfully, the kid asks, "You wouldn't kill me too, would you?" To this question Munny casually replies, "No kid I wouldn't kill you; you're the only friend I've got."
In the movie's climax scene, Munny proves that he's every bit the match for Little Bill and, as Daggett lies prone on the saloon floor, Munny raises his rifle to the sheriff's head and cocks the trigger. Daggett pleads, "But I don't deserve to die." Right before blowing his head off, Munny seethes, "Deserve has got nothin' to do with it!"
Every time I've faced a personal crisis since 1992 when that movie was released, I remember those scenes and what Eastwood was trying to tell us about the ground rules of life, death and football for that matter. First, you can't really change your stripes. You've got no choice but to follow your basic nature. You might get a temporary reprieve and you might try to be someone else for awhile, but eventually your chickens will come home to roost.
Secondly, you don't necessarily get what you deserve; you only get what you're willing to fight for with tooth and nail. William Munny speaks off-handedly in the movie about various men he has killed and how most of them just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time through no particular fault of their own. They might not have deserved what they got, but they paid the price all the same. As Munny remarked to the Schofield Kid, "We've all got it coming."
These days, both the Steelers and the faithful of Steeler Nation find ourselves in a situation similar to that of Munny, Logan and the Kid. We've been the big bad gunslingers of the NFL for a good part of the past 40 years or so. Some of us might be older, or thinking about changing our ways, but deep down inside we know that's not going to happen. Like the outlaw Munny, we have no choice but to retrace our past steps. And we need to find our friends and allies where we can, because, just like Munny's near-sighted sidekick, they're the only ones we've got.
The six Super Bowl trophies encased at Steeler headquarters speak of football teams that knew how to dish it out and also knew the high price of winning championships. We can't get back to the promised land with smoke and mirrors, we must do it with blocking, tackling, turnovers and toughness. As Munny said, "deserve" really has got nothing to do with it.