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Snake Bitten - Steelers 2011 Season Ends Abruptly in Denver

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My friend Sarah sent me a text a couple hours before the game yesterday. "I’m so excited but concerned about our missing players", she said. So was I.

What did it for me is when I heard the news about Running Backs coach Kirby Wilson. How much more would this team have to endure? I confessed to Sarah that I was "concerned"; that’s code for ‘I think the team is in trouble’. And not just for the particular challenges that Denver presented, but also, if we survived the Broncos, which we didn’t, moving forward against the Pats and beyond. We’ve seemed to have become complacent on the subject of injuries. I suspect two things have fed that complacency; first, the journey of the Packers to the championship last year in spite of an epidemic of injuries. Second, the siren song of ‘the standard is the standard’. There is certain amount of validity on both points, but it can be taken too far. Generally speaking the healthier teams prevail, and the 2011 Steelers were simply not a healthy team at virtually any point of this season.

While I salute the efforts made by the backups, the starters are starters for a reason. They are selected high in the draft for a reason. They are paid incredible salaries for a reason. This team and others have survived injuries in the past because they usually occurred for the most part earlier in the year. The players made it back to the lineup in time for the post season, or their replacements had sufficient time to acclimate. But when the injury list includes; the starting pro bowl quarterback, the starting running back, three of five receivers, the starting all pro center, his backup and pretty much every offensive lineman on the roster at one time or another, all but one of the experienced defensive lineman, both pro bowl caliber outside linebackers, the starting free safety, both of your promising rookie defensive backs, the punter, various special team players and backups, there can be disappointment, but not surprise when, sooner or later the team comes up short. To be sure, it would have been a special narrative; team prevails in spite of its one legged quarterback, depleted offensive and defensive lines, assistant coach in the burn unit. But that’s why it would be such a compelling narrative, because it is unrealistic. At some point luck comes into the equation of a championship run. A big part of that luck is the timing and types of injuries that a team has to endure.

During the course of the game commentators began to push the line that playing Ben against the 49ers and the Browns was a mistake. Easy for them to say. It doesn’t take that much in the way of imagination to figure out what would be said in parts of Steeler Nation and the media if anybody but Ben had started in those games and the team had lost. ‘We had a chance to win the division and get a higher seeding in the playoffs and we blew it!" This, of course, is only the tip of the iceberg of the regrets, recriminations and witch hunts that predictably will come from jealous outsiders and that portion of the fan base that is spoiled, overly invested emotionally or just plain silly. Coach Dad is an old fool, fire Tomlin, cut most of them and execute the rest, if only we had Norv Turner. Please.

Reality check. Nobody feels sorry for Steeler Nation. You wanna know why? Because most other fan bases wish they had what we have. When you have experienced the success that this organization and fans have and react so poorly to the inevitable, that is, you are not going to win all the time, then the ridicule that will be heaped upon you cannot be unexpected and it is certainly deserved. From my perspective this franchise has won 5 more Lombardis than I’ve expected (but fewer than I have hoped for). I thoroughly enjoy the experience of following this team and am already beginning to think about the challenges that next season will bring. Before you demand better, show some appreciation for what you already have.