"There is no substitute for luck"
This is a phrase coined by some clever person whom an internet search was not able to discern. It is also a phrase which has, at least in the arena of sports, withstood the test of time. You can have talent, skill, superior coaching and experience, but there really is no substitute for luck.
Throughout the last decade fortune has appeared to favor the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Let's go back to January the 15, 2006. The AFC divisional playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts. The Steelers are up by three in the dying embers of the game, and their current field position rests a breath away from the Colts goal line. Jerome "the closer" Bettis fumbles and the Colts return up the field only to be stopped by a Ben Roethlisberger miracle tackle. Subsequently Mike Vanderjagt is standing over a 46 yard field goal attempt to tie the game. This is the most accurate kicker in NFL history by the way, even though he has a few high profile misses. He of course gives Cowher a cheeky wink and mocking pistol salute , and then he misses. The rest is history.
This is not what some would call lucky, but c'mon the Steelers got away with one there.
Fast forward to the beginning of the 2007 season. The Steelers have jettisoned All-Pro talent Joey Porter for salary cap reasons, losing one of the best players at his position in the league and a team leader. Is there a replacement in sight for this almost irreplaceable talent? What about that guy we've cut three dozen times, the one that was with the Ravens for a while? That guy that has not been worthy of a roster spot most of his career will now have to replace Joey Porter as our starting ROLB?
BANG. James Harrison ladies and gentlemen. A Defensive Player of the Year who garnered four All-Pro nominations and the greatest play in Super Bowl history. To say this was a fortuitous turn of events would be an understatement. And to suggest it happened because the Steelers are so unworldly magnificent at talent evaluation or player development is just not really the whole story, they lucked right into James Harrison and what he would become. He grasped his starting role in 2007 and the rest as they say is history.
Fast forward another year and it's the Super Bowl versus the Cinderella Cardinals. It's been one hell of a game. The nobody waste-of-a-roster-spot James Harrison has been playing out of his skin. Big Ben's driving up the field for the win, down by three. Sure would be nice for a bit of luck.
Santonio Holmes makes one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history, a toe tapping wonder that would make Fred Astaire blush. No luck involved with that.
But consider this, it would be entirely understandable if the referee's ruled that catch out of bounds. I mean really there are people who have the added help of freeze frame video technology who still contest the validity of the catch. If the Steelers could challenge that call ( and really who knows whether they could with the rules these days) It seems to me the call is not getting overturned. Is there enough clear evidence to overturn that call in this scenario? Probably not. Cardinals up by 3, and maybe the Cardinals go home with a ring.
But they didn't, Pittsburgh became Sixburgh and the rest is...
These are just three examples of little drops of luck into an ocean of Pittsburgh Steelers triumph. Two Super Bowls and one all time favorite player in fact.
However as of late the tides of professional football have been turning. Lady Luck has been cheating on us, even with our arch nemesis (Goal line hold on Crabtree?!).
David DeCastro goes tumbling into the back of All Pro center Maurkice Pouncey. Unfortunate, unlucky and part of the game. This sends the Steelers O-line into disarray for half the season. Depending on your view point, this was a cataclysmic even that sunk the Steelers into a hole that was just too difficult to overcome.
Antonio Brown's foot grazes the sideline, and one of the greatest plays in NFL history is negated. In that same game, shortly after the Tomlin sideline debacle, a Dolphins coach is missed stepping onto the field. If this was flagged, the resulting field goal could have tied the game. Unfortunate, unlucky and part of the game.
Ryan Succoup stands over a 42 yard field goal, a distance which a player of his caliber rarely struggles with. In the balance hangs the fate of the Steelers season, playoffs or home. Succoup misses. The refs completely blow an obvious call.
In overtime, the refs compound their abysmal day with a sequence of blown calls so egregious Arnold Roethstein is calling foul. The end result is the Chargers gaining a post-season berth, and the Steelers going fishing. Luck, so long the Steelers mistress, has well and truly left the building.
Unfortunate, unlucky and part of the game.
Referees miss things, players are injured and field goals go wide. These things have just not went the Steelers way the past couple of years. Fans of other teams had little sympathy, for them the Steelers have enjoyed more than their fair share. Truthfully, they are probably right.
You cannot aggressively pursue a correct officiating call in free agency. You cannot franchise tag an injury free season. You cannot commit a high draft pick to a made field goal here and there. Such is the nature of the game, and the nature of sports.
So in the mean time we must of course hope for real life tangible improvements. Young players must develop, the offense must continue to improve and the Front Office must nail this draft. That is all a given.
But whilst we hope for this, keep a small space clear at the back of your mind dedicated to simply hoping for the return of our estranged love.
Because it is nearly always better to be lucky than good.