It's been a pretty tough week for Steeler Nation. Our favorite team got trounced in the season-opener against their bitter rivals--the Baltimore Ravens--last Sunday, and we've had to spend the week listening to people like Warren Sapp criticize the age and speed of not only Hines Ward, but the entire defensive unit.
The reality of it is, with so many players over the age of 30--including eight starters on defense--the team is an easy target for criticism any time it looks as bad as it did in that 35-7 loss at Baltimore.
As for the team overall, there's no doubt that the time for the Steelers as a legitimate championship contender in this era will eventually run out. Even with a relatively young offense--complete with a franchise quarterback, a running back approaching stardom, and a young and exciting receiving corps--it doesn't mean that the Steelers will remain a Super Bowl caliber team for years to come. And on defense, even if the young guys like Lawrence Timmons, Ziggy Hood, Stevenenson Sylvester, and Cameron Heyward eventually emerge as key players and join Lamarr Woodley to form a younger and "faster" Steelers defense capable of maintaining the current high-standards, there's no guarantee that the Super Bowl train will keep rolling.
Why? Well, there's a certain kind of unique chemistry that exists in the locker room of a team that is capable of making it to three Super Bowls in six years. Once important ingredients like James Farrior, Aaron Smith, Hines Ward, Casey Hampton, James Harrison, and Brett Keisel eventually hang up their helmets and call it a career, they'll take with them the core of that chemistry that has existed in the Steelers locker room in this era of greatness.
Besides, it's just plain hard to keep up that kind of excellence over a long period of time. There's a reason why eight appearances in 45 seasons is the standard for teams appearing in Super Bowls. It's that same reason that makes Steelers fans everywhere proud to be cheering for the only team to win six of the 45 Super Bowls that have been played. If it was really that easy, teams would do it more often.
As much as I will always continue to hope and pray for my favorite team to win the Super Bowl every season, I know it's realistically not possible. Even just making it there at the current 50% clip since 2005 isn't a realistic pace.
So if the window is closing soon, does the team still have what it takes to win another Super Bowl?
Every now and then, a team can be so good and climb to such great heights, that even on its way back down, it still has what it takes to achieve the ultimate prize
The 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers were defending champions, and a team coming off a third Super Bowl title in five seasons. But they were also a team in decline. Much like today's Steelers defense, the '79 edition had seven starters in their 30's. The defense was still fairly dominant that year, ranking pretty high in many important categories, but the unit managed to give up 30 points or more on four different occasions.
On offense, the 1979 Steelers did lead the NFL in points scored, but they also led the league with an astounding 52 turnovers and finished at a minus-10 for the season.
The Steelers were only a .500 team on the road in 1979, including humiliating blowout losses in Cincinnati (34-10) and San Diego (35-7).
Yet, despite not quite measuring up to the standards of their previous Super Bowl teams, the 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers were still talented enough to overcome their advancing age and declining play to claim their fourth Super Bowl crown of the decade.
Once the 1980's hit, the Pittsburgh Steelers went south pretty rapidly. It is true that the organization managed to make it to the postseason from '82-'84, but many of the stars of the 70's were gone, and there just wasn't the talent or the unique chemistry to make it back to another Super Bowl.
1979 turned out to be the year the window closed once and for all on the great Steelers dynasty of the '70's, but at least they went out on top.
As our friend and leader, Michael Bean, has stated before, the Steelers window for a championship will probably close around 2011 or 2012 (sorry if I'm off a year or two, Michael). If that is the case, does the team have enough left in the tank to win another Super Bowl before the window shuts for good and many of the key contributors start to retire?
Or was last year's Super Bowl appearance, after overcoming a myriad of obstacles, this era's version of the 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers?