I've gotta buy a new Steelers jersey. This has kept me up nights, and any die-hard fan in the same situation should treat this monumentous decision the same way.
See, there's far more that goes into a fan's jersey selection than most think. It's a commentary of that fan's ownership of the team. It's a proud statement that shows the devotion and loyalty to America's greatest team.
Is it your favorite player? Is it a tribute to the olden days of the team? Is it commemorating one of our two recent Super Bowls? These are all factors, but the "coolness" of that player or the uniqueness and rareity of that jersey is also very important. Longevity and likelihood of that player's continued employment by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
One of the big reasons the Steelers achieve success year in and year out is due to their ability to maintain their group of core players. Every successful team in today's NFL focuses on three major tenets of management: Get a franchise quarterback, give long-term extensions to 12 or 13 franchise players and replace outside of those 12 or 13 via the draft or inexpensive free agents.
This plays into jersey selection because the fan is ultimately looking for the highest rate of return possible. That means the selection should be made based on either that player's inclusion in that group of core players, or the likelihood of that player being a core player in the near future.
Here are the main rules behind the purchase of a new jersey.
The Oversaturation Rule (Ben Polamalu Clause): "While allowable, it is discouraged to buy the jersey(s) of the most popular player(s)."
With all due respect to Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu, those two are without question the most popular on the team (add Hines Ward to this as well). While I cannot fault the logic of selecting their jerseys based on the fact both of them are under contract for a long time, and both will continue to provide plenty of value, they represent the Oversaturation Rule. One of of every two jerseys you see are of either Roethlisberger or Polamalu. Try to be a bit more unique.
The Bandwagon Rule (Silverback Clause): "A breakout Steelers player will emerge every year. Be careful not to join the masses in buying his jersey a year too late. Find the breakout player before he breaks out."
An often controversial clause, you'll see exactly what I mean by Week 2. Everyone will be wearing a James Harrison jersey. What's been great about Harrison from a fan's perspective is he's been roughly off the radar since he became a starter. He was only known to die-hard fans before 2007. I called him out in 2004, not long before his body-slamming of that moron Browns fan. At that point, I strongly considered getting a No. 92 Harrison jersey. I've had a Hines Ward jersey since 2001 (right before he broke onto the national scene), and I've vowed to keep it until he reitres.
Just like Ward in 2003, Harrison is about to enter the Oversaturation level. Get the trendy player's jersey before he becomes a trend. Uniqueness and rareity are essential.
The Committment Rule (Dermontti Dawson Clause): "A player has to be assured of being on the team for at least another few years."
If the player has at least three years remaining on his contract, for what we know, that player will be on the team for a long time. Failure to know the remaining legnth of the player's contact is unacceptable. Wearing jerseys of players who are no longer on the team but is still in the leauge (i.e. Alan Faneca) is a sin, and should be punished thusly. I understand it's expensive to change out your jersey each year, but that's exactly why a fan must pay attention to these things. The second he's not on the team, you have to get another one, and retire your old one. That's just the law, I'm sorry.
The Throwback Rule (The Steel Curtain Clause): "A former player reaches Throwback Status when he has been retired from the league for five years, or has been off the team for three years, played somewhere else and has just retired (aka the Rod Woodson Clause)." A colloary to this is Recyclization, which is continuing to wear the jersey of a player before the five-year mark, and claiming it's a Throwback.
Any authentic jersey from the Steel Curtain years is phenominal. It's a great tribute, attention-grabbing and very cool. Keep in mind, though, you are in violation of Recyclization if you are currently wearing a Plaxico Burress, Antwaan Randle-El or, now, Larry Foote. You must upgrade immediately.
The biggest violation of Recyclization is the Bus. Jerome Bettis has not yet achieved this status. All that means is you kept wearing your Bettis jersey and chose not to upgrade to a current player, or a qualifying Throwback.
The Wary Rookie Rule (Troy Edwards Clause): "Caveat Emptor (buyer beware) in purchasing a rookie's jersey - in particular, the first-round choice. While it does fit the Committment Rule, and the Steelers are known for an excellent track record selecting in the first round,it will likely border on Oversaturation. I'm loving what I'm hearing about Ziggy Hood, but it's not quite enough to make the bold statement that he's a core player.
It's named after Troy Edwards, because he's a sad reminder of what can happen when rookies flat-out don't make it. Too many people bought his jersey right away, and there hasn't been a bigger Steelers first-round flop in the last 20 years. Be wary! However, if you've got the guts, get a rookie's jersey from the second round, or even the second day of the draft. That's a sharp way to build street cred, assuming your prediction that player will be huge his rookie year is valid (Mike Wallace is tempting right now).
The Double-Entendre Rule (William Gay Clause): "If the player's last name is awkward, or suggests something else, it's probably better to just leave it alone."
It's named after William Gay. That pretty much explains it. It's unfortunate, because Big Play Willie Gay is going to be an excellent player. But...yeah. Truthfully, though, this used to be called the Miroslav Satan Clause, because I knew people who purposefully bought his jersey so they could wear something with "Satan" on the back (even though it's pronounced sha-TAN). This also includes the purchase of any No. 69 jersey.
Don't be That Guy. You're not wearing a jersey for comedic value. You're showing your membership in Steeler Nation.
The Pirates Rule (Dress the Part Clause): "The cheaper alternative is rarely the better alternative. Buy the real thing."
The Pittsburgh Pirates are mired as also-rans not only in their sport, but in their hometown because they have dedicated their franchise to not spending money. Wearing the knock-off jersey-shirts purchased at your local Giant Eagle makes you look like a bandwagon fan. If you're a die-hard, spend an extra $50 and get a replica. I'm talking about the $80 screen-printed ones, mind you, the rules do not require a hand-stitched, $275 jersey. If that's your thing, then more power to you, just wear the officially licensed apparel.
The Pirates Rule brings me to today.
My wife and I were married this past June, and we've been together since 2006. When my father, perhaps the most generous man alive, felt bad for her showing up at the Steelers bar not wearing a jersey, he decided to buy her one.
He travels internationally, and a trip to Korea brought him to some street vendor. He bought my then-girlfriend a Polamalu jersey, and the only accurate parts of the jersey are the number 43, the spelling of his last name and the fact the Steelers wear black, gold and white. Other than that, it looks as if someone created it despite never having seen a real one before.
My main priority in our first Steelers season post-wedding was to get her a real jersey. I appreciate it, Dad, but she's not wearing that anymore.
Applying the rules to my current situation, who am I getting?
She's only been a fan of the team since 2006, so a throwback is a bit out-of-place. It's definitely not Troy, Silverback, Hines or Ben. I'm not big on the rookie jersey (although getting on the Keenan Lewis, Mike Wallace or Frank The Tank bandwagon is very tempting), and it'll be someone who's going to be on this team for at least the next three years. Someone whom the entire league will be talking about this year, or, someone who Steelers fans are buzzing about, but of whom the rest of the league is more or less unaware. Someone who's proven something in the league, that level varies though.
Just missing the cut: Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Ryan Clark (contract status), Willie Parker (oversaturation, contract), Willie Colon (contract, borderline Double Entendre), Limas Sweed and Rashard Mendenhall (both need another year).
The Short List: Heath Miller, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Ike Taylor and Aaron Smith.
I really want to put Ryan Clark on here, and if he gets an extension tomorrow, I'd likely get his. Without one, though, I can't take the chance. Aaron Smith is referred to as underrated so often, he's borderline Oversaturation. That's his jersey's only flaw, though. I see Heath Miller as 2009's Bandwagon Rule (like Harrison in 2008). My wife can't stand Ike Taylor's "Swaggin'" comment in his game intro, so I have to drop him for that.
It comes down to the two best players the Steelers have drafted since 2004. But considering there is only one player in NFL history to log multiple sacks in four consecutive playoff games, and he was the guy who forced the game-ending fumble in Super Bowl XLIII, my choice...the third-year outside linebacker out of Michigan, 6-foot-2, 265 pounds, number 56, LaMarr Woodley.
The jersey is on the way, ready to be unveiled before the Aug. 14 game against Arizona.