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Where Do the Steelers Go From Here?

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In his recent post called "The Tipping Point", The Commish mentioned that he was feeling flat about Sunday’s game against the Ravens. Me too. Over the years I have come to respect my premonitions concerning the Steelers so I decided to forego the bars and festive locales, choosing instead to watch by myself at home. Good move. The Steelers appeared as flat as I felt and, well you saw it. No need to rehash that mess.

What I’ve found to be amazing is not feeling that bad about the outcome. In fact, I’m feeling pretty good about things. Let me tell you why.

As Dale Lolley and others have mentioned this was pretty much a must win game for the Ravens. While a win doesn’t really guarantee them anything, a loss could have conceivably cost them the season. It would have certainly put them in a very unenviable chase position for at least half the season and possibly into the playoffs. In addition, their resentment of the Steelers is both real and understandable. The schedule makers provided Baltimore with the luxury to focus exclusively upon their nemesis, literally for months. As for the Steelers it was just an opportunity; a chance to put the Ravens into a big hole early on, to land yet one more body blow to that team’s confidence. As we have witnessed, that, unfortunately, was insufficient motivation.

But what I have found really interesting in the wake of this embarrassment is what the debacle has revealed in the reaction of others. As some of you know, I live in Northern Virginia near Washington DC. I am a proud Steeler fan but not even close to being either overly demonstrative about my loyalties, and certainly nowhere near to being obnoxious or overbearing about my team. Yet, for the past two days people, a lot of people, have literally gone out of their way to let me hear about the loss; sometimes good naturedly, occasionally with what could only be interpreted as satisfaction that I and, by extension, we the team and the Nation, had (finally?) received our comeuppance.

"What happened to your Steelers? Got your asses kicked, huh." 

You may have also noticed how the Ravens reacted as the game was winding down. You would have thought that this was Super Bowl 46, not the opening game of the 2011 season. And while I don’t want to make too big a deal out of it, it didn’t escape my notice that Baltimore was going for two point conversions and such after they had a three score lead. Seemed to me that just beating Pittsburgh was hardly enough, they were looking for humiliation.

And I think they went a bit too far.

To beat a team soundly is not a problem. These are professionals, and as the saying goes, it’s their job to score and ours to stop them. But when you openly and actively seek to rub the other team’s face in it…well, there are limits to professionalism. Perhaps we all underestimated the depths of the resentment harbored by the Ravens (as well as all those folks, some of whom I consider friends who have attempted to rub my face in it). I, for one, was perfectly fine with the extracurricular activity involving Ike, Hines, Mike Wallace, Willie Colon, Maurkice and, especially, Troy.

Now I don’t know if this game moved the needle in any significant way given the fact that the two teams allegedly pretty much hate each other’s guts to begin with. But it has definitely had an impact on me. I never much liked the Ravens, but it never rose to the level of hatred that I felt for the Oakland Raiders in the 70s.

Now it has.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if what is already recognized as one of the meanest rivalries in sport doesn’t uptick a couple of notches to thermo-nuclear. From my perspective when someone like Troy Polomalu starts rolling around on the ground fighting people, things have fundamentally changed. This is beyond the understandable frustrations of a poor performance.

Usually I don’t get into hating. I would prefer to leave it to the professionals like Mechem. This is not because I’m squeamish about hate. To the contrary, when I sink to hating I really, really hate. Younger fans may not understand this, but I’m sure that those who remember the 70s Steelers can relate when I say that I HATE the Oakland Raiders. Notice that I did not use the past tense, because this type of hate is eternal. Now, let me repeat, I’ve never been crazy about the Ravens. But a team that last went to the Super Bowl over a decade ago, a team that has won very few games of significance over the Steelers during the past several years can only be taken but so seriously. Well, congratulations Baltimore, you have gotten my attention. You won’t hear me say "I hate the Ravens and they stank." (I believe that’s trademarked anyway). That’s not necessarily how I roll. Nor do I expect the Steelers to say anything more about this game, now or ever. This has moved way past conversation.

We’ve talked before about ‘chips’. This one is potentially a redwood. Time will tell. As for the competitive aspect of the season, it’s too early to panic. But of course that is exactly what some will do. Don’t pay attention to the Seahawk game unless we lose. They simply are not good enough to be provide a useful yardstick against which this team can be measured. In fact, my advice would be to withhold judgment until, oh, November 7th. I think we’ll have a very good idea of where the Steelers are going after that game.