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Steelers Preseason Football And The Naivete Of My Youth

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The Steelers open-up their preseason schedule this Friday in Washington against the Redskins, and it will be nice to finally sit down and watch some NFL football once again.

My uncle and I attended the Steelers' first preseason game last year against the Detroit Lions at Heinz Field. My uncle was having some stress issues at the time, and I asked him if he was doing okay. He said, "I'll be fine. I hope these guys (the Steelers) don't do anything to cause me any stress tonight, though."

I looked at him as if he had two heads. I said, "what do you mean? It's only a preseason game. This means nothing."

If the younger me had been there to hear me say that, he would have smacked the current me in the head for being a hypocrite.

You see, my view of preseason football has changed big-time over the years. Back when I was a kid, even though I realized preseason games were meaningless, I still got super-pumped up to see my Steelers win.

When I was 12 years old, I sat in my full midget football uniform (helmet and all)and watched the Steelers blow out the Browns in Cleveland in a preseason contest. The Browns could have been using their 6th stringers the entire game for all I knew, but I was happy.

When I was about 15, I set the timer on my watch to countdown the last 24 hours before the Steelers first preseason game. I showed my grandfather my handy-work, and he basically said I needed to grow-up. The morning after the game--a loss to the Redskins--I moped around the house, and my grandmother told me I took the losses way too hard. I was a proud Steelers fan. A loss was a loss, damn...I mean, darn it!

Later that exhibition.....I mean, PRE-season (sorry NFL), the Steelers were winless when the defending World Champion New York Giants traveled to Three Rivers Stadium to take on Pittsburgh in the preseason finale. I was so pumped up the entire day waiting for this game, and I remember being out with my grandparents and running around the supermarket all excited and acting-out random penalty calls like a referee (no wonder I never had any dates in high school). Anyway, I didn't want to see the Steelers go winless in the preseason, but despite a hard-fought effort, Phil Simms led the Giants to a last-second win (back then, most of the starters played all 4 quarters in the last preseason game). I was so angry, I wanted to reach through the screen and smack Simms in the face.

1988 was a very memorable preseason for yours truly. Pittsburgh had a great come-from-behind victory against the Eagles that had me so excited, I purposely woke my grandmother up to tell her the great news. It didn't matter that the Eagles starters had their way with Pittsburgh's first-stringers in the first half. I didn't care that most of the Steelers that were responsible for this win weren't even going to be on the team at the start of the regular season. The Steelers had knocked-off the hated Eagles!

The Steelers finished their 1988 preseason campaign with a 3-1 record thanks to a last-second victory against New Orleans in a nationally televised game on ABC in-front of Al, Frank and Dan. Earlier in the game, the Saints rookie running back Craig "Iron Head" Heyward ran over several Steelers on his way to a thrilling touchdown, and Dan Dierdorf was so excited, he started screaming, "Iron Head!" over and over again. I wanted to reach through my television set and shave off Dierdorf's mustache! Well, the Steelers prevailed and showed the Saints--and Dierdorf--what was up! And during the regular season, the Steelers showed the rest of the NFL what was up as they finished with a 5-11 record. Did I mention the Steelers were 3-1 in the preseason that year?

Well, the 80's turned into the 90's, and I started to view preseason games differently and more intellectually.

I guess you could say I was a wide-eyed rookie in the 80's who looked at preseason games as the most important thing in the world. Steeler football was great no matter what, baby!

By the 90's, I had turned into an old-veteran who still watched and loved Steelers preseason football but realized that the games were more about player-evaluations than they were about winning and losing. It was nice to see the Steelers win, but I knew there were bigger fish to fry. I still wanted to see my favorite players out there, but I didn't want to see them injured. I also wanted to see how certain position battles played-out and if any young rookies could distinguish themselves.

By the late 90's, the tables had sort of turned in my family. In the 1997 regular season-opener, the Steelers were getting absolutely blown-out by the Dallas Cowboys at Three Rivers Stadium, and my grandmother couldn't believe what she was witnessing. She screamed, "what the hell is the matter with them! They were 5-0 in the preseason!" When I tried to explain to my grandmother that preseason games aren't always the best barometer for how well a team will perform once the regular season starts, she looked at me as if she wanted to dive across the room and smack the smug "know-it-all" look right off of my face.

A few years ago, when the defending World Champion Steelers went winless in the 2006 preseason, unlike my disgusted reaction as a 15 year old to the Steelers 1987 preseason goose-egg, I wasn't mad or frustrated, and I didn't want to reach through the screen and smack any Carolina Panthers around.

Don't get me wrong, I still love to watch Steelers' preseason games, but now, it's sort of like popping in a DVD of "Three's Company." Yes, I love it, but I don't have the same passion for it that I once did. I view it more for sentimental reasons, and sometimes, I even fall asleep.

What about you? When you were younger, did you go nuts over the Steelers preseason games like I used to as a lad? Today, a little older, do you still wear your passionate Steelers fan hat when you watch a preseason game, or do you view August football from either a more analytical or perhaps detached point-of-view?