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A meditation on the meaning of a Steelers win

What was the therapeutic value of Pittsburgh's win in New Jersey?

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Saw this guy in Starbuck's this afternoon wearing a Steelers jersey. For those of you living in Pittsburgh you might be shocked that this sight is in no way unusual in northern Virginia. Its often a special day when I don't see Steelers symbols on someone'e person or automobile. So, I walk up to him and comment "Feels different wearing that jersey today than it has in a while, doesn't it". He nods and smiles and a brief conversation ensues. He's from North Hills, said he was in Pittsburgh to catch one of the Pirates' games last week. "The one they won," I ask. "Yeah, like being at a college football game". A few more pleasantries, he mentions that its Ravens Week and that he hopes we can keep it going. Then we go our separate ways.

I realized that this was the best I've felt on a football Monday since Charlie Batch was reduced to tears after he led the Steelers to what most would consider an improbable win over the eventual Super Bowl Champs in Baltimore. But actually this is different. I don't remember the last time I felt this good about my team winning a football game. The reason is that for the first time in a long time I could just appreciate it as a stand alone event, which I think is the healthiest way to be a fan. Its easier to feel this way with baseball, basketball or hockey; so many games, few, even playoff games take on the apocalyptic importance of an individual football game. But as Steelers fans we can get into it deeper still. We've reached the point where the mere winning of games is never enough. A win is only a small portion of a much larger calculation where a championship is the only acceptable measure of success. We are supposed to win, which leeches some of the joy out the experience right there. So now we are reduced to analyzing whether we did a good enough job at winning. What are the factors that might come back and bite us on the bottom and keep us from winning down the line or, most importantly, in the playoffs? And we better make the playoffs.

Yesterday was different, and a lot of people realized that. This had the feel of an elimination game, and as such many people evaluated it on a different scale. Bob Labriola and Mike Prisuta opined that in another context they could have found a lot to be critical of, but instead just declared it a big win in unambiguous terms. Gerry Dulac of the Post Gazette in grading the team's performance gave out more 'A's than might have been the case on another week (He gave the receivers an 'A', for example, despite Brown's drop of a perfectly thrown, sure touchdown pass by Ben). Nobody got a beneath a 'C', not even the offensive line. I contend that this wasn't just a case of unbridled, unprofessional giddiness. The game and the circumstances were special and the team managed to pass a huge and important test.

Now, if you are concerned about the long term you would also have to be encouraged by certain dynamics of this win as well. For instance, the Steelers looked very much like the bumbling, stumbling team they had been during the first quarter of the season in the first quarter of this game, but conpetence, confidence and certainty built throughout and they were a very different team in the fourth quarter. This is much better than, say, a big emotional start and then stumbling over the finish line at the end. That wouldn't be sustainable over the long haul. These mistakes and inconsistencies would jibe with the narrative that this is a team that is developing, learning how to win and get better. If the performance had been perfect out the gate it might have felt better in the short term, but would have raised some troubling questions about what actually ails this team.

The future? The only future that matters is this Sunday. I was encouraged that during a post game interview that one player, can't remember if it was Keisel or Heath Miller was unaware that the next opponent was going to be the Ravens. This is precisely the level of focus that a team that is in Pittsburgh's position needs to be in going forward. Looking down the schedule and trying to anticipate all the various permutations is exactly what the team cannot do, and I would suggest as fans that we take the opportunity afforded us this season to smell the roses as opposed to fall back into the typical pattern of the 'Well, if they play like that they won't be able to beat so and so' that can steal our joy and replace it with angst.

The fact remains that a playoff run is still in the category of improbable, though as it took an outsider and a Jets fan, Scott Salmon to remind us, if any organization could pull off that sort of comeback it would be the Steelers. There are, going forward, two ways that we can look at things. One is that of the Amoeba Nag. You know this person. They feel that the only way that they can express their love is by finding, yet one more thing to criticize, perhaps because they fear that one might become complacent otherwise.

"Hey Mom, I just won the Nobel Prize."

"Yes, but you haven't given me any grandchildren yet."

Here's an alternative. Its Ravens Week. A win would be really, really sweet regardless of what the larger context might be. And I saw them lose at home as I watched us win in New Jersey, a win wouldn't be a big upset. One week at a time.

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