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When You're a Die-hard Steelers Fan, it's More than "Just a Game"

Of all the places to have to sit through a game as emotionally draining as the Steelers heartbreaking overtime loss in Denver Sunday night, a bowling alley would rank up there as one of the last places I'd want to view such a contest.

Well, unfortunately, because of my love for bowling as well as my loyalty to my bowling team, there I was trying to concentrate on helping my team win, while at the same time, rushing over to the television in-between turns to see if the Steelers could pull out a pulsating victory in a game I thought they would have had in the bag by the time I rolled my first ball at 7pm.

When Tim Tebow continued his improbable 2011 season with an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play in overtime, and the harsh reality had set in for me, I looked like I had lost my best friend. The reason why I know this is because my bowling teammates kept reminding me of it time and time again as they tried to get me to "snap out of it." I wasn't in any hurry to snap out of it. I wanted to wallow in my misery. I had just witnessed one of the most disappointing losses in my team's history. My teammates were sort of making light of my demeanor, and of course, said what a lot of people who don't really "get it" say in that situation--"it's only a game, Tony."

I really enjoy bowling, and my teammates are some of my favorite people that I know, but Sunday night, sitting there with them as I tried to finish out my three games, I wasn't very happy with them at all.

I knew where they were coming from on a rational level, don't be me wrong, and at the end of the day I do realize that it's "just a game," and there are way more important things in the world than worrying about the win/loss record of a team that I have no real association with, but that doesn't mean that it's not important, at least to me.

Our very own Maryrose has said on more than one occasion that the Pittsburgh Steelers may not be necessary to our everyday lives, but that doesn't mean they're not important to the people that follow and care about them.

If you've ever been a die-hard fan of any team from any sport, you get what Steelers fans will be feeling for the next few days, and maybe even weeks.

As a lifelong Steelers fan, I can sympathize with fans of other teams when they experience the same feelings. As irritating as I think Mr. Malor can be at times, I knew how hard it must have been for him last year when he came over to BTSC and congratulated the Steelers fans for their team's exciting playoff victory over his Ravens that night. I could sympathize with the numbness and disbelief that he was probably feeling at that moment, because I've been there as a fan; all die-hard fans know what it's like. The teams and sports that we follow may be different, but the feelings are the same. If you have a vested interest in a team, you "get it." If you don't care about sports, you never really will.

Pittsburgh sports personality Stan Savran "gets it," and that's why he's always been one of my favorites. He, too, understands that sports teams aren't exactly necessary, but they sure are important, and the shows he does following a heartbreaking loss are always great. Back in 1992, the day after the Pirates lost the NLCS in a very gut-wrenching way to the Atlanta Braves in Game 7, his Sportsbeat call-in show that he co-hosted with Guy Junker was an hour-long therapy session, and heartbroken fans like me needed every second of it. And his radio show yesterday morning, dedicated totally to the Steelers loss Sunday night, was no exception. As I listened to Steelers fans call in to express their anger and sorrow, it brought me a little comfort.

Losing in any round of the playoffs is just so final, but the first round is especially hard to take, and that's why I don't get the sentiment that so many people have that they'd rather not see the Steelers make the Super Bowl if they're going to make it and lose. Sitting here right now, knowing how the 2011 season just ended, that Super Bowl XLV loss looks a lot better.

And that's why I think a playoff run is so important, regardless of the ultimate outcome. Sunday night, after Hampton, Keisel and Starks added to the season-long epidemic and left the Denver game with serious injuries, there was no logical reason to expect that a win over the Broncos would mean anything more than delaying the disappointment for another week until the team got destroyed in New England next Saturday night. But a playoff win would have brought another week of anticipation and hope. Another week to celebrate and cheer on the Steelers. Like my very dejected brother told me Sunday night, "hey, the 8-8 Broncos beat us, didn't they? Who's to say we couldn't have defeated the Patriots, even with all of our injuries? As we just found out, you never know what can happen."

Playoff runs are very important for the fans, regardless of the odds that our teams face. That's why we all celebrate the '89 Steelers team so much. Looking back on it, that wasn't a Super Bowl team, but the joy everyone felt when they defeated the Oilers in overtime was very real and has lasted for over two-decades.

I don't know why we're so emotionally invested in our teams, but I've talked to enough sane and rational people to know that there is nothing wrong with it, at least for a little while. If I'm sitting here a month from now still feeling depressed over the Steelers overtime loss, maybe I should seek some counseling and reevaluate my priorities. but I know I won't be. As silly as it sounds, I just need a little time to grieve.

I'm kind of glad I feel the way I do right now. There's a saying that without villains in the world, there would be no heroes. Well, as a die-hard sports fan, you need to experience the ultimate lows because it makes the ultimate highs that much sweeter.

That's why I went nuts when the Steelers came from behind and defeated the Ravens in the playoffs last year. If I didn't know how the alternative would feel, it wouldn't have meant as much. Sunday night, unfortunately, I got a huge dose of the alternative.

So, with all due respect to my bowling teammates who simply did not "get it," allow me to borrow another Maryrose phrase and give it a negative twist: Right now, the air doesn't smell as fresh, my food doesn't taste as good, and I could care less about how well I bowled Sunday evening.

I would trade a night's worth of gutter balls for a Steelers playoff victory any day of the week.