In 2002, quarterback Tommy Maddox was the toast of Pittsburgh after taking over for the struggling Kordell Stewart in the third game and dazzling fans in ensuing weeks with his aptitude for zipping the football up and down stadiums all across the NFL.
It was exactly what the fans wanted to see at a time when they had just about enough of Stewart, who quickly became one of the most unpopular athletes in the city after once being the toast of the town, himself.
Unfortunately for Maddox, he suffered a scary spinal contusion in a game, later in the season, and Stewart had to come in and lead the offense for a couple of weeks. It didn't matter that Stewart led the Steelers to two very important victories, the fans had long ago severed emotional ties to him, and they were just waiting for Maddox to return to action.
Maddox eventually did return to action in a Week 14 game against the expansion Texans at Heinz Field. Despite holding Houston's offense to a mere 47 yards, the Steelers lost by 18 points, thanks to two interceptions and a fumble by Maddox, all of which were returned for touchdowns.
I distinctly remember the reactions of the folks in the stands that day. Instead of boos and loud chants of "Slash!," the stadium was eerily quiet. Why? My guess is the fans had to eat a whole bunch of crow that day, because they had long before cast their lot with Maddox, and crowned him as a quarterback who could simply do no wrong. As for Stewart, he had long since been labeled as the bumbling court jester who could do no right.
Anytime I think of sports fans, and the universal love or displeasure they show for an athlete or even coach, I think of Maddox and Stewart, and that day at Heinz Field, many years ago.
And that brings me to Week 1 of the Steelers 2013 season, and their dismal display against Tennessee.
Other than perhaps rookie running back Le'Veon Bell, I can't think of another recent Steelers draft pick who has received more unconditional love and acceptance than guard David DeCastro, Pittsburgh's first round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
DeCastro has pretty much been anointed as the next great Steelers lineman without much pro evidence to back it up, quite yet.
Nothing wrong with that. It's perfectly fine to have that kind of hope and optimism for a player. After all, if DeCastro is the next Alan Faneca, the team will most likely benefit in terms of on field success, and the fans, in turn, will benefit with winning records and possibly playoff victories.
But while fans can quickly shower a player with universal praise, much like Stewart, they can also turn on a player, and brand him with a negative stigma that's almost impossible for him to shed.
Third year tackle Marcus Gilbert has become one of those players who has acquired a negative label that he may never rid himself of. The main reason for this has to do with his misfortune of injuring a couple of his teammates after either falling or being pushed into them. DeCastro was one of those teammates when he was lost for most of his rookie season with a severe knee injury, after Gilbert fell into his legs during a preseason game in Buffalo.
It quickly became hard not to mention Gilbert's name without reading or hearing a joke about him injuring one of his teammates. In fact, if you go to this BTSC story about Gilbert and read the comments, you'll see exactly what I mean.
However, on Sunday, after DeCastro ended Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey's season when he dived into his knee while trying to make a cut block during the Week 1 loss to the Titans, I wonder if the fans were quick to make jokes about DeCastro, other than something along the lines of, "DeCastro just did his best Marcus Gilbert impression."
This isn't to say I have an "I told you so" attitude about the DeCastro situation. He was visibly upset, and as someone who has accidentally contributed to a player's injury while playing volleyball, I can certainly relate.
Much like those "Pro-Tommy Gun/Anti-Slash" fans at Heinz Field, many years ago, instead of joking my guess is the people who would have normally piled on Gilbert after such an incident probably didn't know how to react to DeCastro after the play.
Maybe there's a lesson to be learned in all of this, regarding life in the NFL trenches.
Being an offensive or defensive lineman means you're always a play away from having your knee rolled up on--even by your own teammate. When you have a dozen enormous bodies crashing into each other 100 times a game, well, nobody is immune to "doing his best Marcus Gilbert impression."
In addition to DeCastro's miscue, Isaac Redman fumbled two times on Sunday, and Todd Haley evidently called the worst game ever.
It's not always good to be the king.